The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Loons. Photo by Kittie Wilson.

Want to learn more about the sea lamprey? 

On Saturday, May 27, the Amoskeag Fishways Learning Center (4 Fletcher St., Manchester) will host its annual Sea Lamprey Appreciation Day, where you can hold a live three-foot-long lamprey and learn about its unique appearance and lifecycle. The cost is $3 per person or $6 per family, and no registration is required. Call 626-3474 or visit for more information.
New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival
This year’s festival will be held on Saturday, May 13, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Deerfield Fairgrounds. Read all about the event on p. 31.

Mooo Hampshire
9 animals that have left their mark on NH


Old Timers

Before European settlers arrived in New Hampshire, there were more moose in the state than there were deer, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game. In the 1700s and 1800s, the moose population began to suffer at the hands of the settlers and Native Americans, who killed moose to use for food and clothing. By the mid-1800s, the population had dropped below 15 moose.  
“There was no such thing as Fish & Game laws back then. It was unrestricted,” said Kristine Rines, wildlife biologist and Moose Project leader for New Hampshire Fish and Game. “They killed moose at high levels, and that caused them to decline.” 
In 1901, legislation was passed by Fish & Game to close moose hunting permanently, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the moose population started to make a significant comeback. By the time New Hampshire held its first regulated moose hunt in 1988, there were over 4,100 moose. This year, 51 moose hunting permits will be issued by Fish & Game via a lottery (applications due May 26), allowing hunters nine consecutive days to hunt starting the third Saturday in October. 
The average weight of a moose in New Hampshire is 1,000 pounds, making it the largest mammal in the state. New Hampshire’s climate and forests, particularly in the northern part of the state, provide an ideal environment for the moose to live.   
“It evolved in the north and is perfectly adapted for the cold and the snow,” Rines said. 
Moose are herbivores and feed on fresh growing leaves, twigs, tree buds and shrubs. They avoid mature forests and fields and reside mostly in forests with clear-cutting or forest fires, where young plant growth is most prevalent. 
“As far as their environmental impact, moose keep forests in a young state, which is great for many kinds of birds which like the younger forests as opposed to old forests,” Rines said. 
After the first moose hunt, the moose population in New Hampshire continued to grow, reaching between 7,000 and 7,500 moose in the late 1990s. The current population, however, is declining again due to a new threat. 
“Our climate is changing and our habitats are changing and because moose are a northern species, they’re the ones that feel the change the most,” Rines said, adding that the warmer weather also supports new parasites that the moose aren’t equipped to handle. 
“The best thing we can do for them is reduce our carbon footprint,” she said. 
— Angie Sykeny 
Sea lamprey 
With a long, snake-like body and circular mouth filled with rows of cartilage teeth, the sea lamprey isn’t as scary as its appearance suggests, says Helen Dalbeck, executive director at Amoskeag Fishways Learning Center in Manchester.
“They are not a well-loved fish, mostly because they’re misunderstood,” she said. “Many people don’t like to see them because they think they prey [on] sports fish, but they actually don’t kill any fish.” 
New Hampshire’s cold waters are perfect for the sea lamprey, which is born in rivers and migrates to the ocean where it spends its adult life, then returns to the rivers to spawn. 
The lamprey’s contribution to New Hampshire river habitat is unique because it carries marine nutrients from the ocean that aren’t typically found in freshwater and releases them into the rivers when it dies, where other plants and animals can pick them up. 
Native Americans and early settlers in southern New Hampshire used to eat the sea lamprey, which was known at that time as the “Derryfield Beef.” 
“They were considered a staple for people who lived in this area,” Dalbeck said. “They would especially feed them to children because there were no bones in them.” 
They’re no longer eaten in North America, she said, but are still considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, such as Portugal. 
Lampreys use the rocky river bottom to build their horseshoe-shaped nests, which protect their eggs from being swept away. They release tens of thousands of eggs after which point they die. 
