July 22, 2015

Guided Discoveries: Mad Science II

By Jenn Reilly, Guided Discoveries Intern

Bubbling, fizzing, expanding, zooming, floating-these are all actions that will be part of the neat experiments planned for Mad Science II. Each day of this week’s program will center on a variety of science concepts, including water, motion, explosions, color and temperature, that will be integrated into every experiment we perform. Monday will begin our week with an introduction to the scientific method through an exploration of water and its unique properties. After gaining an understanding of such concepts as density and surface tension, the kids who join us for this program will be challenged to create a boat out of basic building materials that will float the longest and be able to carry the most weight. Each day after will follow this basic pattern that optimizes the time in which the kids have materials in their hands and are discovering scientific trends through their own explorations.

A second aspect of Mad Science II is the inclusion of outdoor activity and play time. From my observations of previous Guided Discoveries, the children seem to get as much out of creative exploration of the outdoors as they do when we present them with animals and experiments in the classroom. Jordan MacDaniel and I have designed most of the experiments for Mad Science II to be easily performed outdoors and to include natural elements that allows our kids to connect concepts with the world around them. Mad Science II is a great way guarantee that kids return home each day raving about all they saw and did, and to reinforce major science concepts in fun ways!

Register online or call 603-968-7194.

July 16, 2015

Diving into the Science Center for the First Time

By Sabrina Stewart, Program Intern

When I first heard the words “Natural Science Center,” I pictured a simplistic trail with a few small animal enclosures, but mostly hands-on activities based around different elements such as water, earth, and air. However, once I set foot on the trail, I realized I had completely underestimated the range of information about nature that the Science Center captures and shares.

Coming from Nebraska, I had no idea that scenery as beautiful as New Hampshire even existed. I’m used to seeing flat, yellowed plains for miles and miles. But the wildlife, exhibited along the trail at the Science Center, is simply beautiful. Not only did I get to walk under the beautiful canopy of pines through the ¾-mile live animal exhibit trail, but I also ventured up to the Ecotone Trail, which connects to the Mt. Fayal Trail. These paths pass through serene meadows dancing with damsel flies, over a pond crawling with salamanders, and through underbrush flowering with berries.

In addition to underestimating the scenery, I also didn’t realize just how many animals there are at the Science Center. The coyote greeted me with a howl, as a barred owl called in the distance, “Who-Cooks-For-You? Who-Cooks-For-You-All?” I never truly understood how large a mountain lion is when seen up close, or how quick an otter can dive under the water for a live fish to eat. Many different zoos and centers I’ve visited stop there. But Squam Lakes Natural Science Center exceeds all expectations by providing daily Up Close to Animals encounters, lake cruises, and nature programs for families, children, and adults. I really am amazed at what the staff at the Science Center does to make every guest’s experience an incredible journey into nature.

Now here I am, 10 weeks into the job. I still am learning something new every day. It may be seeing firsthand how a broad-winged hawk catches its prey during an Up Close to Animals encounter, or learning how a white-tailed deer ages through the interactive wheel at their exhibit, but I always am in awe at what the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center brings to life.

July 13, 2015

Behind the Scenes of School Programs: How to Transform a Classroom into an Animal Adventure

By Sabrina Stewart, Program Intern

When school groups arrive at the Science Center, most children expect a homework-free, outdoor trip to the trail. So when the kiddos line up outside under their designated “animal banner” meeting place, they don’t expect to be told they will be entering a classroom. Many groans are followed by reassurance that this isn’t a normal classroom: No papers, no desks, no chairs… those very groans transform into squeals of excitement.

A variety of school programs are offered here. I have been fortunate enough to help prepare for and even lead a wide array of these indoor and outdoor experiences. These may range from going on an “Insect Adventure” to the Upper Pond or the field and dressing a child up in a life-size insect costume, to running around on a “CSI” Animal Scavenger Hunt to investigate who killed the Snowshoe Hare, or even going on Squam Lake on a pontoon boat to help the students measure water quality by trapping aquatic invertebrates 20 meters below the surface.

One of my favorite school programs is “Aquatic Critters,” where the students get to dive into the world of three different animals, such as a Blanding’s turtle or a beaver, that depend on lakes and rivers for survival. Before the program starts, the educators—and the interns (that’s me!)— prepare the classroom.

Each program usually includes three animals, which means it’s our job to wrangle them! Just kidding—the program animals enjoy coming to the programs because they get their favorite treats! This could include running out to the raptor mews and catching a fully-flighted owl, or helping the 50-pound beaver up a ramp and into his portable enclosure. After we have the animals ready and have prepared their favorite snacks (for the beaver that means corn-on-the-cob and dandelion leaves), it is time to gather props. For each animal, we include items that the children can hear, feel, or smell. This may be a winter coat of a coyote pelt to nuzzle up against, or a skunk skull for a close look at their sharp, omnivorous teeth. After this, we set up the room for our children and animal friends, and the fun can begin!

For more information on school programs available at the Science Center or at your school please visit http://www.nhnature.org/teachers/ .

