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Nature can be our constant and help us feel reassured during uncertain times. The Harris Center is here to help you stay connected to the outdoors. Here are some ways you can find solace, comfort, and inspiration in the natural world. We will be updating this page regularly, so check back!
Bears and Birds
Black bears are up and they are hungry. They haven’t eaten since late December, and many of the adult females have given birth during their long winter rest.
When they emerge from their dens in late March and early April, insects — which make up a large portion of their diet — aren’t active or available yet. In early spring, bears feed primarily on vegetation, including inner bark, woody plants, new grass, and herbaceous plants. If they’re lucky, their incredible sense of smell might lead them to a deer or moose carcass.
If they’re unlucky, they will find one of our many bird feeders. Sunflower seeds, millet, suet, and corn are undeniably tempting foods for them. All they need to do is climb a deck, shimmy up a pole, scale a fence, or break into a garage to access a mountain of seed — a valuable resource high in protein and fat.
But birdseed spells trouble for black bears. Bears habituated to visiting feeders in residential neighborhoods often end up in places they shouldn’t, doing things that cause us alarm and concern. Some of them will ultimately have to be euthanized by the authorities. If you care about our wild neighbors, the most responsible thing to do is stop feeding the birds on April 1 and don’t resume again until the middle of December.
Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program
As the earth warms, reptiles and amphibian are on the move. This is your chance to help state biologists document and record their presence. Through the Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program (RAARP), you can help contribute valuable information to New Hampshire’s understanding of these captivating vertebrates.
Simply photograph the reptiles and amphibians you encounter, record their locations, and submit your photos and accompanying information to RAARP. This type of citizen reporting helps state biologists not only determine the distribution of these animals, but can also inform decision-making with regards to conservation and protection of rare and endangered species in New Hampshire.
Get ready, it’s about to be morel season in New Hampshire! Fall is prime time for most mushrooms, but morels are only found in the spring. Look for their distinctive spongy-looking grooved caps in old apple orchards, mixed hardwood forests, and burned areas, and along steep banks, abandoned railroad beds, and streams — especially after rainy weather in May and June. To help figure out if you’ve found one of these treasured fungi, check out The Mushroom Expert. Happy searching!
Karen Rent, one of the Harris Center’s teacher-naturalists, has been waking up early this spring to hear what the world has to say. She isn’t turning on the news or checking her FaceBook feed. Instead, she quietly slips outside her home in Keene, sometimes with her husband and two young children, right before dawn and just listens. The first bird that she hears is usually a robin but then “a few more start singing and more, as the sun rises, until so many birds are singing that it is hard to pick out individual species.”
Karen suggests getting outside about an hour before sunrise, which is currently around 5:50 a.m. It can be quite chilly in the early morning, so having a sleeping bag or warm blanket might help you feel more comfortable.
According to Karen, “Being outside when the first birds start singing fills me with anticipation, and when the full chorus is in swing my heart is filled with joy. I feel like I am experiencing a secret world that takes place in the treetops when the rest of the world is still asleep. Like the birds are celebrating the return of the sun on a daily basis in the way that many people celebrate the solstice each year.”
Look around and you will see our hardwood trees and shrubs about to burst back into life. Beneath their swollen buds, leaves and flowers are about to spring open and announce that winter is truly over. It is something to notice and celebrate. But did you know you could also become a contributing citizen scientist simply by recording the date and type of plant you observe leafing out? Budburst, a project of the Chicago Botanic Garden, is looking for everyday people to help them collect valuable data on the timing of plant life cycles. Searching for a way to contribute to science while spending time outside? Become a bud watcher!
A signpost to spring is the curious call and flight of the American Woodcock. To find out more about the woodcock and its call, check out the Cornell Lab’s online field guide.
Then head out to a local field with wet edges or an early successional forest a little before dusk, and get ready to hear the male woodcock’s buzzy peent peent call and watch its spiraling courtship dance.
Visit a Vernal Pool
Want to see something teeming with life? Then visit a vernal pool. These special temporary wetlands fill with water from snowmelt and spring rains, becoming a perfect place for certain frogs and salamanders to lay their eggs. Since these pools often dry up by mid-summer, they provide a fish-free nursery for these amphibians.
Now is the time to look for one in your neighborhood and spend time observing the amazing life cycle of some of New England’s most specialized amphibians. Visit our vernal pool page to read more about these unique habitats, see if there is an identified pool in your neighborhood, and find out how you can get involved.
