Living on Earth

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Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International.

NH Has Got Stones!

Jan 10, 2014
davidburn via Flickr/Creative Commons

Winter's transparent landscape offers a great opportunity for boulder appreciation. And New Hampshire has a lot of big ones, deposited by glacier action over 10,000 years ago. As the ice sheet advanced south, at it's glacial pace, it fractured and plucked many large boulders rights off mountain tops. When the glacier eventually receded, it left behind billions of these "glacial boulders." 

Nature's Obligate Relationships

Sep 6, 2013
Wikimedia Commons

It is the height of monarch butterfly season in New Hampshire. Though fewer migrants have returned this year. They're producing the generation that will undertake one of the most impressive migrations: two-thousand miles to overwinter in Mexico.

Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of many different flowers but require very specific plants when laying their eggs. Eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed only on the leaves of particular species.

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

Apr 19, 2013
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.

The January issue of Atlantic Monthly online reported a curious connection between the death of 100 million ash trees killed after the arrival of the invasive, exotic “Emerald Ash borer” beetle in lower Michigan to an ensuing spike in rates of human heart disease and pulmonary illness including pneumonia.

New Study: Cats Kill Birds, A Lot of Birds

Feb 8, 2013
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.

Ravens Are Playful And Smart

Jan 22, 2013
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.

The Common Raven Is Exceptional

Jan 11, 2013

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.

Crossbills Coming to NH?

Dec 28, 2012

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.

Gifts for the Budding Naturalist

Dec 14, 2012

As the year draws to a close, it's a great time to reflect on Rachel Carson's Silent Spring once more. 2012 marks the books 50th anniversary. The book encouraged many young naturalists and, with the holidays approaching, we've come up with two gifts to further one's love of nature: a pair of binoculars and a bird guide.

Birds of a Feather

Nov 30, 2012
Ken Sturm/USFWS

Taxonomy is the attempt to place all plant and animal species in a logical order based on relationship. Two thousand years ago. Aristotle classified birds by appearance and behavior, such as birds that swim, birds of prey, and birds that sing.

Wild Cranberry Relish

Nov 16, 2012

For the forager of wild foods, November brings cranberries, crisp and tart to suit the season. Cranberries are a wetlands obligate, meaning they grow in wetland soils, so keep a watch for these low, trailing plants when you're out exploring river edges and soggy lowlands. And then return in November for the harvest. Many berries survive through the winter freeze to provide a spring snack.

We were all duped by media reports this summer that NH had exceeded Maine for the highest percentage of forest cover in the US. Apparently, we're just not "seeing the forest for the trees." 

A classic “apples to oranges” comparison reported New Hampshire’s “89% tree cover” now qualifies us as the “most-forested” state in the nation.

FACT #1: A USDA Northern Forest Research and Syracuse University study determined NH tree cover is 89% - and yes, that is higher overall than Maine’s percent tree cover.

What's Good for the Goose

Nov 2, 2012
Daniel D'Auria

November's gray skies carry the last of the migrating Canada geese, graceful ribbons of true wild Canadians on a long-distance flight. These aren't the New England locals, flying low from golf course to cornfield.

The northerners are vocal in flight. Geese are highly social, vocal year-round as they maintain relationships both within the family grouping and the greater flock. Vocalizing by young begins within the egg before hatching, and helps build a strong family bond that lasts a full year.

Thoreau Remembered

Oct 5, 2012

Henry David Thoreau's death 150 years ago has inspired memorial events in Concord - the Massachusetts Concord - but Thoreau passed through our Concord on a trip by boat and foot that led to his first book.

Goldfinches, The Late Nesters

Sep 21, 2012

The bird world quiets down by late summer - but not the American goldfinch, one of the most common backyard birds. September brings the chatter of young goldfinches as they follow their male parent. They beg noisily, perched with head thrown back and trembling wings.

Most songbirds switch their diet to high-protein insects when feeding their young, and they nest earlier when insects are most bountiful. For example, chickadees that keep bird-feeders busy in winter disappear in summer as they forage for insects not birdseed.

Hawks Aloft

Sep 7, 2012

Once again, it's broad-winged hawk migration time. Whirpools of hawks soon will fill the sky, riding high on thermal lift as sun warms earth. When lift plays out they stream south in an orderly, and countable, procession.

New Hampshire Audubon does just that - count the hawks - at Carter Hill Orchard in Concord and atop Pack Monadnock at Miller State Park in Peterborough.

Here's what Henry Walters, the official counter at Pack Monadnock, wrote two years ago on September 18:

Dragonflies Winging South

Aug 24, 2012

Late summer brings cool nights and clear air - and winged migration. Along with birds heading south, there's a few butterfly, moth and dragonfly species that respond to the migratory urge.

One dragonfly - the common green darner - has been studied with results that suggest there's a lot of similarities between insect and bird migration. Tiny radio transmitters were attached with eyelash adhesive to green darners which were tracked by plane and ground crews.

