March 2, 2015

Till Death Do Us Part

By Eric D'Aleo

February 14, 2015

Snow was falling as I walked down the path behind my neighbor Mary, struggling to keep my footing through the white blanket on the ground. The quiet enveloped me as we moved slowly toward the copse of pines.

“Down there,” my neighbor said quietly as she pointed ahead and at ground level. “Can you see it?”

I nodded my head and started to head into the field.

“Don’t you want to move this way and come down through the pines?” she asked.

“No, I think I’d like to take photographs from the field facing the pine trees in case it flies off,” I replied and continued walking.

I trudged through the snow trying to maintain my distance and not spook the bird. Then I could see it, a buff colored ghost with dark markings covering its body. It was a barred owl with perfect camouflage for hiding against a tree trunk, but starkly evident in the brush below, only inches above the snow. I crept forward to take a photo and could see the crow that the owl had killed hanging below it, yet something seemed wrong. I continued to move closer, waiting for the owl to flush; only it didn’t.

“I think the bird is trapped,” Mary said.

I was only a few feet away and could see the bird’s head rolling back as if it was looking up at the trees but it didn’t move. I gently prodded the owl with the base of my monopod and it faintly stirred. Two branches from the sapling it perched on seemed to stick up through its feathered chest as if it had been impaled. But how could that happen? The branches were long and flexible and there was no blood on them. The owl appeared to be holding on to its prize, the crow, for all it was worth or so it seemed. Suddenly I realized this was not a photography mission, it was a rescue mission.

I told Mary that the bird looked to be in rough shape but it was still alive. I explained we could try and put it in a crate so I could take it the Science Center to see if it could recover, or we could let nature take its course, but I didn’t think the bird would survive through the afternoon.

She said that she had a carry kennel that I could use to transport the bird and had clippers as well as heavy gloves so I could extricate the owl from the brush. As Mary walked back to get the materials we needed, I propped my camera among the branches of nearby shrubs to prevent it from lying in the snow.

I looked at the owl more closely as I waited and began to wonder what I was thinking. I had the flu and was spending this day resting when I received Mary’s phone call shortly after lunch. When I heard that there was an owl with a crow it had killed in the brush I completely disregarded being sick, grabbed my camera, put on my boots, and drove the quarter mile down the road. Wildlife waits for no one. This was a lesson I had learned many times before.

Upon closer inspection I noticed the owl wasn’t actually holding the dead bird, it was the other way around. The crow, in death had clasped its left foot around the owl’s right leg and was locked in place, pulling on the owl like an albatross. Even if the owl was healthy and strong, it would be a herculean feat to fly out of the thick brush with the crow attached. There also was blood around the owl’s face and some feathers on its chest, which were frozen with snow around a branch locking the bird to the young tree. Glancing around I could see fading marks of feathers, bodies, and feet in the snow that were slowly being covered by the new snowfall.

Mary arrived with the kennel, clippers, and gloves a few minutes later. I removed the branches so we could get closer to the owl. The first snip was to the crow’s leg. The body dropped to the snow without a sound while its foot held onto the owl’s leg like some avian anklet. The second snip removed a branch that rested against the bird’s chest. I could see that the other branch was indeed somehow frozen in place. Quietly, I leaned forward and placed the clippers above the legs of the owl to try and cut the branch near the chest. With a final clip the owl’s body leaned back and its wings spread out as in a reflex to falling through air. However, its talons remained firmly grasped to the branch upon which it had been perched. Holding the legs between the gloved fingers of one hand, I pried the talons loose with the other. During this time the owl seemed to become more aware of me and its surroundings, looking at my face while I worked. Once the bird was in my hands I noticed how light it felt, like a wisp of smoke, possibly emaciated from the harsh winter and heavy snowfall, which favored owls’ rodent prey, that were able to tunnel safely underneath the thick snow.

I placed the bird in the kennel and gathered up my camera as Mary and I walked back toward her house.

“It seems to be more aware and sitting upright,” she noted as I loaded the kennel into my car.

“I’ll let you know what happens,“ I said as I shut the door. “Thanks for your help.”

I drove along the back roads to the Science Center noting its condition along the way. I dropped the bird off with Lauren Moulis, a member of our animal care staff and filled out the appropriate paperwork, promptly leaving as I started feeling like I had overexerted myself. Before I left, I asked Lauren to email me with the preliminary findings on the status of the owl and to keep me updated if anything significant should happen. I spent the next several days in bed battling the flu bug, occasionally wondering how the owl was doing. On Sunday evening, I briefly checked my email to see if there was an update. Lauren’s comment was that it was sitting up and more alert, clicking its beak at her when she opened the crate to feed it. The blood on its feathers turned out to be that of the crow and the branches were only frozen to the feathers. Her biggest concern was how long the circulation was restricted to the owl’s right foot from the crow’s “death grip.” She had given it some medication for the pain, but mainly had it resting and eating. I went back to bed to continue my recovery knowing that the barred owl was doing the same.

Wednesday, February 18 was the first opportunity I had to see the bird when I returned to work. I learned from Nancy Kitchen, our Animal Care Manager, that the barred owl had a clean bill of health and was fit to be released back into the wild. I was very pleased and excited that it had recovered so well, but was also somewhat stressed as I tried to coordinate help in returning the owl to the area it had been found. Another winter snowstorm was approaching Wednesday evening and I wanted to give the bird the most time to reorient itself to its territory.

I arrived home at 2:20 pm with the barred owl and contacted my wife and neighbor who would help me with the release. Ten minutes later the bird was in place along the edge of a large wooded area near the Baker River. The afternoon was bright and clear, a distinct contrast to the snowy, gray day when the owl had been found. We opened the crate door. Initially the bird did not come out. However, once it did, the barred owl flew directly up to a large, low branch of a red maple. It perched there, sitting quietly, seeming to take in the familiar surroundings for a minute. As it sat there the owl was greeted by a raucous cacophony of calls from a flock of crows in the distance. Surely, these birds were associated with the deceased crow that we had found on Saturday. Their calls became louder and more incessant as they approached. Not wanting to draw any attention to itself the barred owl hesitated only a moment before it turned toward the woods, spread its wings, and silently glided between the trunks of the trees to settle on a cherry tree tucked under the cover of pines and hemlocks. I walked around to where I could get a clearer view and watched the three crows land in the nearby trees scolding the owl. The barred owl seemed to melt into the tree using its camouflage to seemingly disappear. It appeared that this bird had made a vow to avoid the old “black” ball and chain.

February 15, 2015

Life in Hollow Trees

By Margaret Gillespie

My dog, Mica, discovered this arched hole carved in the base of an old sugar maple. Joining in her excitement, I peeked inside and was immediately relieved that the hole was too small for Mica to enter. In this den, you can just make out the prickly tail and dark back of a porcupine! Porcupines are active all winter, feeding mainly on the inner bark of trees. They do need adequate shelter which can range from space in a jumble of rocks, an unused outbuilding or, in this case, a hollow tree. When I returned a few days later to explore the site with my niece, Yesi and her friend Mary, we were disappointed to find no porcupine in residence. However, the girls were delighted to find a nearby hollow sugar maple just their size!
The porcupine tail is just visible inside the den.

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.