Gifts for the Nest
As many of us know, it is time to bring in our bird feeders to keep the black bears out of our backyards. But this doesn’t mean you have to stop providing for the birds. Many birds are in the midst of their courtship and breeding season. Use your suet feeder cage to put out nesting materials for them to use. Pet fur and plant fluff like cattail fuzz, dry grasses, and bark strips are just a few things you can offer. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to find out more about what, and what not, to put out for nesting birds.
Planting for Pollinators
With all the time we are spending at our homes lately, perhaps you are spending more time gardening than ever before. This would be a perfect time to consider how you can help make your home landscape more inviting to our native pollinators like bumble bees, swallowtail butterflies, other insects, and even hummingbirds.
To help you imagine what you could plant and why it’s important to provide habitat for these essential animals, check out how the Harris Center transformed an abandoned swimming pool into a pollinator oasis.
By now you are probably hearing the signature sound of spring coming from our area’s wetlands — the peeping of the spring peeper frog. This petite amphibian, truly no bigger than the tip of your thumb, is out in full force. Male peepers are calling to attract females with the vitality and power of their peeps.
If you are feeling adventurous, head to the edge of any wetland in this region, and give yourself a peeper sound bath. You can hear their call anytime of the day, but the best time to get fully immersed is from dusk through the night on mild spring evenings.
Go Wild with Wildflowers
The first glimpse of a wildflower in early spring reminds us all that winter does fade, spring is here, and summer will follow. Search the woodlands for these blooming jewels. From trout lilies and spring beauties to trailing arbutus and Dutchman’s breeches, our woods and forested edges are filled with these fragile flowers.
To help you identify these short-lived spring wildflowers, consider taking photographs of them and then using a field guide at home to finalize your identification. An online tool that can be very helpful is the Native Plant Trust’s Go Botany.
Even if you don’t identify these early beauties, just go out and enjoy their delicate presence and know that more flowers are to come as spring continues to unfold into summer.
Follow the return of spring birds with the Harris Center’s own Eric Masterson as he tracks the migration from his Hancock backyard in his Nightsongs blog. Using a specialized microphone, Eric records and identifies the calls of these feathered travelers at night, which is when the majority of songbirds migrate. He will be posting regular reports with tallies and recordings throughout the spring migration season. To learn more about Eric’s fascinating project, watch this short video.
Barred Owls Right Now
Early spring is a great time to hear the calls of one of New Hampshire’s most common owls, the Barred Owl. Breeding pairs have most likely set up shop in a woodland near you. Preferring mixed forests near a water source, Barred Owls have already begun their nesting season. Their distinctive “Who cooks for you” call is most often heard at night. Familiarize yourself with this nocturnal bird of prey by reading about it and listening to it here.
And if you really want to see something amazing, check out this live cam feed from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Watch out: you could get completely hooked on watching this pair of Barred Owls raise their young. This is what we naturalists call “reality TV.”
Moss and More Moss
Before the greens of late spring, our New Hampshire landscape is filled with glimmers of green in vibrant mats of moss. Look on rocks, trees, and the ground for these small verdant plants. Challenge yourself to notice the differences and similarities of the various mosses you find.
Fall in love with these ancient plants and further your knowledge by reading author and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautifully written and highly educational book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. You can also read about the biodiversity of common mosses of New England here.
Lift your Spirit with Bird Song
Head outside in the morning and listen to the early spring chorus of our wild birds. Try learning to identify a different song a day. A great new resource for bird song identification is the app Song Sleuth available for phones. With over 200 different bird songs and advanced software that enables you to record the songs you hear and match them to a bird song directory, this new tool will help you get a handle on who’s singing what.
Find a Babbling Brook
Spring thaw transforms even our small quiet streams into babbling brooks. Find one to sit near or walk along, and let the sound of the running water carry your worries away. Neuroscientists and psychologists have shown that the sound of running water helps people feel more relaxed and calmer about the world around them.
Escape the Black Flies
If black flies are making it hard for you to go outside, then beat the flies and head downtown! With all the pavement found in our downtowns and limited access to running water (like streams and rivers) in which to lay their eggs, black flies are far fewer in urban environments.
Cityscapes also offer some unique opportunities for nature viewing. Look at the trees planted along sidewalks for ornamentals that you won’t find in New Hampshire forests, like gingkos and sycamores. Try taking a stroll through Keene State College’s campus, where many of their cultivated tree specimens are labeled. (You can take a virtual tree tour of the campus here, as well.)
