Francie Von Mertens

Contributor, Something Wild

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri July 26, 2013

The Company Of Cuckoos

The Black-Billed Cuckoo
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Elusive, secretive birds often are the most satisfying to discover, and for me the black-billed cuckoo ranks near the top. Hearing a bird is usually the best way to find it, but attentive ears are needed to detect this cuckoo's song: a subtle, slow and hollow-sounding "cucucu – cucucucu." The song in no way resembles the bold double notes of a cuckoo clock that mimic the song of the common cuckoo, a species that nests across Europe and Asia.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Fireflies-- Beyond the Magic

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The twinkling fireflies of a summer night bring a little magic. If we think beyond the twinkling, we probably realize it is courtship in progress: the signals of males and females.

There are a couple dozen firefly species in New England, each with a unique series of flashes, from males in flight to females perched below. Beyond the magic, very few people have knowledge of the medical benefits as well: the use of a firefly's light-producing chemicals in bioluminescent imaging.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Marsupial On The Move

Credit Bob Peterson / Wikimedia Commons

New Hampshire is home to the Virginia opossum, our country's one-and-only marsupial.

As a marsupial, an opossum's development takes place ex utero in the mother's pouch instead of in utero, as placental mammals do.

Opossums are a backyard species, but because they are nocturnal, casual sightings are rare. More often, they will be seen as roadkill--an unfortunate consequence of being an urban, slow-moving animal.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri June 14, 2013

Ladies First: Role Reversals Of Spotted Sandpipers

Credit Kenneth Cole Schneider / Flickr/Creative Commons

From shores of wild waterways to not-so-wild urban ponds, a small bird startles up and flies low over the water with quick, stiff wingbeats.
 

It's a spotted sandpiper, a small shorebird often encountered along freshwater shorelines.

Shorebirds come in all sizes, and spotted sandpipers are in the short, stocky category. Despite coloring that blends well with sand and rocks, there's a movement that often gives spotted sandpipers away: they bob up and down as though seized by intense hiccups. When stalking prey, however, their teetering stops.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Small Bird, Big Song

Credit Shanthanu Bhardwaj / Flickr/Creative Commons

As spring moves into summer, birdsong is in full voice. The winter wren, weighing only one third of an ounce, is tiny in stature but boasts an energetic song made up of over 100 individual notes.

Why such a big song from such a small bird? The winter wren makes its home among root tangles and boulders, and unlike birds of open spaces, birds particular to dense, enclosed spaces need a strong song to have it carry far.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri May 17, 2013

Birdsong, Translated

American Robin. Their whistled song is often translated as, "Cheer up. Cheerily. Cheerio."
Ashour Rehana Flickr/Creative Commons

With birds tuning up for the breeding season ahead, here are some memory tricks to help you recognize a few of the more common songs.

Robins can be heard in just about all habitats across the state and the nation. Their whistled song is often translated as, "Cheer-up. Cheerily. Cheerio."

Another song easy to "translate" is the flight song of goldfinches. Someone somewhere interpreted it as, "Potato chip! Potato chip!"    

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri April 19, 2013

If It Sounds Like A Duck...Might Be A Frog

Credit ckaiserca / Flickr/Creative Commons

If you're out for a walk this month, and you hear something that sounds like ducks quacking, don't expect to see ducks. The call of a male wood frog fools a lot of people. The all-male frog chorus is revving up now, and wood frog males are the first to announce their availability to females.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri April 5, 2013

How Many Birds?

Pine Siskins.
Lillian Stokes

How many bird species might an attentive backyard birdwatcher, or "birder", find?

The term "backyard" means any nearby open space, such as a stream corridor or an open field with forest edge. The more habitat types a backyard has, the better.

Don and Lillian Stokes, of Hancock, NH, have a backyard that includes the Contoocook River, a distant ridgeline, open field, wetlands, and forest, not to mention many birdfeeders and birdhouses to attract their feathered friends. Like many active birders, they keep a backyard list of their sightings from over the years.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Unique Nests

Songbird nest found in Great Britain.
nottsexminer Flickr/Creative Commons

A bird can be identified by the different splashes of color on its feathers, or its distinct call, but did you know that you can also tell a bird by the way it builds its nest, even if it's empty?

Just as birds in all their variety evolved from the very first species, their nests have evolved in equal variety over millions of years. Every bird builds a nest unique to its species.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri March 8, 2013

High Perch: Peregrines Nesting In The City

Male peregrine, banded by Chris in 2000. He came from a nest at Cathedral Ledge near North Conway, NH, and has lived in Manchester since January '01. Now 13 years old, he has helped raise all 35 peregrines fledged from this urban breeding territory.
Chris Martin NHA

The peregrine falcon: Fierce, fast, high cliff dweller, symbol of the wild. All true, but increasingly peregrines can be found inhabiting urban canyons of concrete and steel.

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Something Wild
9:11 am
Fri February 22, 2013

The Maligned Fisher

Credit ForestWander.com

The "fisher cat": ferocious predator of house cats whose bloodcurdling screams pierce the dark of night. Facts about this one wildlife species have mutated a long way into fiction. For starters, fishers are members of the weasel family—not feline. Properly referred to, they're "fishers," not "fisher cats." 

As for all the house cats they're thought to kill, here's what a NH Fish and Game species account says:

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Something Wild
8:59 am
Fri February 8, 2013

New Study: Cats Kill Birds, A Lot of Birds

Credit pjsixft / Flickr/Creative Commons

There's new and unsettling information about domestic cats. A study just published (full study here) estimates cats kill between 1 and 4 billion birds each year in the U.S. That's an average of over three million birds each day.

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Environment
8:14 am
Tue January 22, 2013

Ravens Are Playful And Smart

Credit Yeliseev / Flickr Creative Commons

  

Among the many stories about the intelligence of ravens, and their playfulness is one from Mount Monadnock. As the sun was setting a hiker shared the mountaintop with a gang of ravens taking turns leaping  into a strong updraft, tumbling up, then circling around to leap again.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri January 11, 2013

The Common Raven Is Exceptional

The stately Raven has garnered many connotations over the years, chief among them are for the bird’s intelligence. Additionally, this largest of songbirds is also known for is aerobic alacrity - flying upside down, doing barrel, etc - and playful proclivities.

Stories of their intelligence abound, including one that involves Cheetos. A wildlife biologist was attempting to trap and band ravens. To lure them in, he spread Cheetos on snow and the bright orange color soon attracted several ravens, which were then snared by leg traps under the snow.

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Something Wild
8:00 am
Fri December 28, 2012

Crossbills Coming to NH?

The Red Crossbill.

A poor cone crop in Canada this year is driving crossbills south of the border in search of food.

As volunteers fan out across the state for the annual Christmas Bird Count, they’re likely to see two noteworthy species down from the north this year. Both are named "Crossbills" for unique bills that actually do cross, all the better to pry seeds from a conifer cone.

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