The Hippo


Jul 15, 2019








A local black bear peers out at its photographer. Courtesy photo.

River fish in the fall 

Spawning brook trout 
It’s a safe season for brook trout in New Hampshire; the fishing season for them ended Oct. 15. 
What makes the species different from other fish is that in the fall they are spawning. Most others take care of that in the spring. 
Brook trout seek out gravel-rich areas where there is also an upwelling of water, then build small nests with their tails and cover the eggs by kicking up gravel. Fishing stops, because it would be easy for anglers to step on their nests. 
Autumn spawning gives brook trout a leg up when it comes to survival. 
“It’s a different strategy that they’ve adapted to because of the way they lay their eggs,” said fish biologist Matt Carpenter. “The offspring have an advantage when hatching in spring because they are starting to grow in a time of year when there’s not as much activity in the water.”
As waters get chillier, most brook trout are seeking out deeper areas of the streams they live in, while a select few larger specimens become mobile and look for new habitats and bigger rivers. Fish biologists who have been mapping brook trouts’ presence have found that dams and road crossings can sometimes pose problems. 
While brook trout numbers are declining in their range, there is a lot of good habitat in New Hampshire, so the species is still plentiful. They are most common in northern and western regions of the state. In the south and east, waters can be too warm for their liking. 
Eel appeal 
In Carpenter’s opinion, the American eel is one of the most interesting fish species in the state. 
Its whole strange life is about procreation. While the males stay in freshwater rivers, the females spend about 20 years there, growing to up to 4 feet. Then they swim out to the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, to spawn and die. 
“Their whole body becomes egg and muscle. Their bodies start to deteriorate. They just have a one-track mind,” Carpenter said. 
After spawning, the females die and their larvae drift on ocean currents moving to rivers, including the ones in New Hampshire.  
From August to November, American eel are migrating out of every coastal river in the state. They are pretty secretive and tend to migrate at night, so they aren’t usually detected, but occasionally anglers catch them. 
“They tend to migrate during rain events,’ Carpenter said. “We are working with hydro companies to ask them to shut down during rain events.” 
While eels (which look like what would happen if a fish and a snake had a baby) migrate downriver, they become a lighter silver color and get a bluish tint in their eyes. The species isn’t a popular catch amongst local anglers, but in Japan and other parts of Asia, it is a huge delicacy. Eel hatcheries are illegal in the state, but “a lot of poaching occurs,” Carpenter said. “They can get prices up to $1,000 a pound.”
River herring in trouble 
This time of year, fish biologists are monitoring the downstream migration of river herring. The juveniles that were born in the spring are only about 3 or 4 inches long, and they all move together.
“We get reports this time a year of a lot of gull activity, which means [river herring] are moving,” Carpenter said. “If we see gulls and osprey, we know they are moving because there is lots of feeding.”
New Hampshire biologists are working to help restore river herring runs. The species used to fill the state’s rivers, but now they are severely depleted. Predation and changes of the balance of species in oceans, where river herring spend four to five years, could be to blame, Carpenter said. 
Biologists are stocking Lake Winnipesaukee with fish they have collected from coastal rivers from neighboring states; river herring like to spawn in slower moving water. Biologists are hoping for a strong breeding in the lake, and then they will move the fish to local rivers. 
“In the Merrimack River, they should be in the hundreds of thousands, and it has been around 1,000 for years. So we have an ambitious project,” Carpenter said.
New Hampshire’s big birds 
The majestic eagle 
The state’s 41 territorial pairs of eagles, which are scattered throughout all of the state’s major watersheds and on the Seacoast, have finished their nesting and the young birds have fledged out on their own. 
What the eagles are up to in November depends on how cold it gets.  If temperatures remain warm enough, they may still be hanging around local lakes and their nests, but as water bodies freeze up they make their way across the ice to open water. They won’t return to their nests until the March thaw. 
“They will feed a lot on fish and waterfowl,” said Becki Suomala, New Hampshire Audubon biologist. “They will also be scavenging on dead carcasses too, so if there is a dead deer out on the ice, or even in a wooded area, that can attract eagles.”
