January 21, 2015

Red and Blue Winter

By Dave Erler

As I write this we are nearly half way through the season and it’s turning into a red and blue winter. I’m not referring to politics in this case but the apparent number of Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays that have been visiting the Science Center feeding station. I have witnessed the same trend at my home and heard similar stories from other bird feeders in the area. If you have feeders at your home you may have noticed the same.

The question you may have is, “How do I know I’m not just seeing the same birds over and over as they come in for a free handout of sunflower seed?” It is usually pretty tough to tell one bird from another of the same species. (They probably say the same about us.) One way you can identify individual birds is to place a uniquely numbered metal band on one of their legs. For the past 36 years I’ve been banding birds at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. From the data collected over the years this winter stands out. In an average winter of banding at the Center’s winter feeding station next to the Webster Education Building I might band three or four Northern Cardinals and a dozen Blue Jays. In the past three weeks we have captured, banded, and released 16 Cardinals and 28 Blue Jays and we still have two more months to go!

There are some interesting theories as to why we are seeing this change. If you’d like to find out what those theories are and are interested in learning more about banding, join us for Winter Bird Banding on any of the dates listed below. It’s a great opportunity to actively learn, see some of our winter birds close in hand, and quite possibly get to hold and release the birds we encounter. If the trend continues you may also see some of these blue and red birds of winter. Make a reservation as space is limited (call 603-968-7194 option 7). It’s been a fun year so far so I hope you will join us.
  • Saturday, January 31, 10:00 a.m. to Noon 
  • Saturday, February 14, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, February 25, 10:00 a.m. to Noon 
  • Saturday, February 28, 10:00 a.m. to Noon 
  • Saturday, March 14, 10:00 a.m. to Noon

December 16, 2014

Built for Winter

When it’s cold out people can put on a coat, snow pants, hat, gloves, and scarf. We have skis and snowshoes to help us move on the snow. When we come inside we turn up the heat or light a fire. Humans have found ways to overcome our weaknesses in relation to winter weather. But animals that remain active in the winter must find ways to survive the changing landscape.

One of these animals is the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). They are built for survival. Their feathers are mottled browns and white that helps them to blend with their surroundings during any season. This coloration mimics the shadowing effect on the forest floor of light coming through branches where ruffed grouse eat food from crabapple trees (Malus species) or aspens. Grouse usually remain still as you pass by until the final instant, when they suddenly fly away, startling you as you enjoy a stroll.

In winter, ruffed grouse are protected from the cold by their feathers. Feathers are very effective insulators. The legs of grouse are partially covered with feathers and feathers also extend out past their nostrils so they breathe in warmed air. Ruffed grouse will often spend an evening or cold day under low-hanging branches of coniferous trees for added warmth. When snow is deep (10 inches or more) they will even make snow caves by diving into the snow. The added insulation of snow can keep the temperatures near 0 degrees Celsius even during extreme cold conditions.

Being rather bulky birds that spend much of their time on the ground, walking in deeper snow may pose some problems. The grouse has evolved to combat this problem by growing pectines, or comb-like structures, around their toes, which act as snowshoes.

Even though ruffed grouse are fairly large birds, they do not store much fat on their body. Hanging out in trees can be a dangerous activity with no leaves to keep you hidden and safe from predators. Ruffed grouse will eat very quickly, stuffing their crops with enough food to survive a day in less than 25 minutes. This, combined with the energy-saving physical and behavioral adaptations, make the ruffed grouse built for winter.

November 24, 2014

Animal Facts: White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus 

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Genus: Odocoileus
Species: O. virginianus

Fast Facts
Lifespan: 4-5 years in the wild; 15-20 years in captivity
Size: up to 80 inches long, 39 inches at the shoulder, weight 50-300 pounds
Offspring: 1-2 fawns, sometimes 3
Speed: 30 mph, 25 mph over long distances
Status: Common, widespread

What are some special characteristics of white-tailed deer?
In summer, deer fur is reddish brown, short and wiry while in winter they grow a thick, gray coat. Winter guard hairs are hollow, providing extra insulation. The belly, throat and underside of the tail are white. Deer are ungulates or hoofed mammals and have pointed cloven hooves. Their large ears and dark nose are distinctive. How can you tell a buck and doe apart? Bucks are larger and vary from 75 to 300 pounds whereas does range from 50 to 200 pounds. Antlers distinguish bucks but each year antlers are shed in early winter.