Baby lampreys, which look like tiny worms, find a sandy bottom of the river after they hatch and bury themselves. They use a unique feeding method in which they pop up their heads and filter nutrient particles out of the water as it flows by. Lampreys stay in this state for up to seven years before reaching adulthood and migrating to the ocean, where they can reach three feet in length. As adults, they are parasitic eaters. 
“They suction-cup their mouth to the side of a fish and drink its blood and body fluids,” Dalbeck said, “and that’s their source of food, but they don’t kill it.” 
Part of the lamprey’s value for us today, she said, is that it’s a cool animal to study and claim as part of New Hampshire’s wildlife. 
“Their feeding adaptation and life cycle are so unique in nature. There’s really nothing like the lamprey,” she said. “They have our respect, for sure.”
— Angie Sykeny 
White-tailed deer are native to New Hampshire, and to most of the country, residing in almost every state except Utah, Nevada and California, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game website. Even before colonists came over, they were important resources for Native Americans, providing food, clothing and tools (made from antlers). The animals are tan to reddish-brown during the summer, grayish brown during the winter, and earned their name by showing the white underside of their tails as a danger warning.
Dan Bergeron, deer project leader with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said the state has been tracking  populations since the 1920’s. Numbers began to decrease in the 1940’s due to unregulated hunting and predator abundance but were at their lowest in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, which is when New Hampshire Fish and Game obtained authority to manage numbers, mostly through hunting licenses. It was designated the state animal in 1983.
Bergeron said you’re more likely to see white-tailed deer in the fall during breeding season, when they’re most active and looking for mates. Today, they’re most densely populated in southern New Hampshire’s suburban counties, where hunters are scarce, gardens are plentiful and winters are milder — generally.
“A large part of that has to do with, when you have more development, it’s harder to get people to hunt [in that area] to bring deer densities down,” Bergeron said. “When you have these suburban areas, there’s still a decent amount of forested landscape. You also have these areas where there are gardens and ornamental plants. Deer eat just about everything. Often, what’s planted in yards is also more nutritious than what you’ll find in the woods.”
Numbers in the Granite State are low compared to the estimated 30 million nation-wide, but historically, they’re up in New Hampshire, with about 100,000 or 13 per square mile. Bergeron said most residents enjoy seeing deer, which are capable of living about 15 years — so long as they’re off the highway and out of the gardens. 
“Overall, [the relationship] is pretty positive, and that’s because we have a healthy number of deer throughout the state,” Bergeron said.
The species is important to the state’s economy. People travel to hunt deer — which means they’re purchasing gas, lodging, food and items at local sporting goods stores. In 2011, it was estimated hunting contributes $60 million to the state’s economy. For many families, venison remains a staple meat.
“Some people still rely on wild game for a good portion of their food,” Bergeron said. 
— Kelly Sennott
According to Patrick Tate, a furbearer biologist with New Hampshire Fish & Game, there has actually not been a confirmed sighting of a wolf in the Granite State since 1895, though two cases have been documented in northern Maine over the last 25 years. Still, he said, northern New Hampshire’s heavily forested terrain does serve as an environment that could support a species of wolves.
“As the colonization of European settlers occurred throughout the Northeast, [the wolves] that were here were pushed back mostly through habitat change … and the animals retreated farther north to where humans were less dense,” Tate said. “They moved north eventually up to Canada through population migration. … It was not a conscious decision for them, it was just that the habitat was not favorable for them and reproduction was not favorable on a colonized landscape.”
Today, your best shot at seeing a wild eastern timber wolf is north of the St. Lawrence River in the area of Quebec City, Canada. But Tate said that eastern timberwolves did exist in the Granite State during colonial times. Gray wolves, which are smaller in stature, are also found in Canada but did historically occupy New Hampshire.
“Currently, we haven’t had any physical evidence [in New Hampshire] to absolutely say a wolf has been here, but we do receive pictures from people asking if it’s a wolf or a coyote and having our biologists look at the characteristics of it,” Tate said.
If you’ve ever spotted a wild dog in your neighborhood, you might have asked yourself whether it was a wolf or a coyote.