Not all of New Hampshire’s eagles opt to stay within the Granite State. The Audubon Society conducts a late winter survey and last year found that 69 birds stuck around. 
Sleepy owls 
Most of the state’s native owls stay year-round, but they are quiet and mostly hidden in November. 
As weather gets cold, barred owls, eastern screech owls and great horned owls are sleeping during the day and hunting small mammals by night and are getting ready to nest. Northern saw owls, the only species that sometimes leaves the state, may be seen migrating out. 
There’s another special owl that only comes to New Hampshire during the colder months. Snowy owls are more active than the state’s native species, and you may catch a glimpse of them on the coast. They come to the state from the Canadian Arctic in numbers that vary depending on food supply and the number of young birds produced each year. 
Last year the state had the largest invasion of snowy owls in recorded history. 
“Some years we have very few sightings, and what happens this year will be anybody’s guess, although it does sound like there may have been some good reproduction in one of the areas in the Arctic,” said Suomala. “November is the time to start watching.”
While they are here, snowy owls will be hunting more at night than during the day but should be visible along the coast. Because there were so many last year, there was also a lot of disturbance from people. 
“People would approach them too closely,” Suomala said. “Don’t get too close to them. If you cause them to fly, you are too close. That way they can rest and eat if they need to.”
What a turkey
Since wildlife biologist Ted Walki helped release the first 75 turkeys into New Hampshire, the population has skyrocketed to about 40,000 birds. 
In November all those turkeys are grouping up to feed on things like acorns and beechnuts, since their summer diet of wheat seed and berries is no longer available. They might be seen groups up on the western face of hills, where oak trees like to grow. Their home range is about three or four miles.  
By this time of year, the newest, youngest hens are about the human equivalent of teenagers. 
“They are like juvenile delinquents going to a prom — they are showing off and having little squabbles to see who is king of the hill. You’ll get maybe 10 different half-year-old males who might want to display a while and impress the young hens,” Walki said. 
While turkeys don’t mind the chilly New Hampshire weather, when the nights begin to freeze they change up their roosting patterns, climbing about 60 feet up in the trees to find shelter from the frost and snow. You might spot half a dozen 9- to 22-pound birds perched together in a tree.
With such a massive population spread across the state, people are likely to spot turkeys ambling amongst them. They like being around cattle and horses because turkeys associate those domesticated animals with grain. Groups of the big birds might stalk around bird feeders in areas where they feel safe. For the most part turkeys are harmless, and for the most part people enjoy their presence. 
“You get a few old people once in a while who don’t like them leaving droppings, but that’s a small minority,” Walki said. “They make life a little more interesting. They are interesting to observe.”
Even though Thanksgiving is coming up, November isn’t a turkey hunting month. Hunting typically happens in spring after breeding has occurred and there is, according to Walki, “a surplus of males.”

Where the wild things are
The NH wildlife you might see in the woods, the sky or your own backyard this fall


It happens all over the state this time of year — you walk outside to your mailbox or to take out the trash and hear a heavy rustling in the shrubs nearby. Whatever’s lurking is too large and noisy to be a squirrel or a chipmunk. But what could it be? A deer? A bear? A coyote? In a word, yes. 
The more than 500 species of vertebrate animals roaming, swimming and swooping across (and sometimes out of) the state are transitioning to the colder seasons. Many of them are gaining weight for the winter months. Some, like bears and bats, are settling into season-long periods of sleep. Others, like bobcats, moose and coyote, will roam all through the fall and winter months. Others still choose to migrate to warmer climates. 
Here’s a guide to what New Hampshire’s animals are up to these days, so you will be equipped to admire, protect and stay safe from creatures in the wild. 
Grin and bear it
By November, black bears — the state’s only bear species — have already chosen their dens. Now they’re preparing to go into them for the winter. They need to put on 30 percent of their body weight in fat to make it through the season, said New Hampshire bear expert and rehabilitator Ben Kilham.
That objective means the bears have put aside their differences and competitions. Bears have a matrilineal hierarchy for access to food — the females of the same family don’t get along and tend to form friendships with unrelated females. But right now, food is too important for family feuds. 