Be sure to keep your eyes to the sky during your city wanderings to search for Peregrine Falcons, who can sometimes be found nesting on building ledges. If you visit Manchester, New Hampshire, peer up at 1750 Elm Street for a peek at their resident nesting pair. You can also get a close-up look at this nest in real time on NH Audubon’s nest cam.
The lakes and ponds are open and spring is upon us. There is no better time to dust off your canoe or kayak and ply the waters of the Monadnock Region! Bring your binoculars and search the water for migrating waterfowl like mergansers and grebes, or look up in hopes of catching a glimpse of a circling osprey or eagle. Don’t forget to be a responsible paddler and wear your life jacket. The waters might be open, but the temperatures are still mighty cold.
Consider exploring one of the many SuperSanctuary waterbodies whose shorelines and water quality the Harris Center has helped protect — like Silver Lake, Spoonwood Pond, or Robb Reservoir. See this map of the Harris Center’s protected places to discover a beautiful, new-to-you paddle.
Bogs in Bloom
Bogs are wetlands characterized by acidic, low-oxygen, nutrient-poor conditions — which make for some unusual plant adaptations. Pitcher plants, sundews, and bladderwort, for instance, have resorted to carnivory (and new research shows they prey on more than just insects!) to get the nutrients they need to grow. In June and early July, many bog plants come into bloom, offering a colorful glimpse into these unique ecosystems.
Although true bogs are rare in our neck of the woods, bog plant communities can be found along the shallow edges of several local ponds. If you have access to a canoe or kayak, paddle to the northern and western borders of Rye Pond in Antrim, Stoddard, and Nelson to search for the tiny pink blossoms of the rose pogonia, or “snakemouth orchid.” Pitcher plant and bladderwort blooms abound at Meetinghouse Pond in Marlborough, and the careful observer can also find them at the northern edge of Harrisville Pond.
To explore by foot, visit the Distant Hill Nature Trail in Alstead or the Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary in Amherst for boardwalks that traverse the top of floating bog mats. Bounce on the boards to feel the quaking bog beneath, but don’t step off, lest you sink into the spongy sphagnum!
Oh! Pink Lady’s Slipper
Spend some time with New Hampshire’s state wildflower, the pink lady’s slipper, this summer. Look for this showy whitish-pink to magenta flower in dry to moist forests near oaks and pines or on mats of soil along rocks from May through June. A member of the orchid family, the pink lady’s slipper is also known as the moccasin flower.
Pink lady’s slippers share a symbiotic relationship with a soil fungus. Since the seeds of this flower don’t have a food source, they need the threads of the fungus to pass food and nutrients to the developing seed. When the lady’s slipper is older, the fungus then receives food and nutrients from the plant. To find out more about the fascinating life cycle of this unique flower, check out this US Forest Service’s post.
And if you are looking for a wild read about orchids, the black market, and thievery, read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession. You won’t be disappointed.
Slow Down for Turtles
As the Harris Center’s Brett Amy Thelen pointed out in her most recent article for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s Backyard Naturalist column, it’s turtle time: from mid-May through early July, females turtles are moving across busy roads on their way to lay eggs. You can help ensure their survival by slowing down on roads near water to give these slow-moving reptiles a chance to cross safely. To find out more about this and other ways to help our local turtles, read this recent press release from New Hampshire Fish & Game.
Long May You Run
Have you considered trail running? Running off-road is one way to give your joints a break from asphalt and hard-pack, while getting you away from hot roads buzzing with traffic. Trails offer shade, beautiful views, quiet and peaceful runs, and can help engage your core by running more rugged terrain. The Harris Center’s Eastview and North Pond trails are a great place to see if trail running is right for you.
Here are a few tips to keep your trail running adventures fun and safe:
- Know where you are going. Familiarize yourself with the trail before you run it, either by hiking it sometime prior to your run or by studying a trail map.
- Stick to well-marked trails. It can be easy to get turned around when you are trail running, especially if you are in your zone, so choose well-established and clearly marked trails to stay on track.
- Think while you go. Running on trails not only keeps your body in shape, but it also requires a bit more brainpower than road running. Pay attention to what’s in front of you to avoid obstacles like roots and rocks.
- Run with a buddy. If trail running makes you a bit nervous because it feels remote and rugged, run with a friend. If you choose to run solo, always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back to civilization.