What is the habitat of the White-tailed Deer?
Deer are found in mixed forest, along the edges of old fields and forest as well as in thicket areas. Depending upon the quality of their habitat, they may have a home range of two to three square miles. In winter, if snow depths exceed 15” deer gather in “deer yards” – areas often with coniferous cover where the snow is less deep and there is protection from wind. Packed trails lead to their winter food supply.

Deer are called browsers. What does that mean?
Browsers eat twigs and buds and a deer’s preferred winter browse comes from white cedar, hemlock and maple. They need about five to nine pounds of food per day in winter. Acorns are a staple food in the fall, with a bonus coming from the fruit of wild apple trees. During the warm months deer will eat tender green grass shoots.

How about the rutting season and raising of the young?
The breeding season or “rut” runs from October to December during this time bucks compete for does. In September the males rub off the velvet that covered their antlers. Healthier bucks have larger antlers and usually this visual sign is enough proof of their strength to other bucks without the need of physical contact, although similar sized bucks may spar with their antlers. Fawns are born in May or June. At first fawns lie hidden, and having no scent initially, their spotted camouflaged coats hide them well. Spots disappear with the first winter coat and fawns remain with the doe for about a year.

Fun Facts!
  • Deer have no upper incisors so browsed twig ends are ragged rather than clipped cleanly as by a rabbit or hare.
  • Deer have amazing jumping abilities and can soar over an eight foot fence.
  • Deer’s eyes are located toward the sides of their head so they have good vision behind them to see predators.
  • Noises? There are a wide variety including bleats, whistles, whining sounds, loud snorts and squawks.

November 17, 2014

Animal Facts: Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus
Species: H. leucocephalus

Fast Facts
Lifespan: typically up to 10 years in the wild (banding record 30 years 9 months)
Size: 6-7.5 foot wingspan; weight: 8-14 pounds; 30-37 inches tall
Eggs Laid: 1-3 eggs
Flight Speed: 35-40 mph
Status: Threatened in New Hampshire

What are tips for recognizing a Bald Eagle in the wild?
Adults are relatively easy to spot with white heads and tails, brownish to black bodies and bright yellow eyes, bill and feet. If you see a pair, the larger one is always the female! Immature Bald Eagles are well camouflaged with dark brown head, tail and body as well as white blotches on the underside of the wings. Young eagles don’t molt into adult plumage until four or five years of age. When soaring, Bald Eagles hold their wings level with their body (rather than the upward tilt of the Turkey Vulture). Their call is a squealing cackle, similar to a gull.

Where are Bald Eagles found?
Bald Eagles range only in North America, with the largest population in Alaska.

What do Bald Eagles eat?
Their prey is primarily fish, although Bald Eagles will feed on muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl and carrion. Sometimes they will pursue and steal fish from Osprey.

What about nesting behavior and raising young?
Bald Eagles become sexually mature at four or five years of age and breed from March until May. Both male and female build the nest and add new nesting material to last year’s nest every spring. Nests are used perennially. Nests are usually built in treetops and can be seven to eight feet across, constructed of sticks with a lining of soft materials like grasses or moss. Two and sometimes 3 eggs are laid a few days apart in March to May, with an incubation period of about 35 days. If food supply is limited the chicks compete with each other and the strongest, usually the oldest, survive. In approximately 72 to 75 days the chicks fledge (take their first flight).

Fun Facts!
  • The name “bald” comes from the Middle English word, “balled,” meaning “shining white.”
  • The Eagle’s scientific name, Haliaeetus leuocephalus, means “sea eagle with white head.”
  • In 1787 the Bald Eagle was officially adopted as our national symbol.
  • In 1976 the Bald Eagle was put on the endangered species list, mainly due to problems with the pesticide, DDT which caused thin egg shells.
  • By 2007, recovery was successful enough to remove the Bald Eagle from the federal endangered and threatened species list. Still listed as threatened on the NH state endangered and threatened species list.

November 10, 2014

Eyes On Owls

Who’s watching you? Find out on Saturday, November 22 when Eyes On Owls presents a live owl program in conjunction with Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. All who attend are in for some fun with educational close-up views of these secretive birds of prey. Eyes On Owls Naturalist, Marcia Wilson will present “Who’s Watching You? Owls of the World.”

Wilson introduces the audience to owls found in New England and other parts of the world. A slide show begins the program by showcasing colorful wildlife photographs by Marcia’s husband Mark Wilson. Marcia imitates the owls’ calls herself, paying special attention to the more common owls that we might encounter in our area.

After a hooting lesson and much audience anticipation, Marcia brings out the live owls one at a time. With each owl perched securely on her gloved hand, she walks out among the audience with six different owls. There is plenty of time for close-up views, photos, and questions. Each owl presented has a permanent disability which prevents him or her from surviving on their own in the wild. These non-releasable owls serve as captivating ambassadors from the world of wildlife.