“In fall they have already worked out out their social relationships,” Kilham said. “We call it the feeding frenzy because food is available in patches. Bears migrate to where the food is and are able to get along with each other.”
Late in the month, the female bears without cubs will make their way into their dens first, around Dec. 1. The males will stay out as long as possible looking for food. 
“They are eating up to 20,000 calories of food a day,” Kilham said. “Naturally, they eat acorns and beech nuts. This year we have a pretty good acorn crop. Last year was a beech nut year.”
The generally reclusive species doesn’t like to encounter people, but short supplies of natural food sources and the high availability of human-produced food can draw them too close for comfort into people’s backyards. 
“Bird seed has more calories per unit of any natural source; if there is plenty of natural food they  tend not to go to people, but if food is short at all for any reason, the high-quality, high-calorie food is a very big attraction,” Killham said. 
The best way to keep bears away from houses before winter is for humans to change their behaviors, Killham said. He recommends storing garbage in secure locations where bears can’t access it, placing new compost beneath layers of old compost and not hanging bird feeders until at least Dec. 1. 
While some Granite Staters are trying to keep the black bears away, others are tracking them down for hunting season.
New Hampshire’s black bear population going into hunting season was 5,700, but the state’s target population is 4,850. Fish and Game anticipates that about 700 will be killed during hunting season. 
Bear populations are managed differently than deer. Deer are managed by biological carrying capacity, based on what kind of havoc they wreak on their habitats. Bears are managed on a social carrying capacity — how many bears people will tolerate. 
“The  population could be much higher than what it is now,” Killham said. “Bears tolerate each other quite well, and there is adequate food. Bears are able to regulate their own population based on a natural food supply. If they were not getting human food, the population would be the same or less than it is now.”
The hunting season started Sept. 1 and ends for different management units at various times. The season is broken up into different methods of hunting, too. Bait season ended Sept. 1 and was followed by hound hunting and still hunting (when hunters sit in cornfields or anywhere they expect bear to cross their paths). General hunting continues in some regions until Nov. 25.This year there is also a two-week period where deer hunters will be able to take aim at bears. Bears are often hunted for their pelts and meat, and some use their fat for cooking. For Fish and Game, it’s helps keep the population at an equilibrium with its environment. 
“Having said all that, reducing the bear population doesn’t solve bear-human issues. The only way is to not have food on people’s properties. It’s really up to us to learn to live with black bears,” Kilham said. 
Luckily, black bears aren’t a huge threat. They don’t attack humans just for the sake of it. In the past 100 years, 68 human fatalities were caused by black bears, and the last New Hampshire fatality was in 1784. 
A moose crisis
New Hampshire’s climate has been steadily rising by about one degree a year, and that’s been killing off the state’s adored moose population. It’s down to about 4,500 from 7,500 about a decade ago. 
The real problem is that the period of cold weather is shrinking on both the autumn and the spring ends of the season. 
This time of year, most moose are just past their breeding season and they are trying to put on the winter pounds. They need to eat about 40 to 50 pounds of hardwood browse each day. They feed mostly at night when the air is cooler. After a meal of rough plant material, they need to sit down and rest. Moose, like cows, have to pump the food they’ve eaten back into their mouths and re-chew it in order to digest. 
“Moose are great eaters,” said wildlife biologist Eric Orff. “They are just mowing down the shrubs and trees trying to gain weight for winter. … They are basically buzz saws of the woods.”
But because moose are so well insulated (they have about 6 inches of fur covering their bodies) when temperatures are warmer, they don’t eat as much. That makes it harder for them to get through the winter or birth as many calves. 
The warmer weather has also brought an onslaught of winter ticks, an insect that last winter killed off about 40 percent of the moose calves that New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was tracking. When the ground is dry, ticks can lay eggs and the nymphs stay in clusters that attach to the moose.  
“If you have a long fall with no snow, they can get tens of thousands of ticks, or over 100,000 ticks  in a bad year. They each take three blood meals on the moose,” said Fish and Game biologist Christine Rines. 
