Something Wild

Fridays at 8:45 am

For nearly 20 years, Something Wild has explored the wonder that is the landscape that surrounds us in New Hampshire. From the many birds that call our state home to the trees around New Hampshire that have been granted "Big Trees" status to stone walls that perforate the state, we explain the behavior and science behind what we see and hear and might take for granted in our backyards.

Seeing something new on your favorite hike, or wondering about something mundane at your bird feeder? Drop us a question and we'll tell you Something Wild!

Something Wild is hosted by Dave Anderson and Chris Martin; and produced by Andrew Parrella and Ross Boyd.

Click here to get our podcast on iTunes.

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH:

Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
New Hampshire Audubon

Ways To Connect

Today is the last lengthening day of the year. Tomorrow - Summer Solstice - is the first full day of summer. Hooray! In that sense, today is the "end of the beginning" while tomorrow marks the "beginning of the end."

The song of the veery is a haunting, ethereal song. Males sing at dusk, a time when not many other birds sing and daytime winds have calmed. It's also a time when the air turns damp; dense, moist air transfers sound waves better than dry air.

If you listen to the song carefully, you can hear an echo or tremolo effect (more on this below), because songbirds have, essentially, a double voice box that can produce two notes at the same time. (The left voice box is lower pitched than the right one.) In a sense, a singing veery harmonizes with itself.

Author with an old beech tree.

“Senescent” comes from “senile” – the aging process. The word is disconcerting as we prepare for the summer wedding of my eldest daughter. She wants to start her family… becoming a grandfather is now inevitable. It’s shocking.

The 'Dirt' On Soil

May 30, 2014
NRCS Soil Health via flickr Creative Commons

This time of year finds a lot of people working in their gardens. Good gardeners pay attention to their soil.Just like above ground, there’s a diverse world of wildlife below ground competing for space, nutrients, and performing roles that support life on Earth.

Microscopic bacteria species by the millions; root fungi that deliver nutrients to plants; worms, ants and other insects aerating the soil and adding nutrients through their droppings and—post mortem—as their bodies decay. Minerals laid down long ago are constantly breaking down through weather and erosion.

Water In The Trees

May 23, 2014
Dave Anderson

The patter of rain. Fingers of wind comb the canopy of tender leaves. These are exotic sounds of the new tree canopy in late May. New Hampshire forests are adapted to withstand rigors of wind and weather. Leaf structures reflect inner tree plumbing we rarely consider.

Tubes of the water-moving "xylem" are coiled like springs that stretch and recoil to some degree and not break the tension of water in these drinking straws.  Stem fibers of differing lengths break at different stress points

Len Peters via flickr Creative Commons

I've learned that a sighting of a bluebird on a bird watching field trip stops everything. We'll pause a long time as people take turns looking through the spotting scope. Involuntary gasps of pleasure, "oohs" and "aahs" and "ohmygods."

Favorite Phoebe Nest

May 9, 2014
Dave Anderson

A little phoebe nest is tucked beneath the rafters in my backyard woodshed like a miniature wreath. It’s a curious little relic to behold during those long, cold snowy weeks of hauling winter cordwood. By May, it once more cradles eggs and tiny nestlings.

The elegant little nest cup is woven of green moss, lined with pine needles and dried grass and cemented with warm mud. During winter, that Phoebe’s nest carries the promise of time travel to these fleeting mornings of early May when warm sunshine drenches the Lane River Valley - already now awash in spring bird songs.

And Reago and Chrissy McClarren via Flickr/Creative Commons.

We went into the field this week to speak with Carol Foss, Member of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group and NH Coordinator of the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz

Rusty Blackbird populations have fallen over the last century: by between 80 and 90-percent. Last fall the working group decided to make careful study of the spring migration, and coordinated hundreds of volunteer scientists along the migration route to track the birds.

Tiny Tree Flowers

Apr 25, 2014

Spring blossoms of our largest plants - woody trees - are small and inconspicuous. Trees flower early - before leaves emerge. While showy wildflowers on the forest floor rely on specialized insect pollinators, forest trees do not.

Trees rely on wind-pollination of flowers to yield summer seeds and autumn nuts. Flowering before leaves emerge ensures greater air circulation among pollen-producing male stamens and female pistils containing ovaries.

Alexandra MacKenzie via flickr Creative Commons

Move over robins; red-winged blackbirds are the real harbingers of spring.

The male’s scratchy “oak-a-lee” songs are heard when the world is still blanketed with snow and maple sap is just beginning to flow. Males return north well before females, and the early bird does get the worm. In this case the metaphorical worm is prime breeding territory.

Spring Sunlight

Apr 11, 2014
Dave Anderson

Daylight floods a rural NH valley. A rooster crows in the village. The morning songbird chorus features mourning doves, red-wing blackbirds, a cardinal. The symphony will soon swell with grouse drumming, wood thrush flutes and a crescendo of warbler songs.

Strong sunlight of lengthening days is the catalyst that controls circadian rhythms influencing production of hormones - in birds, wild mammals and people.

Chris Martin / NHA

On Monday, the Union Leader reported that the peregrine family nesting high above Manchester had found a new papa bird. After her previous mate injured his wing and was taken in for surgery, the female falcon eventually left the nest in search of food. Within 72 hours of her former mate's disappearance, she successfully found a new male for her nest.

Saw-Whet Owls

Apr 4, 2014
Kent McFarland via flickr Creative Commons

There are a lot of unusual sounds out there in the natural world. Here’s one from the nighttime forest, often heard this time of year.

No, it’s not a school bus backing up.