Not So Common Nighthawks

Aug 10, 2012

In mid-August, one of the most elegant and least known migration flights begins. Common nighthawks, a long-distance migrant, are one of the earliest to depart their northern breeding grounds. Despite their species name, they aren't hawks and they aren't nocturnal. And, alas, they no longer are common. Nighthawks are crepuscular, a great word for the handful of species that are most active at dawn and dusk.

The World Brought Close

Jul 27, 2012

A Something Wild listener recently asked for a recommendation for binoculars—preferably in the low- to medium-price range. It's a great subject. My favorite word heard on field trips is "Ohmygod," an exclamation involuntarily emitted when someone sees a bird or butterfly—or just about anything—up close through good binoculars.

An Expected Newcomer

Jul 13, 2012

There's a newcomer in New Hampshire, a bird that's wild and prehistoric in looks and sound. The bugling of sandhill cranes is common in Wisconsin and Michigan where their numbers have rebounded from near eradication some 70 years ago. That rebound—from the low hundreds to over 50,000 today—has likely led to a range expansion eastward to New England. There's 11 known pairs breeding in Maine, and a few in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. Surely New Hampshire is next.

The All-American Lawn

Jun 28, 2012

Come the weekend, it's time to tend the All-American Lawn; time to fire up the  mowers and weed whackers. Lawns need a lot of tending because they go against a basic law of nature: biodiversity, the ever-changing, dynamic system of plants and animals, flora and fauna.

Dandy Dandelions

Jun 15, 2012

You've got to hand it to dandelions. They're transplants from Europe that have adapted and spread very, very well. Anyone who has tried to pry dandelions loose from lawn or garden knows they have a long tap root. Leave any root segment and the plant will rise again. 

Silent Spring

Jun 1, 2012

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring", woke the world up to the perils of chemicals that promised food crops free of disease and insects, and time outdoors free of mosquitoes. The book is credited with starting the modern environmental movement. It was the birdwatchers that first alerted the scientists about robins literally falling from the sky soon after DDT was sprayed, as well as longer-term declines in birds higher on the food chain.

Spectrum of Birdsong

May 18, 2012

Mid-May is like rush hour in the bird world. Migrants have returned for the nesting season and the air is full of birdsong. As you might guess, birdsong is as varied as birds themselves. In fact, birdsong is defined generously to include any and all sounds they make with territorial or courtship intentions. Let's start with a traditional vocalization and then branch out.  

Cedar Waxwings

May 4, 2012
Courtesy Iguanasan via Flickr

May brings apple blossoms, a universal favorite—whether in hillside orchard or backyard crabapple. They're also favored by one of the most elegant songbirds of all, cedar waxwings. They're a social species but sedate and quiet as birds go—easy to miss despite traveling in flocks.

Often the best way to know they're around is by their song. It's subtle, admittedly, but worth learning. Once alerted by their song, here's what you might see: male and female waxwings exchange blossoms bill-to-bill as part of a courtship ritual when winter flocks pair off for the breeding season ahead.

Dilig-Ant

Apr 20, 2012
Rikfrog via Flickr/Creative Commons.

The ants come marching, one by one, up the kitchen wall; it’s a sure sign of spring. These are the worker ants, females all, tasked with delivering food to the colony. Male drones remain in that colony, on call for their one role in a very brief life: mating with a fertile female destined to be a new queen.

Get the Lead Out

Apr 6, 2012
Lead Sinkers
Photo by kurtfaler via Flickr/Creative Commons.

As anglers dust off their tackle boxes, it's a great time to make sure that all the lead is out. Decades of research by the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough has proven the toxicity of lead fishing tackle to wildlife. One lead sinker an ounce or less in weight can kill a loon in a matter of weeks. Loons swallow grit and pebbles that help to grind up food, and sometimes there's a sinker in the gravelly mix. Fishermen lose a lot of sinkers. 

A Body at Play...

Mar 23, 2012

We've all seen wildlife documentaries showing young animals—lion cubs, perhaps—wrestling, chasing, pouncing on their siblings. Observe household puppies and kittens and you'll see the same behavior: young animals at play.

Play is defined as spontaneous, energetic behavior with no apparent purpose or goal. But whenever there's considerable expenditure of energy, a closer look is warranted. There may not be apparent goals, but the true benefits of play are being recognized by a growing number of disciplines.

Protecting The Land

Mar 9, 2012

In New Hampshire we value rural character—a value that's reflected in a strong history of land conservation.  Central to that history is conservation of privately owned land by means of what's called a "conservation easement deed" that limits future development.  It's typically a family decision.  A family chooses to conserve their land so that future generations will know the land as they do.  The property stays on a town's tax rolls and its natural resources are protected in perpetuity.  Land conservation benefits the public, and in most cases landowners are entitled to an income tax dedu

Noisy Water Birds

Feb 9, 2012

Summer visitors to New Hampshire typically are eager to hear the call of a common loon, emblem of the wild and remote north woods.  Popular souvenirs to take home include coffee mugs, sweatshirts and jewelry—all with a loon motif.

In addition to their striking appearance, I suspect the fact that loons chorus at night adds greatly to their mystique.  Loons of winter don't get much attention, but scan coastal waters and chances are good you'll see a loon or two offshore.  New Hampshire's breeding loons don't migrate far.