The ticks can cause moose to die from blood loss or secondary infection. Moose can also die of hypothermia because they scratch off some of their fur and lose heat. The only way to reverse the problem is to address climate change, Rines said. 
Even though the numbers are down, there’s still a chance people will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these massive creatures, most likely in the northern parts of the state. It may be tricky, though, as moose are learning to run away from salt licks on the side of the road because of humans harassing them. 
“There’s only so long an animal will put up with that before they learn to stay away,” Rines said. 
If you happen to spot a moose in your backyard, the first thing to do is keep your dog inside. Moose don’t like canines of any kind, and they are capable of killing them. 
Even though moose aren’t bothered by people, it’s best for you to stay inside as well. 
“Take a picture with a telephoto lens,” Rines said. “If they don’t leave, give us a call.”
Oh deer!
Good news for people who love to catch a glimpse of New Hampshire’s beloved state animal: While relatively warm weather in fall and spring mean trouble for moose, white-tailed deer numbers are up because of it. 
New Hampshire is just about as far north as the species can handle. As the weather gets colder, white-tailed deer have two objectives: eating and breeding. 
The peak of breeding is right about mid-November. That’s when motorists need to be especially careful, because the animals are most active. 
“Adult deer, bucks in particular, will pretty much forget about anything and their main focus is finding a doe to breed with,” said Fish and Game biologist Dan Bergeron. “From here on out their activity is going to be increasing. People will see them a little more frequently.”
As for eating, even though deer don’t hibernate in the winter, they will have a tough time finding food in the snow. They will begin to migrate to wintering areas, where they can find mature softwood stands to munch on. 
The state’s deer population is more dense in the southeastern portion of the state than anywhere else, and for folks in that region, it’s certainly possible to spot deer near the home. 
“A lot of times people have ornamental plants, which are nutritious and palatable for deer,” Bergeron said. “If you’ve got an apple tree or a lot of oak trees around, they may come. The edge between forest and residential areas is also good habitat for deer.”
Bergeron warns against feeding them because it could actually harm them. 
“You’re increasing the chances of spreading disease because you are concentrating them in an area. … They all have their noses and drool in it when they are feeding,” he said. 
If you see a deer, like any wildlife, it’s best to observe it from a distance. Although attacks on humans are very rare, during breeding season there’s more of an opportunity for negative encounters, Bergeron said. Warning signs include bucks putting their head down or waving their antlers. 
Keep a lookout for deer hunters too. Archery hunting season began Sept. 15 and muzzleloader hunting runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12. Wear bright colors when hiking through the woods or walking the dog.
Bobcats in the wetlands 
The top priority for bobcats in November is eating, eating and more eating. 
Bobcats are active year-round, but at this point they are starting migration to wetland and “scrub shrubs”and limiting their movement. Their home range shrinks from about 20 to 30 square miles in summer to 10 to 20 square miles in the winter. 
“They are heading to those locations because that’s where highest number of prey densities are,” said wildlife biologist Patrick Tate. “They defend their home ranges relatively well. A female bobcat does not tolerate another female bobcat. She will allow a kitten to abut her home range and she will allow overlap of a male bobcat. … It all comes down to resources use.”
Bobcats don’t often make their way into human territory, though they can occasionally be seen crossing yards and hunting the small mammals that are attracted to bird feeders, and there is open hunting or trapping season in the state.  
If you do spot a bobcat, there really isn’t much cause for alarm. Tate has heard of only five cases of bobcat attacks from Maryland all the way up to Maine, and in each case the animal was infected with rabies, which is rare for the species. 
Bobcats are native to New Hampshire. Females average about 17 pounds while males grow to weigh on average 27 pounds. Populations are on the rise in the Granite State, and summer estimates show about 2,200 animals. Sighting reports show them all over New Hampshire, though central locations like Boscawen and southwestern areas like Keene seem to have the most sightings. 
Eastern coyotes transitioning diet
People who move to New Hampshire often confuse the state’s coyotes with wolves. Eastern coyotes have a wolf-like appearance and 8 to 30 percent wolf DNA, but they shouldn’t be feared, Tate said. 
