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

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.

The Green Rx

May 25, 2012

Forests keep us healthy.

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.  

Mayfly Ballet

May 11, 2012
smilla4, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s not just anglers who follow emerging mayflies. The drama plays to appreciative audiences above and below the water. Hatching nymphs rise from dark, watery depths up to the wide blue sky, a glorious curtain call and tolling dinner bell.

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.

Paul-W, Flikr Creative Commons

Lovely woodland wildflowers are reliable “indicators” of soil moisture, fertility and light conditions. Wildflowers on the forest floor repeat patterns seen elsewhere each spring. The flowers speak to the patterns of why plants and trees grow where they do in our forests. 

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.

Flowering Shadbush

Apr 13, 2012
from dmott9, Flickr Creative Commons

In April, forest trees leaf-out casting shade. When buds open, most tree flowers bloom inconspicuously. But some rural roadsides and pasture edges are accentuated by the stunning white full bloom of a small native tree whose Latin scientific name is Amelanchier arborea. 

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. 

The Lorax

Mar 28, 2012
Reuters/San Diego Police Department/Handout

The box office success of the new Universal Pictures animated feature film “The Lorax” - based on a classic Dr. Seuss tale – creates a window of opportunity to consider environmental messaging to a new generation of future leaders. The original Seuss tale is beloved. I can still recite it from memory. “Tell us ‘The Lorax’ Dad!” my kids would beg. Like all Seuss books, The Lorax features rhymes, nuances and a moral.

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.

Frogs Are-a-Courtin'

Mar 16, 2012

When overnight rain arrives in March, male wood frogs emerge from cold leaves and soil to migrate to ancestral vernal pools still encased in ice.  Wood frogs and Jefferson salamanders are the earliest amphibians to begin the annual rites of courtship in vernal pools formed by melting snow. The early imperative to breed drives small, chocolate-brown males to pools where they begin broadcasting clucking mating calls that sound like quacking ducks. 

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

The Dogs of March

Mar 2, 2012
via Flickr Creative Commons, MemaNH

In March, coyotes stalk, chase and kill winter-weakened deer in the equivalent of "Lions & Gazelles." Hungry coyotes now take prey larger than their usual fare of small rodents. 

Coyotes breed in February. During March and April gestation, they select maternity dens where they'll birth pups in May. Coyotes do NOT hunt in large family packs or occupy dens in other seasons. Coyote breeding is timed to a seasonal abundance of food: deer are in weakened condition after burning winter fat reserves while traveling in snow on a meager diet of twigs, bark and buds. 

Barred owls, New Hampshire's most common owl species, also have the most familiar courtship and territorial song—usually translated as, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?"   It can be heard all year, day or night, but really revs up as owl breeding season begins in late winter.  Owls are early nesters.

Wildlife produce their young when their primary food resource is most abundant.  Mice, rabbit and squirrel populations are exploding when owl hatchlings on a continual growth spurt require frequent feeding.

With Valentine's Day over, let's get real about "Romance"…   Do any animals really mate for life?

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.

Antlers in the Snow

Feb 3, 2012
Dave Anderson

While following deer trails in snow you'll find pellets of scat and tufts of hair – coarse grey and white hair, hollow in cross-section. A more coveted souvenir are "sheds” – cast-off antlers.

After breeding ends in December, deer antlers loosen at the base. Once-formidable weapons of territorial defense drop with testosterone levels in January. The shed antlers cast by bucks and bull moose each winter are often promptly buried by snow.

New Hampshire Audubon's annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey is coming up: the second weekend each February.

Three woodpeckers common statewide are among the early birds when it comes to loudly proclaiming territory and courtship. Lend an ear this time of year and you'll hear the rapid-fire drumming of powerful bills on resonant deadwood. Vocally challenged, woodpeckers drum while most other backyard birds sing.

Got Snow?