Coyotes are slightly smaller than wolves on average, with a pointier snout, smaller feet and shorter legs.
Although there is a genetic overlap due to interbreeding between the eastern timber wolf and the eastern coyote, Tate said, the reason why there are only coyotes here and not wolves has to do with each animal’s adaptabilities.
“Coyotes can take advantage of many different types of prey species and habitat types, even in city environments,” he said. “Wolves on the other hand don’t have the ability to do that because they tend to pack more in groups.”
While coyotes don’t prefer to hunt domestic animals or even to attack humans, Tate said, it’s a good idea for owners of small dogs not to let their pets have free range outdoors during its peak breeding season, which is normally from January to March.
“It’s a species that prefers natural food resources,” he said. “We don’t recommend trying to feed them either because of the risk of attracting other unwanted wildlife like bears in the summer months or bobcats in the winter months.” — Matt Ingersoll
A period of sheep mania in the early 19th century caused sudden and long-lasting changes to the New Hampshire landscape and helped to shape its early commercial agricultural heritage.
Tom Wessels, a historian with Antioch University of New England, said it all started when a diplomat from Vermont named William Jarvis smuggled a few thousand sheep from Spain during the chaos of the Napoleonic wars. These sheep were a special breed called merino that up until that point had been monopolized by the Spaniards. 
The merinos were highly productive and their wool wasn’t scratchy and managed moisture better. Wessels said introducing them to the New England area was a huge economic boost in the early 1800s.
“That period of time … it was huge. It was the first sort of large scale market farming opportunity,” Wessels said.
Before sheep, farms in New Hampshire were just self-sustaining. After, they could grow a lot of a valuable commodity and sell it for top dollar. 
A few things helped kick off the sheep market around this time. Tariffs were set up for wool imports, making it easier for local producers to compete, and new wool-weaving machines were invented to make textiles on a large scale.
The wool textile industry had its ups and downs over the years that followed, mostly due to shifting tariff laws. While the early wool industry may not have been as large economically as what the dairy industry would become after the Civil War thanks to the advent of railroads, Wessels said, it had the most important impact on New Hampshire’s landscape.
Without sheep, New Hampshire would not have experienced the first major deforestation effort of the 1800s, which turned the land south of the notches into 80 percent agricultural land by the middle 1840s, mostly for sheep pasturage. 
And because the wood from the forests was burned, farmers didn’t have enough wood to maintain wooden fences. That led to the creation of stone fences.
“Farmers [would] go back to stone dumps, pick out the rocks and start replacing wooden fences with stone fences,” Wessels said.
Many of those stone fences remain today. Wessels said that there’s now about 125,000 miles of stone fences between New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. That’s enough to wrap around the earth’s equator five times, reach halfway to the moon in a straight line or pile up to mounds six or seven times as massive as all the Egyptian pyramids, according to Wessels.
The sheep industry turned a corner in the middle of the 19th century when the cotton gin made cotton textiles more competitive and overgrazing in New England made soils degrade and productivity decline.
Ultimately, the industry moved westward with much of commercial agriculture. But over the past 20 or 30 years, Wessels said, small specialty farms in New Hampshire have made a comeback. Today, some farms have sheep that they grow and sell for meat to restaurants. Even sheep milk has been used for specialty products like cheeses amid the locavore movement.
— Ryan Lessard
Cows have an enormous role in New Hampshire’s economy, culture and landscape — even though they’re relatively new to the Granite State, having first come over with early settlers.
In fact, until 150 years ago, most of our farms were sheep farms, supplying wool to nearby textile mills, from Manchester to Lowell, Mass., said Carl Majewski, food and agriculture UNH Cooperative Extension field specialist. When the textile industry moved south, New Hampshire farmers turned to dairy production instead, capitalizing on recent technological advancements in bottling and transporting milk. 
New Hampshire farmers also turned to dairy because the climate is good for growing grass for cows to eat — fruit and vegetables, not so much. 
