COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center has canceled or postponed all in-person programs and events through at least June 15. The Harris Center building will also be closed to visitors until June 15. Our trails and grounds remain open.
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 weekly, so check back!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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 nesting 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 two known nesting sites — Nubanusit Lake in Hancock and Nelson, and Powder Mill Pond in Hancock and Greenfield. Enjoy watching these beautiful birds, but remember: if you see eagles in a nest, be respectful and give them some space to do their thing.
This time of year, when the world springs into bloom and the air is filled with fragrance, consider starting a nature journal. 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.
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.
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.
Thoreau, Emerson, and the Hudson River School
While the blackflies are biting, 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.
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!
When was the last time you looked up into the night sky in search of constellations, planets, and perhaps even a shooting star? The spring sky is full of drama. From April 16 through April 30, treat yourself to a shower — a meteor shower! Starting around 10:30 p.m. each night, the Lyrid Meteor Shower will be occurring.
To see them, first you must find the constellation Lyra, which is northeast of Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky during this time of the year. Here are a few tips on how to find Lyra in the night sky. Grab a blanket and some warm clothes and let yourself be entertained by shooting stars. Think of all the wishes you can make on each one you see….
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.