In the excitement of seeing a wild critter, it is often easy to forget to look for the details such as the white eye-ring and white spots under the tail on this black-tailed gnatcatcher, that help to identify it as well as add enjoyment to the experience.
While I put a few miles on the treadmill, I watched a YouTube video of a guy carving a bear with a chainsaw. In real-time of 21 minutes, a block of wood was transformed into the remarkable likeness of a standing bear. It was simply amazing. I watched carefully as he explained the details, such as ear placement, that were important to the final product. I got to wondering if I had ever noticed just exactly where a bear’s ears are placed on the head. Could I get that right without looking at a reference photo?
My home is full of wildlife carvings, paintings, ceramic figurines, brass castings and metal cutouts of wildlife. I love to collect things like that. Some are less detailed than others but all in all, they are great representations of wildlife. There are a lot of artists out there who can, with just about any medium, create realistic art. That comes from observing details.
How many times though, have I been guilty of looking without really seeing? I know that when I see an animal, I am usually so excited and reaching for a camera that I suffer from tunnel vision where I see nothing else including other animals and hazards such as traffic. Am I missing other things as well? I suspect so, because I often have to take a second or even third look, if the animal affords me that opportunity, to finally correctly identify it.
This is particularly true when birding. Small details such as a white eye-ring, a pale cheek patch, a spot on the throat or other small but important clue is easily missed if I am not paying attention to details. But it goes beyond that. When I am looking at a species I can readily identify, I tend to see the whole bird and not the distinguishing characteristics that make it so.
The devil might be in the details but so are the differences between species and often the true art of nature. When I took an Ichthyology class many years ago, we were faced with a final exam of over 170 fish specimens, all bleached to a gray white by the preserving liquid. With no color as clues, we were forced to look closely at each specimen to determine its species. On some of the spiny-rayed fish, it was a matter of counting spines and rays in the dorsal fin. The distinction between a largemouth and smallmouth bass was largely whether or not the corner of the mouth ended in front of or behind the eye. For still others, we had to look carefully at the lateral line, body shape, number of fins (all trout species have an adipose fin between the dorsal and tail fin), mouth type and a number of other clues. I was thrilled to have a near perfect score, only being fooled by a trick question.
Identifying wildlife, their sign or their lifestyle is often all about the details. If you see a duck with feet in the middle of the body as opposed to feet far back on the body, you know that it is a dabbling duck and will take to the air in a bound and will walk well on land. If you note that the feet are far back, you know that you are looking at a diving duck, one that can swim well underwater but for whom take-off and walking on land are a chore. But you have to see the details, not just the duck.
Detail. That is what I need to start paying more attention to. I know if I do, my experiences in the natural world will improve.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho