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.

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