Jan 20, 2012
Ben Hudson via Society for Protection of NH Forests

Snow - or a lack thereof - is a perennial January conversation. We put online Doppler radar maps in motion to access a range of snow forecasts. For people, weather news underlies commuting times, power outages and snow sports that drive winter tourism. But for wildlife, winter weather spells survival or death for animals best-adapted to changing conditions.

Which animals win or lose during an open or low-snow winter?

Once again, Friday the 13th is at hand, one of the most abiding superstitions despite little agreement about its origins. Superstitions date from a time when the workings of the physical world were unknown. Calamitous events such as earthquakes, solar eclipses, plagues and death seemingly came out of nowhere.

Many superstitions centered on birds, most likely because they fly high to the heavens where the gods were thought to hang out. Birds were seen as carrying messages from the gods, and because the gods wielded power capriciously the messages seldom were glad tidings.

Solid Water

Jan 6, 2012
s.alt via Flickr

You learned a remarkable property of H2O back in High School chemistry. Remember?

Normally, the density of compounds decreases as temperatures increase and molecules spread out. When temperatures fall, density increases as molecules become more tightly packed. Not true for ice – in fact, the exact opposite occurs!

In liquid form, each water molecule’s hydrogen is bonded to 3 other water molecules. In ice form, each molecule’s hydrogen bonded to 4 others. These hydrogen bonds form an open arrangement that is less compact than liquid water.

Have you heard about coffee that's for the birds? There definitely is such a thing: shade-grown coffee. Until recently that's how all coffee grew: in the shade on small family farms. Canopy trees above provided shade along with a natural leaf mulch that kept soil moist, prevented soil erosion, and decomposed to provide nutrients. The canopy typically included fruit and nut trees that provided food for the farm family.

A favorite children’s book I loved when my kids were young was The Night Tree by Eve Bunting. First published in 1991, the now 20-year-old story relates how a young family drove to a forest on a cold December night to decorate a living Christmas tree with edible ornaments for wildlife. The story and luminous illustrations capture the spirit of holiday giving and a special ritual in a cherished place.

I admit to being a distracted driver at times, but it's not for the usual reasons. I'm looking for moose, but not the kind wildlife biologists usually look for. I'm looking for a small moose on car license plates.

For ten years now New Hampshire's moose license plates have raised significant funds for conservation of both historic and natural resources. Land has been conserved; loons and other endangered species protected; nature education brought into classrooms; historic buildings and covered bridges fixed up along with buildings in our state parks.

by rgallant via Flickr

For wildlife, it's time to display winter survival adaptations … or a lack thereof. What strategy will you choose? Your options to deal with winter are limited to five basic strategies:

#1) Die - Annual plants and many adult insects die-off, leaving offspring as seeds, eggs or larval caterpillars or aquatic nymphs. People avoid this strategy; too radical.

#2) Don't live here - Leave. Songbirds, hawks, waterfowl, several bats, monarch butterflies and resident human "snowbirds" migrate south to warmer climes.

<a href="http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/category/december/">Mary Holland</a>

The natural world quiets down in December, both visually and audibly. Fall's riot of colors is long gone, and the bird song chorus is a distant memory. Not everyone embraces winter, but there is a positive way to view the impending season of cold, ice and snow. Without the overload of spring, summer and fall distractions, we're freed up to notice and appreciate the subtle winter world.

The stark beauty of New Hampshire's November

Robert Frost's poem My November Guest begins:

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,

            Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

            She walks the sodden pasture lane.

ipmckenna / Flickr/Creative Commons

Here's a bird song we all recognize, the familiar crowing of, yes, crows, a species with many vocalizations. Crows are one of the most intelligent animals in the wild, and a lot of intelligent people have come up with theories to explain why.

November is breeding season - also called “rut” - for deer. In NH, the white-tail deer population is estimated at 85,000 statewide.

Deer now occupy two social groups: family groups of female “does” with their fawns or in groups of rival male “bucks.”

Deer establish a scent-based chemical landscape during the rut when male territorial behavior peaks. Bucks rub antlers against supple saplings scraping bark from bow-shaped maples or small conifers to remove the antler “velvet” and to deposit scent from forehead glands.

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