It’s a tiny owl, the northern saw-whet, and it’s a lot more common than bird surveys suggest. As you might imagine, small birds active only at night are not easy to survey. Also important to note is that because they're the favorite meal of the much larger barred owl, their survival depends on keeping a low profile—usually under cover of dense conifers.

The Sugaring Life

Mar 28, 2014
Charlie Kellogg via flickr Creative Commons

 Maple time in New England brings out the essence of the trees and the character in the people. For those who love trees, a tongue-tip taste of fresh maple syrup is a sacrament, maple communion at the end of a long winter. To ingest the distilled essence of trees confers the spirit of the forest itself.

Vernal Equinox Means Equal Night

Mar 21, 2014
Abigail via flickr Creative Commons

The Vernal Equinox has arrived! For one brief moment, everywhere on planet Earth, day and night are equal: 12 hours from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise.

The length of daylight compared to dark, is known as photoperiod. Seasonal changes in photoperiod  trigger a lot of changes in plants and animals. Many plants are known as short-day species; they flower after the summer solstice when days are getting shorter. Plants that bloom in spring are known as long-day species.

elPadawan via flickr Creative Commons

For some plants, the race to harvest sunlight to make food starts early, in March. Skunk cabbage and many alpine plants begin to photosynthesize under the snow using red "anthocyanin" pigments which can absorb the longer-wavelength blue light at the ultra-violet end of the spectrum--even while buried beneath the snow. 

The Common Junco And Its Uncommon History

Mar 7, 2014
foxtail_1 via flickr Creative Commons

A huge question in evolutionary biology is the very basic one: How do species form? It turns out that the Dark-eyed Junco, one of the most common birds at winter feeders, is providing a  clear picture of that process.

First, a quick review of what defines a species:

Judy van der Velden via flickr Creative Commons

Wait! Don't wish this winter away...not yet.

Before dirty, old snow banks rot and melt onto sun-warmed pavement; before sweet steam of maple sugaring or green thoughts at St. Patrick's Day; remember one perfect day, when winter took your breath away.

The Truth About Coy-Dogs

Feb 21, 2014
Jeff Wallace via flickr Creative Commons

It's the height of eastern coyote courtship, and a pair can really yip it up. Coyote sightings, as well as the sounds of coyotes often sparks talk of coy-dogs. Is there such a thing?

Yes. And no.

Yes, domestic dog and coyote hybrids are biologically possible and have occurred; but no genetic sampling of coyotes has found evidence of domestic dog. Coy-dogs don't survive, and here's why.

Mark-Spokes.com via flickr Creative Commons

If Valentine's Day alone were not a slippery slope, consider this question: Muskrat Love?

Science long taught its practitioners--biologists in particular--to avoid ascribing human emotions or attributes to animals. But are we not animals ourselves? For the past century, animals were afforded no emotions despite exhibitions of behaviors humans recognize as emotional: anger, revenge, fear, and love.

Tom Petrus via flickr Creative Commons

Got snow? That's probably a sore subject for many in New England this time of year, but in the woods, snow is not an enemy--a scourge to be shoveled, scraped and plowed out of the way. In nature, snow is a trusted ally to plants and wildlife. Snow acts as a blanket, a source of camouflage, a form of concealment,  and even a sponge. 

A Snowy Invasion

Jan 24, 2014
Tom Magliery via flickr Creative Commons

This year is being referred to as an "invasion year" for snowy owls, and it might be one for the record books.  

Most of the snowy owl sightings have been along the coast where a flat, open landscape resembles their native tundra. Reports from New Hampshire birders include sightings of up to nine in a single day. On Nantucket, the annual Christmas Bird Count found 33, far surpassing the previous count record of four.

Charles Brutlag / Dreamstime.com

In the frozen fastness of a winter forest, devoid of green plants and insects, winter tree bark provides important winter insect habitat and a food pantry for forest birds and small mammals hunting for tiny insects or seeds.

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." 

Tracy Lee Carroll

Even as we stare down the barrel of the coldest, darkest days of early January, the earliest signs of spring will soon begin anew - even before the first mail-order seed catalogs arrive.  Early harbingers of this new natural year are subtle. Spring renewal begins with hardy birds that remain winter residents, those species best-adapted to our northern winters.

State Fern Nominee?

Dec 27, 2013

  New Hampshire's a state insect, the ladybug was nominated by persuasive Concord fifth graders; the pumpkin is our state fruit courtesy of some persuasive Harrisville third and fourth graders. I'd like to plant a seed—or perhaps a spore—for nomination of rock polypody as our state fern. Here's the case.

Ancient tree-worshipers – Druids - believed mistletoe possessed magical powers because it grows high in bare oaks, shedding lush green leaves even in midwinter. Druids harvested mistletoe to hang in households to promote fertility. Translation of the folklore over centuries creates the holiday custom of hanging mistletoe to elicit a Christmas kiss.

Forest Succession

Dec 13, 2013
Kyle Harms, Louisianna State University

"Forest succession" is a pattern of plant regeneration that begins when a plot of land is left to its own devices. The first phase of this succession is bare soil or an abandoned field. And nature, over the span of decades, converts the area through several stages to mature forest – if left undisturbed.

Rick Ganley

Why do products cloak themselves in natural imagery and metaphor? The auto industry has long co-opted Nature nouns: Falcons, Jaguars, Cougars, Impalas, Mustangs and Rams…

The World Runs on Grass

Nov 29, 2013
Francie Von Mertens

Grass doesn't get a lot of appreciation aside from lawns and hayfields, but grasses play an essential role in ecosystem health. When soil is disturbed by hurricane, fire or logging, grasses take quick advantage of. Dormant seeds awaiting the right conditions sprout and up come the grasses.

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