It isn’t often that we get to truly help a wild animal, but during these warm days, you can make a difference in an amphibian’s life. Have you noticed the many reddish-orange salamanders that crawl through the woods on humid summer days? These brightly colored creatures are the juvenile stage of the Eastern newt. Born in ponds, lakes, and swamps throughout Eastern North America, these salamanders spend years wandering through the woods before eventually returning to the water as breeding adults. There, they fade from vibrant orange to an olive or brownish-green color. To find out more about this salamander’s fascinating life cycle and ecology, visit the NHFG website.
After the next rainfall, take a walk along any dirt road and you will likely notice an eft (or two or three…) Oftentimes they are slow to move and at risk of being run over by passing cars. This is where you can help by carefully picking them up and moving them out of harm’s way. Always move amphibians in the direction they were heading when you found them, and pay careful attention to your own safety on the road. In addition, for the safety of these creatures, place a leaf on your hand before you pick them up; this will ensure that you have a barrier between their porous skin and any chemicals — like soap, bug spray or sunblock — you might have on your hands.
Looking at Loons
Summer is a perfect time to look for the iconic Common Loon, who spends its breeding season on our area’s inland lakes. With its striking black and white plumage and its distinctive haunting call, the Common Loon is always thrilling to hear or see. Check out New Hampshire’s Loon Preservation Committee’s (LPC) website to learn more about the natural history and ecology of this stunning bird.
According to the LPC, loons need our help. If you fish, make sure you only use non-lead tackle. This keeps lead, a toxin, from being ingested by loons. Also, be sure to give loons a wide berth when you are boating, especially during nesting season. Find out more about the threats to the loons and what you can do here.
Follow the Firefly’s Flash
Have you noticed the fireflies this summer? Who needs noisy fireworks when you’ve got the magical glow of these luminescent beetles? Look for them near streams, rivers, ponds and other wetlands; along the edge between forests and fields; and in big meadows. Early summer is the mating season for these insects. The males fly and flash their light to advertise their interest to the females. If you watch carefully, you might be able to notice a pattern to their flashes. Each species of firefly has their own flash pattern. To learn more about fireflies and their flash patterns, check out MA Audubon’s Firefly Watch’s Observing Fireflies page.
To find out more general information about our region’s fireflies, read Susie Spikol’s latest Backyard Naturalist column in the Monadnock Ledger Transcript.
Milkweed for Monarchs
Want to help monarch butterflies? Consider planting milkweed in your meadow, field, or garden. Milkweed is essential to the monarch’s life cycle. As adult butterflies, monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on this plant; as young, the caterpillars feed solely on its leaves and seedpods. Planting and maintaining milkweed in our communities can truly contribute to the survival of this iconic butterfly.
When you plant milkweed, make sure the seeds or seedlings you purchase are grown without any harmful pesticides and come from your particular eco-region. Check out Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Market to find where to order milkweed in your area.
Baby Birds: What To Do if You Find One
Summer is bursting with life. All around us, many animals have had their young. This gives us the chance for some great wildlife sightings, like fawns in a meadow. But sometimes we come across young birds out of their nest, and wonder if we should help them. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do if you find a baby bird, and it might surprise you:
Is Is Injured?
First, determine if the bird is injured. Young birds can look helpless and fragile, but this does not mean they are hurt. Look for obvious signs of injury, like blood.
How Old Is It?
This is important to figure out so you know what to do next.
- Hatchlings. Hatchlings are newly hatched birds have their eyes closed and only a few wisps of downy feathers. They are not ready to leave the nest.
- Nestlings. Nestlings have their eyes open. Their wings are covered in little tubes, which protect their growing feathers. They are also not ready to leave the nest.
- Fledglings. Fledglings are fully feathered. They hop, walk, flutter, and fly. They have left the nest, but may still be being fed by their parents, who are keeping watch from close by.
How to Help Hatchlings and Nestlings
If you find a hatchling or a nestling, look for its nest and simply return the bird to the nest. It is not true that the parents will not care for it because it has a human scent. Birds have a limited sense of smell and will not notice your scent on their baby.
What About Fledglings?
If you find a fledgling, the best thing to do is to leave it alone! The fledgling stage is a natural part of a bird’s life. If the bird is in immediate danger, move it to a nearby bush or very low tree branch. Otherwise, let it be, and trust that the parents are nearby keeping an eye on it.
When to Bring in a Professional
Do not try to raise a wild bird by yourself. It is against the law. If you need help with an injured young bird or aren’t sure what to do, contact a professional from NH Fish and Game’s list of state-licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
Have you noticed green crabapple-sized balls on the ground as you walk lately? These grape-like spheres are not seeds or fruit or some child’s lost superballs. They are actually the snug little homes of baby gall wasps. Here’s how they came to be: earlier this spring, wingless female gall wasps laid eggs in newly-forming oak leaves. After the eggs hatched and as the larvae grew, chemicals and hormones interacted with the oak leaf and the larval wasps, causing the leaves to swell around the larvae, creating the ball-like structures. Each gall is a perfect nursery for one developing wasp, providing it with shelter, food, and protection.