“A lot of the state has rocky, hilly soil, and we’ve got a somewhat limited growing season. That makes it hard to grow some crops on a large scale. That’s why there are millions of acres of vegetables in California and not here,” Majewski said via phone. “But we do grow a lot of grass. And while it’s a pain to go harvesting grass on some of these rocky, hilly soils, you can have cattle out there grazing and it’s just fine.”
Cows can live as long as 12 years depending on their breed and prefer moderate temperatures, between 50 and 60 degrees. New Hampshire’s not the most cow-dense state in New England — both Vermont and Maine have us beat — but cows and other farm animals are to credit for a great deal of the state’s pastoral landscape. 
“Dairy and beef farms are what give a lot of the state its rural character. Of all the different types of farming that go on in the state, anything to do with animals takes up more land than anything else. There are a lot of hay fields, a lot of pastures and corn fields,” Majewski said. 
Majewski estimates peak cattle populations were in 1900, with around 115,000 milking cows. Today, cow population numbers have dwindled, with the last census conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture counting 33,392 New Hampshire cows on 1,091 farms in 2012. Of those, 13,474 were active milking cows (mostly Holsteins), 4,075 beef, the rest calves or inactive milking cows (a variety of breeds). Majewski said the industry continues to change.
“More and more, there are farms … that are bottling their own milk and selling it directly to consumers, or selling it directly to supermarkets,” he said. “I think New Hampshire does rank fairly high in direct farm sales to consumers. There are a lot of people looking to support local farms, who want to know more about where their food is coming from, and how it gets there.” — Kelly Sennott
For about a century, New Hampshire didn’t have any wild turkeys to speak of. But thanks to restoration efforts, they’re now more populous than they were estimated to be before the colonial period.
Ted Walski, who has led the turkey restoration effort at New Hampshire Fish and Game for the past 40 years, said there were an estimated 5,000 wild turkeys in the state during the pre-colonial era. They were hunted for food by Native Americans but with the advent of European settlers and more advanced firearms, the birds were over-hunted and eventually extirpated, after much of their habitat had been destroyed by farmers clearing away huge sections of forest.
The last turkey was spotted in Weare in 1854. 
After more than a century, the state decided to take steps to bring the fowl back.
Walski said turkeys were a true native to New England and hunting them was part of the culture here.
“It’s been a huntable species in so many states. … It was almost our national emblem or symbol instead of the eagle. And it was a valuable food source … used by the Indians and the early settlers here,” Walski said.
And hunting turkeys takes a great deal of skill, according to Walski. Hunters have to get up extremely early and it teaches them how to call turkeys and be patient.
“You have to be pretty close to be able to get a turkey so it makes overall better hunters,” Walski said.
The first stab at bringing turkeys back to the state was in 1969, when New Hampshire traded 26 fishers for 26 turkeys from West Virginia. 
That plan failed for a few reasons. Walski said the fowl from West Virginia were not a particularly hardy species and two severe winters in a row killed most of them off. In addition to that, the birds were released in Pawtuckaway State Park, which didn’t have the kinds of farmland and hayfields that turkeys thrive in.
Turkeys eat a lot of protein. In the spring they like to eat a lot of grasshoppers found in fields, then they eat more berries in the summer and nuts and seeds in the fall. Grasshoppers are usually found in open fields and farmland.
The second attempt to transplant wild turkeys was successful. They obtained a donation of 25 turkeys from Allegany State Park in New York and relocated them in Cheshire County along the Connecticut River in 1975. 
After only three years, Walski was able to start trapping dozens of turkeys at a time and moving them more eastward. He did this about 15 times over the next several years. Because turkeys are polygamous and lay about 12 eggs at a time, they multiply their population exponentially.
There are now an estimated 40,000 turkeys in the state.
Last year, 3,882 turkeys were taken in the hunting season. This year’s season started on May 3 and goes through May 31.
— Ryan Lessard
Where there are lakes in New Hampshire, there are usually some common loons. In fact, whenever you do see these aquatic birds on the water, it means the water quality of the lake is high.
