Wildlife Report from N.H. Fish and Game - July 25, 2003

July wraps up and August unfolds to a symphony of summer sounds. These are the bug months! Not the bugs that we swat and swear at, but "nice bugs." Cicadas buzz like transformers. Crickets chirp a chorus. Butterflies abound. According to wildlife biologist Eric Orff, the high heat of mid-summer sets them off, signaling the crescendo of the season. The world is abuzz with life, as a seemingly endless summer lies ahead. Yet the very buzz of summer will soon be cut short by a sneaky fall frost, swallowing the sounds of summer. So keep a listening ear as you get out and enjoy discovering summertime wildlife.

In this issue, you'll find items exploring:

With this issue, Jane Vachon, an Info Rep at Fish and Game takes over coordination of the Wildlife Report. Got ideas for topics to cover in future issues? Send them to jvachon@wildlife.state.nh.us.

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A Feast of Berries for Local Wildlife
As we move through late July and August, an abundance of berries creates a veritable feast for a wide variety of wildlife. Just as we are attracted to sweet, juicy raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, many different kinds of wildlife flock to the berry patches for a summertime meal.

Raspberries ripen before the blackberries, but look for them in the same kind of areas. They grow along roadsides, field borders, fencerows, clear cuts and other recently cut-over areas, as well as abandoned fields. These berries rank at the very top of summer forage for wildlife. Eaten by game birds such as ruffed grouse and turkey, they are also a favorite among songbirds, including catbirds, cardinals, pine grosbeaks, robins, thrushes, orioles, scarlet tanagers, brown thrashers and rufous-sided towhees.

Blueberries are also consumed like mad by the same wildlife that feed on blackberries and raspberries. Blueberries prefer acid soil. Low-bush blueberries are found in open woods and clearings, while high-bush blueberries are found along pond and marsh edges.

It's not just birds that find these berries a tasty treat. They are also popular with raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes, coyotes and other small mammals. Bears, too, are heavily dependent upon berry crops during this season of the year. If you're picking in a dense berry patch, you may even catch a glimpse of a bear sharing his berries with you!

So as you enjoy nature's bounty in your blackberry jam and blueberry pies, remember you're in good company. Wildlife and people alike are digging into the delicious berry feast of summer.

--Judy Silverberg, wildlife educator

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Be Frog Friendly
Watch out for those baby toads and frogs in the coming weeks, as they will be swarming the landscape with their newly sprouted legs. There are just two species of toads and eight species of frogs in New Hampshire.

Tons of toads are on the move in August! These thimble-sized hoppers are leaving the wetlands where they were hatched a few weeks ago and are ready to munch on lots of summer insects. Toads are terrestrial for most of their lives, except when they hatch or return to water each spring for a few days to mate. Did you know that Jabba-the-Hut-looking toad may be older than your dog or cat?

Baby spring peepers and wood frogs have sprouted legs during the last few weeks and will be scattering across the state from the wetlands. They, too, spend the majority of their lives in the forests, chomping insects from the trees and forest floor.

Are you toad and frog friendly? Lift that mower deck up a couple of notches to skim over the frogs and toads in your yard. Pay attention while mowing and give them a break. After all, toads and frogs are your first line of defense against many insects, including some that would like nothing more than to have your house foundation for lunch.

--By Eric Orff, wildlife biologist

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The Secret Life of Molting Wood Ducks
Late in July, if you're lucky, you might see a male wood duck in "eclipse" plumage. At this time of year, he can be distinguished from the female only by the red at the base of his bill, his red iris and the two white stripes coming off the chin. Flightless, a condition that lasts for about three weeks, the male wood duck stays well-hidden in abundant dense cover.

In mid- to late September, after the complete molt, when all his feathers are replaced by new ones, the male woodie will again be easy to recognize by his gaudy colors. He'll show off his crested head with hues of purple and green, the two white parallel lines extending from the base of the bill, the white of the chin and the throat as it sweeps up in U-like prongs onto the side of his head. His burgundy chest, flecked with white, is separated from the bronze sides by streaks of black and white. The glossy purplish-black of the back and tail is in marked contrast to the white of the breast and belly.

The female wood duck has a similar molt cycle, except it starts a week or more later than the male. Unlike the male, her plumage doesn't change color or pattern with her molts. The female has a gray bill, a brown iris and one band projecting from her chin patch. Up close, the female -- or hen wood duck -- displays a brown crest, glossed with green. Her back is olive-brown, with a shimmer of iridescent green, and the belly is white. On the wings, a row of feathers is bronze-green, followed by steel-blue rows ending with white tear-shaped bars.

Early in this century, wood ducks were almost extinct, in part because human settlement had changed their habitat. Helping the restoration of these beautiful birds is a wide-scale program that began in 1938: building man-made wood duck nest boxes and putting them in the ducks' habitat.

Despite their population revival, it's rare to see wood ducks in mid-summer. The male has usually gone to join other males to undergo his partial molt before the young hatch.

The day after hatching, the young leave the nest. The young crawl out of the nest hole as their mother calls, and, without any hesitation, jump with wings held out. This is one of the most dangerous times for the ducklings, especially if they must travel over land as they rush for water and feeding areas. Once on the water, the hen moves her ducklings to protected spots where there is food. After 10 days, the young are quite independent and may go out on their own.

When the ducklings are five weeks old, the hen leaves and goes off to molt with other females. After eight to nine weeks, the young can fly. They then join with other juvenile wood ducks. It is during this time that wood ducks become more visible as they roost each night on water, and then disperse to feed during the day.

--Judy Silverberg, wildlife educator

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March of the Monarch
By mid-August the magical march of the monarch butterfly is underway. Keep an eye out for these brilliant orange butterflies fluttering southward. The adult butterflies arrived in New Hampshire in late May or early June, after completing a several-month-long flight from the mountains of central Mexico, over 2,400 miles away.

By now, the monarchs have completed their summer housekeeping. They lay their eggs only on milkweed plants. In about two weeks, the eggs hatch into brightly colored caterpillars. The caterpillars eat the milkweed, which contains a poison that makes them -- and the butterfly they soon will be -- unpalatable to most birds. A great survival tactic!

The caterpillars transform themselves into a shiny green-and-gold-speckled cocoon called a chrysalis. In another two weeks, the beautiful orange adult butterflies, with black-edged wings, emerge.

The brilliant butterflies soon have the urge to migrate south, to spend the winter clinging to the same trees their mothers clung to last winter. All over North America, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate to the same mountain forests in Central Mexico as they have for centuries. The Aztecs believed the monarch butterflies to be the incarnation of their fallen warriors, wearing the colors of battle. So step outside on these late summer days and pay tribute to the march of the magnificent monarchs.

--Eric Orff, wildlife biologist

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