Watch this summer for these oak apple galls to fade from vibrant green to brown as they dry out. Inside of each one, the larva will transform into an adult oak apple wasp, emerging from the gall by biting a tiny exit hole.
Oak apple galls are only one type of gall found in New Hampshire and they are specific to the oak apple gall wasp and oak trees. Look on plants like blueberries, goldenrods, and maple leaves for other types of galls, which can be formed by insects, mites, nematodes, bacteria, and fungi.
Go Low Mow
If you’re concerned about our native bee population, consider mowing your lawn less this summer. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, one of the best ways to help native pollinators is to reduce how often you mow your lawn. Researchers at the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station discovered a significant increase in bee abundance in neighborhood lawns that were mowed every other week (vs. every week) in Springfield, MA — making a strong argument for the “lazy lawnmower” approach.
Not only will mowing your lawn less frequently benefit our imperiled native bees, but it will also reduce your carbon footprint, increase plant and animal diversity in your yard, and reduce noise pollution in your neighborhood. So sit back a bit more often, let your grass grow, and enjoy the sound of happy bees…
What a perfect time of year to hop on your bike and do some exploring! Biking gives you a chance to experience the landscape in a different way, and to escape the mosquitoes. Here are a few options that Harris Center staff and friends regularly enjoy:
- Road Biking. If you love the speed of your road bike, pedal Route 123 from the center of Hancock out to Route 9, which passes by Moose Brook, Rye Pond, and other scenic wetlands in the heart of the SuperSanctuary.
- Gravel Biking. If quieter roads are more your style, consider biking along Hancock’s Old Dublin Road into Harrisville. This was the first “scenic road” to be established in New Hampshire; as you make your way past many acres of protected field, forest, and wetland, you’ll see why.
- Mountain Biking. If you want to venture off road without getting too technical, check out the Jaquith Rail Trail, which starts at Jaquith Road in Hancock and turns into the Eastview Trail in Harrisville. There are a few bumpy sections of buried railroad ties, but the views of Jaquith Brook, Nubanusit Brook, and an expansive beaver wetland are worth it.
For more biking ideas and to plan other routes, see our SuperSanctuary map.
Look for Emerald Ash Borer
This summer, be on the lookout for one of New Hampshire’s most destructive non-native insect invaders, the emerald ash borer (EAB). This shimmery green beetle, originally from Asia, was first discovered in NH in 2013. During its larval stage, the EAB is highly destructive to our native ash trees. In 2019, 81 towns reported EAB infestations, making Coos County the only NH county not impacted by this invasive insect.
Most importantly, to help stop the spread of this invader, follow NH’s guidelines for transporting and handling both firewood and campwood.
Count on Bats
Do you have bats on your property? New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) biologists want to know! Structures such as barns and outbuildings often serve as summer homes for female bats and their young. In the face of white-nose syndrome, which has caused significant declines in bat populations throughout the Northeast, monitoring these “maternity colonies” is more important than ever. Join the NH Bat Counts Program to learn how to count bats in your own backyard. During this online training — which takes place on Thursday, June 4, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. — NHFG experts will review the natural history of New Hampshire’s bat species, including species identification, and provide you with detailed information on how you can contribute your bat sightings to this important project.
Hummingbirds at Home
You might have already caught a glimpse of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzing about your yard, as these iridescent, jewel-like birds have just returned from their wintering grounds in Central America. Look for them visiting red and orange tubular flowers in your neighborhood.
If you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds to your backyard, think about planting some of their favorite flowers, including cardinal flower, bee balm, and red morning glories. You can also hang up a hummingbird feeder filled with a sugar-water solution, following these instructions from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
If watching hummingbirds brings you joy, consider taking it one step further: help researchers find out more about hummingbirds and their habits by participating in National Audubon’s Hummingbirds At Home citizen science project. This is a great time for backyard birding, and for contributing to birdy citizen science!
Eyes on Eagles
It wasn’t all that long ago that you couldn’t see a Bald Eagle soaring through the skies of New Hampshire, as the Bald Eagle population had been decimated by the use of the now-banned pesticide DDT. It took a lot of dedicated people and time for this majestic bird to make a comeback in the Granite State. Thankfully, after a 40-year absence, New Hampshire is now home to over 20 pairs of breeding Bald Eagles, according to Chris Martin of NH Audubon.