“Loons are great indicators of the overall environmental health … of our lakes and ponds,” said Harry Vogel, executive director and senior biologist for the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough. “If you have them on a lake, you’re doing something right.”
Loons in New Hampshire are considered a threatened species, with only about 300 pairs recorded by the committee statewide last year. A lake in Canada, by comparison, has about three times as many loons as in any given area of water in New Hampshire of the same size, Vogel said.
“In the early days [of the committee] during the late 1970s, some pretty extensive interviews were done with some longtime residents living on or near our lakes about the abundance of loons,” he said. “Through these types of interviews, we’ve learned that loons were actually much more common in the past than today.”
Since then, the committee has been leading the efforts to recover the state population of loons back to where it should be. Vogel said a major factor contributing to the decline in population of loons in the state has to do with lead poisoning caused by fishing equipment. According to New Hampshire Fish & Game, a state law was passed last year banning the sale and freshwater use of lead fishing hooks weighing one ounce or less.
“Loons should be found statewide … [and] there are a lot of different things we can do, but two big ones are to give them space and to not use lead fishing sinkers or jigs,” Vogel said. “The problem is that people always want to get up close to get a picture of them, but you’re always at risk of forcing a loon to abandon its nest if you do that.”
The common loon is one of five different species of the bird worldwide but is the only one that resides in the Granite State. Most of the other species, like the red-throated loon and the yellow-billed loon, are often found in more arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
“There is some evidence that loons are more cold-adapted, and that if they get too warm, they get a little heat-stressed,” said Pamela Hunt, senior biologist in avian conservation for New Hampshire Audubon.
Vogel recommends remaining at least 150 feet away from the birds, and using a good pair of binoculars or a telephoto camera lens if you have one.
If you want to learn more about loons, you can visit the committee’s headquarters, which has various taxidermy displays and a gift shop. The McLane Audubon Center and the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center are also good resources. — Matt Ingersoll
Prior to the 1970s, there was little expert knowledge of whales — in fact, they were thought of as monstrous creatures among the locals, according to Mary DeBerry of Discover Portsmouth, which is part of the Portsmouth Marine Society.
“There were no aquariums or places around back then that were preserving and educating people about whales as a part of marine life,” she said. “It probably wasn’t until the ‘80s or so that there was more of this public consciousness about them and how they are friendly mammals to the environment.” 
Rebeca Murillo, program and volunteer coordinator for the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation in Portsmouth, said the most common species of whales you will see in the Gulf of Maine are of the baleen family — minke, humpback and fin whales. Currently, there is a northern Atlantic population of about 11,500 humpback whales and less than 3,000 minke and fin whales.
“Baleen whales don’t have teeth but instead have a kind of filter feeder system on their mouths,” she said. “Minke whales are one of the smallest and only grow about 30 feet long, while humpback whales can grow between 30 and 40 feet and fin whales can reach lengths of up to 70 feet.”
Murillo said humpback whales, the most well studied of the three, were just taken off of the endangered species list last year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, due to a gradual increase in population.
A large population of whales along New Hampshire’s Seacoast is a good indicator of the health of the ocean, and ways to improve the population of whales involve limiting the amount of trash produced in the water.
Murillo said the presence of these whales helps create a stable food chain for other ocean wildlife. The waste of most whale species helps to promote the growth of different phytoplankton in the ocean, which in turn removes carbon from the atmosphere and helps certain fish and other marine species that depend on that phytoplankton for survival.
Pete Reynolds, captain and owner of Granite State Whale Watch in Rye Harbor, began doing recreational whale watches along the Gulf of Maine in the mid-’80s.
“Our main area where we go is Jeffreys Ledge; it’s basically an underwater mountain chain from Cape Ann to about 20 miles offshore from Portland, Maine,” Reynolds said. 
Murillo said the chances to see whales varies as they follow sources of food.
“Certain things to look for [out on whale watches] are water blows in the distances or different kinds of disturbances in the water,” she said. — Matt Ingersoll 

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