Nature Documentaries

harris hawk

Despite what a television documentary implied, Harris’s hawks don’t live in the Midwest.

I seldom watch television. When I do, it is usually because I am on the treadmill and have an hour to kill so boredom doesn’t do the same to me. I try to be careful about the shows I choose as there is a lot of trash out there. I strongly prefer shows with at least a four-star rating (out of five). Recently I switched from Prime® over to Disney+® to see if I could find something different to watch.

The Disney+® channel includes National Geographic® and I was immediately interested. I perused a lot of great sounding documentary titles, some of which I will watch at some point. I finally settled on one highly rated series that aired just last year, narrated by basketball legend Michael Jordan, entitled, America the Beautiful.

I really like the overhead view that puts the landscape in perspective, and each episode had that in abundance.  The footage was nothing short of incredible, with lots of aerial photography taken by low-flying jet aircraft. The wildlife cinematography was spectacular too, with plenty of close-up and intimate video, what we have come to expect from documentaries.

I had the luxury of seeing the shows back-to-back with no advertisements, and finished the entire season in about a week. That afforded me a bit of a unique opportunity and I saw some things that were surprising, that I probably would not have picked up had I been watching it on a weekly basis over a season. For instance, a grizzly bear and her two cubs emerge from a den and start making their way toward lower ground. We pick up this bear and cubs several episodes later as they are fishing for salmon on an Alaska river. However, they clearly are not the same bears, something I would not have noticed if I hadn’t been watching the shows back-to-back. In other places, I could also see where the same footage of different things was used in multiple ways. I likely would not have caught that either over the course of a season.

Speaking of these bears, there was another bothersome point. The bears coming out of the den were not Alaska bears at all. There was sagebrush in the background, close enough to be identified. Sagebrush barely extends into the southernmost reaches of British Columbia and comes nowhere near the Alaskan river this story was supposed to be unfolding on.

There was another location inaccuracy as well. A bobcat and her kittens were residing under an old farm house reportedly somewhere in the Midwest, I have forgotten exactly where. As mom goes out to hunt, the tiny kittens race around outside the den. Danger, of course, lurks, this time in the form of a Harris’s hawk. However, Harris’s hawks have a very small range in the lower 48 and only live in the very southern part of central Arizona right on the border with Mexico and southwest Texas, far from the Midwest.

As I binged, I would shout at the TV and nearly fall off the treadmill when I would hear Michael speak a blatant biological mistruth as if it were fact. Those bothered me the most. One I remember was when wolves were harassing a small herd of bison. The comment was along the lines of, “and the bull was in the rear acting as the protector of the herd.” If the bull was with the herd, it was either coincidental or he was scouting out his prospects for breeding, not to act as a protector.

The best episode was the last one. It documented the efforts of otherwise ordinary people who are making a big difference in the conservation of our natural resources, something most of us could do better at.

Nature documentaries help people to appreciate nature. We can learn a lot about areas we may never visit and peek into the lives of animals we may never otherwise see. They help us to become aware of the challenges different animals face and what can be done about them. However, documentaries should not be taken as the last word in biology or conservation. Just because National Geographic® says it, does not make it true. I suppose the same could be said for other news as well.

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. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

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.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"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.

Readers Write:

"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:

Post Register

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