The Monadnock Region hosts several nesting pairs of this iconic raptor, and now is a great time to see them as they tend to their nests and fledglings. The best spots to catch glimpses of eagles in our area are along the Contoocook River and area lakes and ponds as they hunt for food, and their four known nesting sites — Nubanusit Lake in Hancock and Nelson, Granite Lake in Nelson, Powder Mill Pond in Hancock and Greenfield, and Surry Lake in Surry. Enjoy watching these beautiful birds, but remember: if you see eagles in or near a nest, be respectful and give them some space to do their thing.
Look Up! It’s Hawk Migration Time
The autumn skies are filled with long-distance travelers as northern raptors make their way south for the winter. Look up to see the greatest show above earth as this sky-high migration unfolds right over us. If there’s a cold front after a few days of rain with clear skies and the wind is blowing out of the north, take the day off and go hawk watching!
You might be lucky enough to spy a “kettle” (flock) of Broad-winged Hawks swirling through the sky on rising thermals of hot air. These kettles can number in the hundreds and even sometimes in the thousands.
Keep track of the hawks seen migrating in our area by following the field reports from Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory. And if you are interested in learning how to identify hawks flying overhead, make sure to view our recent Hawk Watching Primer on the Harris Center’s Youtube Channel.
No animal says November better than turkeys. Drive along any of the Monadnock Region’s scenic back roads and you’re bound to come across flocks of these native birds — but did you know turkeys are one of New Hampshire’s greatest wildlife recovery stories?
These large non-migratory birds were extirpated (locally extinct) from the Granite State in the mid-19th century due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting, with the last one reported in Weare in 1854. For 121 years, no wild turkeys gobbled about our fields and forests. Then, in 1975, a reintroduction project spearheaded by New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) released 25 turkeys from New York State in Walpole, NH. Once they were well-established in the Connecticut River Valley, wildlife biologists trapped and relocated small groups of turkeys to other parts of the state. Now, more than 25,000 turkeys call New Hampshire home, and they’re found in every county.
Next time you encounter a flock of turkeys, take a few minutes to consider how close we came to never seeing these birds again. You might even want to help keep track of turkeys by participating in NHFG’s Winter Turkey Flock Survey, which typically runs from January 1 through March 31. Read more about this project here.
Nuts about Acorns
This fall hasn’t been good for traveling, big weddings, or harvest festivals, but it has been another great year for acorns! 2020 is one for the history books, and now we can add “mast year” to its list of offerings. A mast year is when all the oak trees synchronize their seed production and deliver a bumper crop of acorns. How and why some years are mast years and others aren’t is still a mystery to scientists. Dig deeper into this natural phenomenon in this piece from American Scientist.
Next time you’re out walking, pick up an acorn and consider that this charming capped seed is actually a powerhouse of our Northern forests. Acorns fuel our food web — from diminuitive deer mice to hulking black bears. Even true carnivores like bobcats rely on the elemental, accumulated energy of many acorns, conveyed via the bodies of mice or squirrels.
You can eat acorns too! Once a staple for the indigenous people of New England and an important food source for early settlers, find out how you can prepare and enjoy this nutty treat.
Ever wonder what mammals have wandered through your yard while you’ve slept? Are you curious about who was howling in the meadow at daybreak? Want a peek into the secretive world of our wild neighbors?
Winter’s snowy landscape is a free ticket to discovering this realm. All you have to do is look closely at any tracks you find. What do you notice? Can you see toes, or are you looking at tracks left by a hoof? Where are the tracks leading? Was the animal hopping or walking?
Use a simple field guide like NH Fish and Game’s Pocket Guide to NH Animal Tracks to make your best guess on identification.
Tracks are not the only animal evidence to look for on your walks. Winter is also a great time to search for feeding evidence, like beaver chews or deer browse. You can also look for bits of fur stuck on branches, or little holes that lead to trails and tunnels under the snow. If you really want to get wild, take some time to examine animal scat (droppings). A whole world awaits you!
When the days are cold and the trails are icy, don’t despair! You can still find plenty of wildlife. Just take a look around your home. From Asian lady beetles to long-body cellar spiders and beyond, scientists are looking for your in-home finds! Become part of the Never Home Alone iNaturalist project and contribute to this international citizen science effort.