“Wildlife is more scared of people than we are of them,” he said. 
Eastern Coyotes are odd creatures; sometimes they exhibit the solitary and individualized hunting behaviors of western coyotes while other times they hunt in packs, like wolves.  
This month, Granite Staters from the White Mountains to the Massachusetts border are more likely to hear coyotes howling in the distance. The young’ns are starting to move from their den sites. They are becoming more active, going hunting on their own and yipping and calling. 
The omnivorous coyotes are transitioning off their summer diet of soft berries and starting to eat nuts. They are active year-round, and as winter approaches they will start transitioning to small mammals and deer, which are easier to catch when there is snow on the ground because deer mobility decreases. 
“It comes down to prey abundance,” Tate said. “They are very opportunistic. They are … highly adaptive. They can get away with living on city edges and within fringes of cities, as well as the White Mountains.” 
When it comes to predators of coyotes, humans, specifically trappers, are a big one. The month of November is the most active part of trapping season, which runs from now until March. Coyotes can only be trapped by foothold during trapping season, though they can be hunted all year round. 
“From a wildlife manager’s standpoint, [hunting] is for population control,” Tate said. “For people who pursue hunting, it’s for recreation.”
The elusive fishers 
To be clear, the true name for the animal is fisher, even though in New England folks like to call them fisher cats. 
“Having grown up in New Hampshire, I say fisher cat sometimes, and other biologists get mad,”  Tate said. 
They kind of look like ferrets on steroids, he said, and they live in any forested setting from Massachusetts to the Canadian border. 
They are currently out and about, hunting small mammals, chasing grey squirrels through the treetops and teaching mice that live in stone walls. While young fishers travel with their moms in the summers, by now many are old enough to venture out on their own.
While they’ll remain active throughout the winter, these stealthy creatures aren’t often spotted. 
“They will cross roads — that’s where people will see them, and they will occasionally stand close to home, usually when someone is feeding birds, but they don’t seek out residential settings otherwise,” Tate said. 
Their numbers are slightly down this year and it isn’t clear why, but one theory suggests it correlates with a higher bobcat population. Bobcats and fishers prey on each other’s young.
“There may be some correlation to bobcat numbers,” Tate said. “Others would say I’m crazy for suggesting that. … These species are what most people consider top predators.” 
Just batty 
While autumn is often associated with bats swooping and diving across the night sky, don’t expect to spot many bats overhead in November. 
The highest amount of bat activity just passed. In September and October they are swarming and trying to mate.
For most bats, “it’s not a long courtship. All the males and females get to a local site and it’s pretty much a free for all,” Steve Reynolds, bat biologist and St. Paul’s School science teacher. 
In November and all through the winter, female bats store sperm until the spring, when weather conditions are better for raising pups. 
Of the state’s eight species of bats, three of those species have winged their way south. The five remaining species are hibernating this month. 
Bats prey on flying insects, but there are none of those available in late fall and winter. Most bats are holed up in New Hampshire caves, hibernating to survive the months of food scarcity. During this period, their respiration goes down and their immune system doesn’t work well. 
“At this time they are really sensitive to disturbances,” said bat biologist Emily Preston. “So  if you go into a cave or mine you will wake them up.”
Preston advises never going into bats’ hibernacula; it could literally be a matter of life or death for them. 
The population has been decimated by White Nose Syndrome, caused  by a destructive fungus that latches onto the hairless parts of bats, irritating them and making them use precious energy to wake from their sleep. 
Even bat biologists are trying to stay clear of the animal. While they do monitor the known hibernacula because of White Nose, they have reduced their efforts. 
There is one species that may still show itself in November, though. If temperatures are on the warmer side, Big Brown Bats could still be active. That species is also less particular about temperature and humidity while it hibernates, so they sometimes hibernate in buildings, and people may hear them in their homes during the periods of hibernation when they stir a bit. 
“We do get calls every winter from people who think they hear bats in the basement,” Preston said. “It’s very rare, but we recommend people just don’t touch them.” 
As seen in the November 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.


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