July 6, 2015

Birds and Ponds

By Melissa Proulx, Marketing Intern

One of my favorite things about Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is that it provides opportunities to see a lot of wild NH wildlife, in addition to its amazing captive wildlife. It’s exciting to see an animal that has chosen to come into view, because the viewer knows the moment might be fleeting and the animal could leave at any second. It can also provide a great sense of accomplishment to spot an animal when it’s not certain it will be in a given area, especially if it’s on the outskirts or well-camouflaged. The songbird exhibit and the marsh pond are two great examples of areas at the Science Center which do a magnificent job of attracting animals in the wild.

I’ve gone to the songbird exhibit for only a few minutes before, and basically saw a bird feeder exhibit. The songbird exhibit requires time, and sometimes patience, and just peering in briefly won’t allow for the full experience. However, if you have a half hour or more, I’ve found that the songbird exhibit can be the most exciting exhibit of all.

I found an appreciation for the songbird exhibit when I helped David Erler, the Science Center’s senior naturalist, take pictures of a bird feeder he made out of a milk jug for a book he’s been working on for the 50th anniversary of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center (I definitely recommend taking a look at it when it’s finished in 2016). I had come to watch the bird feeder a few times before and hadn’t seen a lot of activity, so I decided to stay for at least an hour. I wasn’t disappointed. For the first time ever, I saw a live rose-breasted grosbeak, a black bird with a white stomach and an upside down triangle of bright red on its chest. It was thrilling, and the thrill was made better by the fact that I had to wait and was surprised. I was also able to get some great photos for Dave’s book.

I went to the songbird exhibit with a camera again recently, and was lucky enough to see several woodpeckers, mourning doves, a cardinal of each sex, a gray catbird, a gold finch, squirrels and chipmunks, a young woodchuck, and-what excited me most of all-a purple finch. Many of these discoveries propelled me to ask questions that drove me to make new discoveries. For example, when I arrived, I saw a downy woodpecker feeding another downy woodpecker from a suet box. Curious to see if this was a mating ritual, I looked up the behavior when I got back to my desk and found out it was more likely that the woodpecker being fed was a juvenile. I also had never heard of a gray catbird, and identified it by doing some online searches based on its coloring and size.

The marsh pond also has a lot to offer. There are almost always eastern newts, green frogs and bullfrogs, tadpoles the size of ping pong balls, and a snapping turtle. Looking for the snapping turtle provides a fun challenge because, despite its size, it blends in extremely well with its environment and stays still for long periods of time. I also enjoy doing online searches on the pond animals, and I was especially fascinated to learn that the brownish newts in the pond are the adult versions of the bright orange newts I often see in the woods. It’s a little bit harder to take pictures of the animals in the pond, because the water is too murky in some areas and too reflective in others, but the difficulty makes it rewarding when I do manage to take a nice shot.

All in all, I strongly recommend these two locations at the Science Center. Both provide challenges and rewards, as well as thrills and surprises. Taking a little extra time to spot critters that are not immediately visible is a fun activity and a great way to improve one’s skills as an observer of nature.

July 2, 2015

Animal Care

By Jimmy Black, Program Intern

Caring for pets is almost every kid’s dream, be it a vet, zookeeper, or cute puppy owner. I still dream of a career in pet care, making the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center a perfect opportunity for me to discover where my passion for nature truly lies. Right now I am leaning toward vet school, so being assigned to the animal care rotation first is exactly where I wanted to be. Many of the skills I have been acquiring in animal care are directly transferable to vet school: animal handling, animal diet, animal hygiene, and of course, the horrid animal smells.

I knew coming into this internship that dealing with animals is not all bottle feeding the cute baby deer or scratching the hard to reach places on the lions like you see on most zoo's summer intern programs, but many people have this rose colored glasses view about interning at a zoo. As expected, the first thing I did in animal care was clean an animal's enclosure. What was not expected was the extent that animals can decimate an area. The opossum is a fine example of an animal that will test your squeamishness. Unlike the skunk, opossums spread their feces not just on ever surface of their cages, but all over themselves as well. I clean up after them every day and the repetition and smell of this is definitely a struggle for me.

Smells have always been important to me whether it's the type of deodorant I put on every morning, the glade plug-ins I buy for my room, or the perfume a girl wears, so the eye-watering smells I come across in this position are difficult. The opossums are one thing, but if you don't gag cleaning up after them I'd like to see how you handle the otters after they are fed vast amounts of fish. That is as bad as the smell gets in animal care. I was gagging the whole time wondering why I ever found them to be cute.

I joke a ton about the smells that animal care has introduced me to, but there is so much more to it. Every morning I prepare food for the raptors and help clean the animal enclosures. One of the most tedious tasks is picking up feathers in the raptor exhibits. This is something that gets overlooked by most visitors, but is unknowingly appreciated. It reminds me of working at Dick's Sporting Goods and putting items on the right shelf after customers put things back in the wrong place. They don't think about the associate who makes a minimum hourly wage needing to put everything back in its rightful place. Now whenever I go to a store I recognize how things seem to be right above the correct price. Relating back to the feathers, I'll be sure to take note on how feather-free a bird exhibit is at any zoos I visit in the future.

