Bird is the word

Ornithology students spread their wings to put identification skills to the test.

Adam Loyd
April 11, 2023
A student looks through a lens

Former Instructor in Science Rich Aaronian helps Veruka Salomone ’23 spot waterfowl.

If the early bird gets the worm, then the early student gets the bird. That’s the thinking as a small flock of Exonians board a bus as the sun begins to rise over campus.

The outing is one of many the group will take as part of BIO460: Ornithology, a course that emphasizes field identification of locally common species and habitats.

The morning’s itinerary includes multiple stops, starting with the town of Exeter's water treatment center, adjacent to the Squamscott River, followed by a short, 10-mile ride to the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding marshes.

Seated in a line across a rock wall at North Hampton Beach State Park, the group of uppers and seniors scan the skies, binoculars pressed to their eyes. “How many new species have we seen today, seven, eight?” asks Instructor in Science Chris Matlack. “Ten!,” one student answers back. Matlack and his class are taking advantage of the migratory season, when the coastline becomes a highway for winged traffic. “We’re at the beginning of the spring migration, so we’ve had a whole bunch of duck species.”

Instructor in Science Chris Matlack looks out over a salt marsh.

A horned grebe is spotted. “It’s in breeding plumage!,” announces Matlack as students jump up to take turns looking through long-lensed scopes manned by Matlack and former Instructor in Science Rich Aaronian '76, '78, '97 (Hon.); P'94, P'97. Among those waiting to catch a glimpse is Veruka Salomone ’23. The senior says she loves getting out in the field with her classmates. “I never thought birds would be so interesting,” she says. “I saw a great blue heron the other day and sent a picture of it to Mr. Matlack.”

Students pile back on the bus for a short trip down the road to a parking lot overlooking the Hampton Salt Marsh Conservation Area. The spotting is not as fruitful as the other stops, but a bird with a sharp call gives the class something to look for. “You hear that nasal ‘eee eee’? That’s a fish crow,” says Aaronian. Students would have to wait until next time check off the elusive small black bird as the time in the period comes to a close and bus heads back to campus.