The wild creatures that share our homes are not well documented or studied, but this project is looking to change that. By simply photographing the creatures you find inside your home and uploading your images to iNaturalist, you will be helping researchers figure out not only which species cohabitate with us, but where in the world they are located.
If you want to dig deeper, check out the companion read Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn.
Become an indoor wildlife watcher this year and, for better or worse, you may never feel all alone at home ever again…
Tips for Winter Hiking
Don’t let the cold weather get you down or keep you inside this winter! With some simple preparations, you can continue to enjoy hiking, even during the cold months. You might even discover you like it.
Here are a few tips — along with links to recommended reading — to help keep you safe, warm, and excited about getting outside this winter:
- Dress for success. When it comes to winter hiking, it’s all about the layers. Bundle up from the inside out with a moisture-wicking base layer, a warm and insulating mid-layer, and a wind- and waterproof outer shell. Make sure your boots are waterproof and insulated, and that you’ve got on a pair of toasty wool socks. No cotton in the winter! Top it all off with a warm hat, and don’t forget to cover up the nippy tips (fingers, nose, ears). A fleece neck gaiter can also add warmth without too much bulk. To learn more about dressing for winter adventure, check out these tips from REI.
- Get a grip. Nothing can ruin a winter’s hike — or, for that matter, your entire winter — faster than an injury caused by a slip on the ice. Using ice grippers that fit onto your boots is the way to go. This New York Times article provides a nice overview of different types of traction devices for walking on ice. Trekking poles can be helpful for balance too, particularly in deeper snow.
- Hike in the light. Remember that it gets dark early in the winter, so plan your hikes accordingly. Hiking in the morning is a good strategy.
- Weather the weather. Check the weather before you head out, and plan your outing accordingly. If the forecast is calling for a winter storm, stay home for the day — and perhaps check out some of these winter adventure movies while you wait for better weather.
- Don’t forget standard safety. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Bring along your cell phone (make sure it’s fully charged!) and a daypack with basic supplies, including a first aid kit, a full water bottle, a few snacks, and a paper trail map. (Mapping apps are great, but are of little use if your phone battery dies or you lose cell signal.) If it’s going to be sunny, be sure to bring your sunglasses and apply some sunscreen to any exposed skin, as sun reflecting off snow can inflict some nasty sunburns.
To learn more about getting started with winter hiking, read this short article from the Appalachian Mountain Club. They’ve been winter hiking since before it was (ahem) cool.
Start a nature journal, and fill it up with what you are noticing in the natural world. You can choose to include sketches, words, quotes, photos, hand-drawn maps, pressed plants, and more.
Want to take it to another level? Check out The Cornell Lab’s Nature Journaling and Field Sketching course to help you get started or stay engaged. Or visit the websites of different nature journalists, like Julia Bausenhardt or Christine Elder, to fuel your creativity.
Harris Center Reads
Check out our new monthly post Harris Center Reads, featuring great books about nature for all ages. Each month, we will highlight a mix of staff favorites, acknowledged classics, and new books related to a central nature theme. If you have suggestions for good nature reads you’d like to share for possible inclusion in a future edition of Harris Center Reads, send Susie Spikol an email. Read on!
It’s not hard to find rocks in New Hampshire. After all, we do live in the Granite State. But when was the last time you really looked closely at one of your neighborhood boulders? These massive rocks are remnants of our last ice age. When you touch them, you’re touching something that has been in your community for over 12,000 years. Imagine what these stone sentinels have witnessed over the course of time.
Take a close look at these glacial erratics and notice that they’re made up of distinctive minerals like mica, tourmaline, feldspar, and quartz. Sometimes you can even find rare minerals like beryl and garnet. Also notice how woodland boulders are micro-habitats for colonizers such as lichens, moss, and ferns. Some are even home to trees and shrubs.
To really rock out, explore the Geological Society of New Hampshire’s website and open your eyes to New Hampshire’s most enduring rock stars.
Look for Bear Bites
Did you know that black bears often mark telephone poles along our New Hampshire roads by biting and sometimes clawing them? The soft creosote-soaked utility poles are favorites of bears for this type of display. Spice up your walks by looking at the poles in your neighborhood for these distinctive markings.
Start your search by scanning for patchy spots that look as though someone used a small dull hatchet to chop into the pole. These are bites made by a bear marking its territory. Oftentimes, around the bite marks, you will also find claw marks. And if you’re really lucky, you might even find a bit of bear fur stuck to the pole.
For more about the hows, whys, and whens of bear bites, check out this short essay at susiespikol.com.