My favorite parts of animal care would have to be preparing the animal diets, running errands such as transporting animals to Fish and Game, or going to the vet's office, and oddly enough cleaning the bear exhibit. Cleaning the bear exhibit includes hiding food all over their night pens, washing down the floors of the night pens, and scooping poop in their exhibit. Call me a little kid, but every time I scoop bear poop I laugh to myself about the amount of waste these animals produce. It's hilarious and smells more like my compost at home than I had thought.

All and all, even though animal care has its challenges and I know that a career in zoo keeping is not for me, it is full of great experiences. I am enjoying and learning a lot from the time I've spent!

June 30, 2015

Guided Discoveries - Wild Tales II (July 13-17)

By Jenn Reilly, Guided Discoveries Intern

Has your child ever seen a woodchuck scamper through your back yard or a turtle hobble across the road and asked a million questions about it? Where is it going? What is it doing? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Well those questions and more will be answered during the Guided Discoveries program Wild Tales II! Each day of this program will feature classic fairy tales and modern renditions of stories centered around the animals that live here at the Science Center and the wilderness of New Hampshire.

Planning for Guided Discoveries has given me an inside look into all the hard work and time that goes into making each program unique. I have also been provided an opportunity to work with Jordan McDaniel, who has been so generous to share her knowledge and expertise when it comes to providing children with exciting and thought-provoking experiences. Participants can expect to begin each day of Wild Tales II with a story featuring that day’s animals. There will then be lots of animal themed outdoor games and free play in our kid friendly pine grove. After having observed these activities for a while now, I can say that having outdoor fun is a treat for all of the children and they never seem to tire of it. Halfway through our program the children will get a chance to meet our live animal of the day. From a ball python to a skunk and everything in between, the children can observe the unique features that make our New Hampshire wildlife successful predators, prey, and members of our beautiful ecosystem. At the finish of each day, I can see that each child is eager to return home and teach their parents everything they learned and saw during that day’s program. With the unique extended day feature of Wild Tales II, the participating children will get to meet two live animals each day who have something in common with each other, whether it be a shared habitat or similar adaptation. With twice the animals comes twice the fun and memories that will inspire an appreciation of the New Hampshire wilderness in any child.

June 22, 2015

Gordon Interactive Playscape Opens July 1

By Melissa Proulx, Marketing Intern
On July 1, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center opens its new Gordon Interactive Playscape, an intricately designed playground where children can play and learn. This wonderful new exhibit teaches children about the concept of prey and predator, by having them simulate the obstacles faced by a red squirrel.

Bird's nest
The Playscape includes many fun features, aimed to stimulate children’s minds and imaginations. For instance, kids can use a rope swing to mimic a squirrel jumping to a bird feeder, where they ring a bell to signify their arrival. A series of platforms challenges kids to maintain their balance, as if they are squirrels moving through the forest canopy. A bird’s nest overlooking the exhibit provides an impressive sight and includes a thirteen-foot slide so children can land back on the ground and begin their adventures again.

The Gordon Interactive Playscape was designed by Naturalist Eric D’Aleo and Facilities Supervisor Dean Smith. They were inspired largely by the designs of Ku Kuk, a German company which uses natural materials to build play areas, sometimes with a nature theme. D’Aleo and Smith have put a great deal of effort into creating the Playscape, including, but not limited to, hours of research, numerous meetings with the education exhibit team to present, discard, and/or modify ideas, CAD and hand-drawn renderings of the design, and construction.
Under construction

D’Aleo and Smith hope for kids to have fun while being active and moving outside. Children get to crawl, climb, dig, and slide, while they imagine what it’s like to be a red squirrel. They also hope visitors will gain a new understanding of the predator-prey relationship.

“[W]hen [having] fun, a person is engaged and excited by the experience, which provides an opportunity for learning and understanding,” said D’Aleo. “It’s one thing to read about predators and prey; it’s another thing when you have a chance to role-play the experience.”

Under construction
This new addition to Squam Lakes Natural Science Center was funded by generous donors to the Nature Matters Capital Campaign. The campaign was organized by the Science Center’s dedicated board of trustees. It has funded the Gordon Interactive Playscape, the Wood Energy Exhibit completed in 2014, the Water Matters Pavilion opening in 2016, and a new raptor mews soon to be under construction.

June 9, 2015

We're making a TV Commercial!

Our Nature Matters Capital Campaign is helping the Science Center look to the future. It will help keep the Science Center strong, fresh, resilient, and ready to engage and educate upcoming generations.

The campaign includes new exhibits, strong financial foundations, and expanded marketing. As part of the increased marketing the Science Center will be running television commercials on WMUR-TV during July and August.

We have been working with the extraordinary crew at EVP Creative for the commercial and we shot all of the footage last week. We'll post the completed commercial once we have it but in the meantime check out some of the behind the scenes pictures on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskd7k4D5