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Nature Challenges

Nature Challenges

Seek and Find – Nature Challenge!

There is so much going on outside right now, why not explore what’s happening in your own backyard!

Join in NH Audubon’s Seek and Find Spring Nature Challenge by reading our challenges and going outside to find them. Take pictures of what you find and email them to us along with a description of your experience. Every week we will send out a special email with highlights of nature sightings to share what people are finding. Share your sightings with us on Facebook or Twitter and use the hashtags #seekandfind, #nhaudubon, and #letsgooutside!

Tree Swallow Challenge (April 24, 2020)

By Rebecca Suomala, NH Audubon Senior Biologist

Tree Swallows are the first swallows to return in spring, usually in early April. When we get a cold snap they often gather in huge flocks on rivers, lakes and ponds. It was unusually cold and windy on April 22, 2020 when I saw this flock of about 500 Tree Swallows at Hoit Marsh in Concord. They were feeding low over the water swooping in close to the shore. An insect hatch was going on in the shallows near the cattails on the edge of the shore. When the sun came out, the swallows would cluster, even landing on the cattails, to catch the insects as they emerged. I could see the insects come up from the water as I watched the swallows catch them. When the sun went in, the swallows disappeared or roosted in the trees.

Video by Rebecca Suomala, 4/1/20, Concord, NH.

Phoebe Challenge (April 1, 2020)

By Rebecca Suomala, NH Audubon Senior Biologist

For many, the first true sign of spring is the return of their neighborhood Eastern Phoebe. This species eats insects so when it comes back you know the worst of the cold winter is done. There can always be a spring snowstorm, forcing phoebes to the edges of open water where they can still find food, but they seem well adapted to withstand short term storms or cold snaps. They usually arrive at the very end of March or early April, depending on weather conditions. Their raspy “Fee-bee” song is often confused with the Black-capped Chickadee’s clear “Fee-bee” whistle (for more, see the article on page 26 in the Winter 20176-17 issue of New Hampshire Bird Records). Video by Rebecca Suomala, 4/1/20, Concord, NH.

Big Night! Spotted Salamanders and more… (March 27, 2020)

By Phil Brown, NH Audubon Director of Land Management

Holding a Spotted Salamander – make sure your hands are wet and don’t use hand sanitizer, it burns their delicate skin! Photo by Phil Brown.

I’ve always been fascinated by salamanders. Perhaps because of their extraordinary colors or patterns, or maybe because of their elusive nature, hiding under logs and usually only emerging from the earth by nightfall. Soon, these cool-bodied (and not typically slimy) and gentle creatures will be stirring, emerging from the earth as it thaws, and congregating in numbers in vernal pools to breed and lay eggs. Across our region, several species of amphibians – salamanders and frogs – will make their first appearances on the first rainy evening of the ‘spring’. How one defines spring, especially this year, is up for much debate. After all, it has been snow-free for several weeks in my part of the state, the Monadnock Region, and we just got a fresh coating of several inches of snow on this first calendar day of spring!

The anticipation and excitement of the ‘Big Night’ is what I’m talking about… Now, with much snow melted and spring having arrived, we are safely within the window of a Big Night when a mass amphibian migration across our roads may occur. Be ready as it could arrive on the next warm (high 30’s or warmer) rainy evening in many areas of southern NH and lower elevations of northern NH.

Wherever I have lived in NH, I have sought out a place where amphibians cross a road, preferably, my own road (so I could avoid the fatal mistake of squishing these migrants with four large tires). Instead of driving, I opt to set out by foot just after dark in raingear, a reflective vest, warm clothes, a pair of waterproof boots, and a strong flashlight. I seek out places that include a combination of woodland and wetland habitats. As a parent, I have come to realize that there is no other more exciting ‘stay local’ nature-based activity for my kids to partake in! … [Jump to the full article here.]

What’s all that quacking? I don’t see any ducks… (March 24, 2020)

By Rebecca Suomala, NH Audubon Senior Biologist

Holding a Spotted Salamander – make sure your hands are wet and don’t use hand sanitizer, it burns their delicate skin! Photo by Phil Brown.

I was wandering in the woods when I heard ducks quacking. There was a very small pond nearby and I snuck up, hoping to see the huge flock of ducks I was hearing. There was still a little ice on the pond but most of it was unfrozen. I got closer and closer, hiding behind bushes and trees, but I couldn’t see any ducks. Finally I walked right up to the pond edge – no ducks anywhere! What was going on? The water was rippling with loads of frogs – and they were making the noise. Wood Frog males make duck-like quacks to attract mates each spring. They mate and lay eggs in vernal pools, which are ponds of water that fill up in spring but usually dry up by fall so there are no fish to eat the eggs or tadpoles. Wood Frogs have a fascinating way of surviving winter.

Listen to Something Wild to learn more:
Frozen Wood Frogs Thaw Out
If it Sounds Like a Duck

In Search of the Wild Timberdoodle (March 19, 2020)

By Pam Hunt, NH Audubon Senior Biologist

American Woodcock (by Len Medlock).

A popular pastime for birders this time of year is watching the courtship display of the American Woodcock (one colloquial name for which is the endearing “timberdoodle”). Each April I offer a woodcock field trip through the Concord Chapter of NH Audubon, and it can be quite popular. Last year, rain forced me to cancel the trip, and yet people still showed up to join me – two from over half an hour away. So yes, woodcock are popular, and my goal here is to help you find them on your own. Take the whole family and make it an evening out in nature!

Although woodcocks nest and forage in wet woods and shrubby areas, in spring the males set up shop in nearby open clearings to attract mates. These display areas can be as varied as recently cut areas, mowed lawns, power line corridors, Christmas tree farms, or old weedy fields – the key thing is an open area of ground that’s not obscured by too much vegetation. Step one is thus to find a few potential spots, and this is best done by being familiar with your local area – driving around a little if needed.

The display starts at dusk, which in late March and early April starts between 7 and 8 depending on date and location. Be in a likely spot just after sunset, wait, and listen. The male starts out with a long series of nasal calls – or “peents”… [jump to the full article here.]

It’s Turkey Courtship Season in New Hampshire (March 16, 2020)

Look for turkeys in open fields and brushy areas and see if you can find the male turkeys doing their “strut” to attract females, puffing up their feathers. With good binoculars you may be able to see their head turn color! Here is a short article by Brenda Sens describing their display and what to look for, published in New Hampshire Bird Records in Spring 2017.

Stay tuned for more challenges and other ways to stay engaged and enjoy nature this spring!