Earth Matters

Every two weeks, the Hitchcock Center publishes a column, "Earth Matters: Notes on the Nature of the Valley," in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Writers include Hitchcock staff and board members, former board members, presenters in our Community Programs series, and friends of the Center. Look for the column at the end of Section C of the weekend Gazette or on their website. We will keep a complete list on this site, so if you miss seeing a column in the newspaper, or want to see it again, come here at any time.

A glimpse of the lions of the insect world

By Elizabeth Farnsworth For the Gazette

Have you ever noticed a line of funnels dotting the sand at the base of your house, just inside the drip-line of your gutter or roof? Funnels about an inch across, and so regular that they could not possibly be due to raindrop drips?

Published in Earth Matters on April 21, 2017.

Singing the bluets: Counting on a spring wildflower

By David Spector

At this time of year I count on one of my favorite spring wildflowers, the little bluet (Houstonia caerulea), for a lovely show. Depending on exact location, altitude and microclimate, anytime from early April (even late March after mild winters) to early May, I see lawns covered with a late “snow” of these flowers. A highlight of my commute is a lawn a few miles from my house that has ideal conditions for this species and is often covered with bloom before the flowers appear elsewhere.

Published in Earth Matters on April 7, 2017.

Reasons for hope on climate concerns

By Michael Dover

Like others concerned about climate change, I was disheartened by last November’s election. We now have a president who has called climate change a hoax, and his appointees to lead the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency all have strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. The new administration appears to be moving toward more widespread fossil fuel extraction and use. The very act of collecting and reporting information on climate change may be at risk.

Published in Earth Matters on March 24, 2017.

Oddly shaped trees in our woodlands may hold a human story

By Lawrence J. Winship

In my youth, tromping through the deciduous woodlands of Ohio and Pennsylvania with family and friends, we occasionally came upon strange-looking trees. Their shapes were so contorted that we found it hard to imagine how they could have gotten that way.

Published in Earth Matters on March 10, 2017.

Winter can be a good time to start learning bird songs

By David Spector

People unfamiliar with birds are often amazed at a birdwatcher’s ability to identify individual sounds from the natural chorus of birds, frogs, grasshoppers and others.

It’s not an inborn talent, though: Anyone who can hear can learn identification by ear, and in this column I offer some tips for learning bird sounds. Each person learns differently, so, as with any advice, use what works and ignore the rest.

Published in Earth Matters on February 24, 2017.

Harlequin ladybugs: Helpful on one hand, troublemakers on the other

By Reeve Gutsell

In recent years, many New Englanders have noticed an abundance of ladybugs congregating near the walls and windows of their homes during the end of autumn and re-emerging during spring. These non-native harlequin ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis: actually a beetle, not a “bug”) are an invasive species that were introduced to North America in 1916 to control scale insects and aphids, both of which are major crop pests. Although they did successfully control aphids, harlequin ladybug populations didn’t establish in the wild until 1988, when one wild population was noticed near New Orleans. Since then, they have spread throughout much of North America, as well as into Europe, South Africa and South America.

Published in Earth Matters on February 10, 2017.

Far from the sea, gulls in our midst

By David Spector

By mid-winter many of the smaller, more colorful birds have gone south for the season, and now is a good time to pay attention to gulls. With their black, white and gray plumage, these engaging birds are a match to the winter landscape. As ecological generalists, gleaning gulls can make a living on our leavings as they pick over the corn left in farm fields, fries in fast-food parking lots and discarded bits of food in and around rivers.

Published in Earth Matters on January 27, 2017.

Undoing damage to the natural world

By Reeve Gutsell

As readers of this column may be aware, a recent article in the Gazette highlighted Project Stream and the wetland restoration work at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. This project is a wonderful example of restoration ecology — the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded, damaged or destroyed. In recent years, significant amounts of time, money and effort have been invested in projects like these around the country.

Published in Earth Matters on January 13, 2017.

Evergreen ferns don’t let winter spoil their show

By Ted Watt

Recently I’ve been thinking about plants that stay green during the freezing temperatures of our winters. What function does that green serve in the plants’ annual cycle?

As a naturalist I have become accustomed to thinking that there is a reason for every structure and behavior we observe in the natural world. And if what we observe seems nonsensical to us, it just means that we need to observe more carefully, and gather further information about the creature or habitat we are learning about, in order to make sense of what we are seeing.

Published in Earth Matters on December 29, 2016.

The sometimes upside-down life of the nuthatch

By David Spector

Confronted with the task of traveling up and down a tree or ladder, most humans approach both the ascent and the descent with legs down and head up. Most birds with a scansorial (climbing) lifestyle similarly move along the trunk of a tree with their tail down and head up.

Published in Earth Matters on December 16, 2016.
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