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.

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.

On column #200, a personal reflection

By Michael Dover

Amazed as I am to say it, this is the 200th Earth Matters column. Something about having 10 fingers and 10 toes seems to make us like numbers ending in zero — the more the merrier. And somehow, reaching 200 feels more significant than the fact that in March we’ll be celebrating eight years of publishing this column every two weeks, under the aegis of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Both of these are especially remarkable to me, as I’ve been coordinating and co-editing it since we began in 2009.

Published in Earth Matters on December 2, 2016.

A good time to talk about the tenacious turkey

By Elizabeth Farnsworth For the Gazette

Recently, I had a startling close encounter with a turkey. One morning, I woke up to a loud crash like a gun shot. I leapt to my feet and looked around. Not detecting anything amiss, I was just about to return to bed when I was startled again, by the doorbell. A neighbor informed me that a turkey had just flown into my front window!

Published in Earth Matters on November 18, 2016.

Getting to know the Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s neighbors

By Joshua Rose For the Gazette

When we move to a new house, we want to know who are neighbors are. On Oct. 1, the Hitchcock Center held the grand opening for its new home at Hampshire College in Amherst. But Hitchcock naturalist Ted Watt couldn’t wait to start exploring the new site. So, back on June 18, 3½ months before the grand opening, Ted invited other nature lovers to join him for a “bioblitz” of Hitchcock’s home-to-be.

Published in Earth Matters on November 4, 2016.
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