Attendees will learn about which owl eats skunks and detective tricks to reveal where owls live close by. They will also learn about what owl pellets give away about an owl’s diet, the food chain, and the web-of-life. Participants will learn how to protect owls and their habitats during this fun, interactive program.

“We are very excited to have Marcia and Mark present Eyes On Owls at the Science Center,” said Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. “Although the Science Center has owls as part of our exhibit and program collection, Marcia and Mark offer some rarer species that many people wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to see.”

Eyes On Owls is generously sponsored by Squam River Landing, Owls Landing Campground, Snowy Owl Inn & Resort, with a golf raffle provided by Owl’s Nest Resort & Golf Club.

The Howling Coyote Gift Shop will also be open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for holiday shopping.

Eyes On Owls will have two presentations at 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $10 for members and $12 for non-members. Tickets purchased the day of the event will be $15 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance by contacting Squam Lakes Natural Science Center at 603-968-7194, option 7.

November 3, 2014

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center Receives 3M Eco Grant to Expand Project OspreyTrack

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has been awarded a $33,264 3M Eco Grant to enhance Project OspreyTrack, a multi-year project that uses the tracking of Ospreys with GPS satellite backpacks as a teaching tool to foster awareness and understanding of bird migrations. Specifically the grant will allow the Science Center to create an eastern flyway network through participating nature centers and schools in 15 states from New Hampshire to Florida through which migrating Ospreys pass on their way from northern New England to South America. Curriculum materials will be created and disseminated and students will communicate and share their experience with Ospreys in their state as well as network with schools and nature institutions in Europe, Africa and South America. Other funding partners include Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), which has helped fund the project since its inception in 2011, Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust, Meredith Bay Colony Club, and the Science Center’s own Innovative Project Fund.

Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of the Science Center and Project OspreyTrack leader is thrilled to be able to expand the project to other states. “This state-of-the-art technology provides near real-time tracking of these birds as they make their dangerous journeys from New Hampshire to South America, and allows exciting teaching opportunities for people of all ages,” he said. “Expanding what we have done in New Hampshire to all the states along the migration route has always been a goal of the project. Although the birds we tag nest here in New Hampshire, they rely on waterways (Ospreys are fish eaters) in every state they pass though and end up island hopping through the Caribbean and spend half their lives in South America – many in the Amazonian rainforest. So they are international travelers that know no boundaries,” added MacLeod. 

3Mgives is awarding almost $400,000 to 10 organizations with its 2014 Eco Grants, which are aimed at connecting kids to nature and improving environmental and conservation education for youth. Since 2001, 3M’s environmental giving program has invested more than $25 million in sustainability initiatives as part of the company’s vision of improving every life. The 2014 grant recipients are nonprofit organizations located in communities near a 3M facility. Recipients were selected based on criteria, which include: connecting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education with outdoor learning opportunities, improving environmental and conservation education, and increasing student visits and teacher preparedness—thereby extending the learning beyond a single visit.  

“3M is pleased to support innovative ideas that create energy and excitement around learning,” said Kim Price, vice president of 3M.  “We are committed to supporting initiatives that enhance environmental education through hands-on experiences with nature.”

About 3M
3M captures the spark of new ideas and transforms them into thousands of ingenious products.  Our culture of creative collaboration inspires a never-ending stream of powerful technologies that make life better.  3M is the innovation company that never stops inventing.  With $30 billion in sales, 3M employs 88,000 people worldwide and has operations in more than 70 countries. For more information, visit www.3M.com or follow @3MNews on Twitter.

About 3Mgives
Since 1953, 3M and the 3M Foundation have invested $1.3 billion in cash and products around the world. 3M’s investment in communities where the company operates reflects the philosophy and practice of the governing principles they have operated by since 1908.  For more information, visit www.3Mgives.com or follow@3Mgives on Twitter.

October 20, 2014

Animal Facts: Coyote

Canis latrans

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. latrans

Fast Facts
Lifespan: 10-15 years in captivity, 4-5 years in the wild
Size:4 feet long; 24 inches shoulder height; weight 25-35 pounds
Offspring: 5-7 young
Status: common

What do coyotes look like?
A cousin to dogs, wolves, and foxes, the coyote measures about 4 feet from head to tail, with a shoulder height of about 2 feet and a weight from 25-35 pounds. Eastern coyotes tend to be slightly larger than coyotes found in the west. They have a long and pointed muzzle with a small, rounded nose, and a keen sense of smell. They have sharp eyes, large sensitive ears that are directed forward, slender legs, and small feet with non-retractable claws. The fur is long, coarse, and dense that shows a slight seasonal variation, but varies greatly among individuals. There is not a difference in fur quality between males and females. Usually their colors is gray to cinnamon gray with the underside being buff gray and black.