Hiking with Kids
Looking for some free and healthy fun for your family? Try hiking! There are hundreds of miles of trails in the Monadnock Region just waiting for your family to explore.
You can start hiking with your children even when they’re infants or toddlers by using different types of baby carriers, and it can become something you share for a lifetime. The benefits of hiking include reduced stress, improved physical health, and increased creativity and concentration.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Choose the right hike. Adjust your expectations and don’t start with Mount Monadnock. Remember: children’s legs are shorter than yours, so it’s important to choose hikes that fit your child’s ability. Start small and build your family’s hiking muscle over time.
- Play as you go. Keep your child moving along with a few games up your sleeve. Simple searches, like looking for the smallest or biggest acorn, can help your child focus on what’s around them instead of how much further they have to hike. Hiking is also the perfect time to share stories, tell jokes, sing songs, and play guessing games. Stop and notice things with your child along the way. Sharing your curiosity will inspire everyone in your family.
- Take breaks to eat and drink. Special snacks can help a child keep moving (think high energy foods like trail mix or granola bars) and be sure to drink plenty of water as you go. Model good trail etiquette by packing out your trash.
- Hike safe. Listen to the weather forecast prior to your hike, be prepared to postpone if severe weather is predicted, and dress for the weather. Pack along a basic first aid kid, and bring your cell phone. You can always take photos with it, and you’ll have it in case of an emergency — though remember that some trails in our region do not have good cell phone coverage, so there’s no substitute for coming prepared with food, water, and other essentials. Review a trail map ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the hike, and bring a paper copy with you, so you’ll be able to find your way even if your phone battery dies. Stay on the trail; this makes it easier to find your way, and also reduces the likelihood of encountering ticks.
Start planning today by checking out our trail maps to discover just a few of the many family-friendly hikes available in the Monadnock Region.
Can You Haiku?
Let the beauty of the natural world inspire you to try your hand at writing a nature-themed haiku. Short and sweet, these three-line poems emphasize simplicity and often focus on a brief moment in time. Send your original work to Susie by email and we’ll share our favorites as they come in on our social media feed. To help inspire you and remind you about the elements of haiku, check out this website and get busy writing!
Escape with a Naturalist to Corfu
Take a vacation from our current world and read British author and naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Corfu Trilogy, a three-part memoir of growing up on the Greek Island of Corfu in the late 1930s. These books are filled with vivid descriptions of the natural world and endearing stories of his family’s experiences. At the heart of this story is Durrell’s coming of age as a naturalist and a young man. Follow up your reading by watching the PBS Masterpiece “The Durrell’s in Corfu,” a six-part adaptation of Durrell’s charming books.
Change Your Lights for Wildlife
Now is the perfect time to upgrade your outdoor lighting with wildlife in mind. The bright lights from standard outdoor lighting have been shown by researchers to have an array of negative impacts on all types of wildlife, from mammals and birds to insects and amphibians.
You can make a big difference for the wildlife in your neighborhood by doing a few simple things, including shutting off your outdoor lights when you don’t need them, only lighting the areas that you need lit for safety, using shielded fixtures that direct the light down instead of up, and choosing bulbs that don’t emit blue light. For more information on how to make your outdoor lighting the least disruptive to wildlife, check out the International Dark Sky Association’s Outdoor Lighting Basics.
Window to the World
If you’re staying inside, spend 20 minutes a day looking out of one of your windows. Consider recording what you see in a journal by writing, sketching, and/or photographing. On warm days, open your window to not only hear what is outside, but smell the fresh air of the season. If you have binoculars, keep them handy for any close-up viewing you want to do.
Looking out your window gives you a courtside seat to the the cycles and seasonality of the natural world. When do you see the first flowers in your yard bloom, hear the phoebes, or notice the first butterflies in your garden.
Thoreau, Emerson, and the Hudson River School
Seek solace in a few classics by reading Thoreau and Emerson and then immersing yourself in the artwork of the Hudson River School — or consider joining the Harris Center’s Zoom Environmental Studies Institute reading group to discuss the writing and thinking of Thoreau and Emerson and how their work still influences us today.
Hike 5: A Harris Center Hike Challenge
Just because we need to be social distancing ourselves doesn’t mean that we need to sit inside all day. Check out our trails and hike 5 of them. Send us a photo of yourself on each of the trails and we will send you a Harris Center sticker!
To claim your prize, email Miles Stahmann your 5 photos (all in one email, please) and consider posting your photos to Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #supersanctuary. Take the challenge!