Where do coyotes live?
The coyote's habitat in the east consists of brushy country bordering the edge of coniferous and second growth hardwood forests, also fields interspersed with thickets and marshlands. Coyotes do not do well in dense forests. Coyotes sleep on the ground in some cover all year but will make a den for their pups under a stump, hollow log, log pile, rocky ledge, vacant building, or dry culvert. They may even dig their own den or enlarge an abandoned burrow. A coyote den may be 2 to 4 feet underground and up to 30 feet long. It may have one or several concealed entrances in high vegetation. The home range of a coyote may be 2.5 to 26 square miles depending on the availability of prey.

What do coyotes eat and what eats them?
Coyotes are opportunists and eat a variety of animals including carrion, rabbits, white-tailed deer, rodents, insects, birds, snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles, fish, crayfish, and vegetation like grapes, apples, cherries, berries, and grasses. The main prey of coyotes tends to be rabbits, carrion, and rodents. Coyotes will often bury a meal if they are unable to finish it and return to it at a later time. There are few predators of the adult coyote aside from humans; young pups have more including the wolf, great horned owl, cougar, bear, golden eagle, and humans.

How do coyotes adapt?
Coyotes are active year round and are chiefly active at dawn and dusk and it is not uncommon to see one out during the day. They often lead a solitary existence or travel in a small "pack" consisting of a mated pair, the pups of the year, and possibly an older offspring. Coyotes are curious animals with a willingness to experiment with new food items and adapt quickly to new situations using it to their advantage. They may sometimes follow large animals using them to flush rodents and insects from a field or will scavenge along a highway. Coyotes may work in pairs to catch prey, splitting off from each other with 30 to 200 feet between them and walking parallel for some distance. They then come together for a short while and split again. A coyote may stalk and creep up on its prey, freeze momentarily, and then pounce like a fox or may hunt by chasing an animal in relays with other coyotes. A coyote usually attacks its prey from the front biting the victim at the throat and cutting the jugular vein, although they often attack the rear end of a deer. The keen sense of hearing, sight, and smell are very important to the coyote when hunting. They usually trot when hunting but may run as fast as 25 to 30 miles per hour. Coyotes are also strong swimmers and with their thick fur are well equipped to survive in temperatures as low as 20 to 30 degrees below zero. Coyotes communicate by howling, barking, and yipping. They also communicate by using their scent glands, and urine and scat posts to mark their territories.

How do young coyotes develop?
Coyotes may pair together for several years but do not mate for life. Breeding begins in February and gestation lasts for 60 to 65 days with the pups born in April or May. The litter size is normally 5 to 7 blind and helpless pups covered with dark, tawny hair. They are able to crawl after about 3 days and walk at 8 to 10 days. The eyes open at 10 to 14 days and they can run at one month old. The female may move the pups from one den to another during their first few weeks of life. The pups are nursed for two weeks and then begin to eat partially digested food as well as continue to nurse. The male provides the food for the pups and the femals until they are old enough to venture out of the den at 3 to 6 weeks old when they are weaned. The pups are taught to hunt by both the male and female at 9 weeks of age. The family will stay together until early fall. If a coyote survives its first year of life it may live to be 4 to 5 years old or if it is lucky 10 to 15 years.

Fun Facts!
  • Coyotes may work in pairs to catch prey, splitting off and running parallel to each other before coming back together.
  • Eastern coyotes tend to be larger than western coyotes.
  • Coyote pups are born blind and helpless but can run after just a month.

October 6, 2014

Hoots and Howls

For 23 seasons, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has brought Halloween and nature together at the annual Halloween Hoot ‘N Howl. This fun event showcases live nature related skits with an eerie and often humorous twist.

The 2014 Halloween Hoot ‘N Howl will be Saturday, October 18 from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. 40-minute guided tours along a newly designed trail depart every ten minutes from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. After each tour guests are invited to warm up with Halloween games and tasty treats. Guests are encouraged to come in costume and dress suitably for outdoor weather.

Reservations can be made by calling the Science Center at 603-968-7194. Cost is $8 for members and $11 for non-members. All registrations received prior to Friday, October 10 will receive a $1 per person discount. The Halloween Hoot ‘N Howl is held rain or shine.