Kids of all ages have an innate interest in wild things and the outdoors. The challenge for adults is how to stimulate that interest.
Although restrictions on travel have been relaxed a bit since the first week of May, Covid-19 continues to rock our world. We have been concerned for our grandchildren and their parents, not just because of the disease, but also the potential boredom and the constant threat of losing them to banal TV programs.
My wife came up with a clever idea that we implemented on May 1st. A week prior, we held a family video meeting and laid out the rules for a challenging game—how many naturally wild animals can you find and identify in the month of May? There were financial incentives of course—with 19 grandchildren we couldn’t make it huge, but for most of the kids, any source of income is appreciated.
Here are the rules—animals must be wild (no zoos, pets, farm animals etc.), they must be alive (no roadkill or bugs on the car’s grill), they must be identified to species (not duck, but mallard or green-winged teal). To claim an animal, the child has to SEE it, but they can have help identifying it. We do not allow males and females to be counted separately although we did decide that a caterpillar and moth or butterfly of the same species could count twice since the life stages are so different. Finally, teamwork was encouraged.
We also split our grandkids into two groups; a junior division and a senior division. Nine-year-olds or older in 2020 would be in the senior group, the others would be in the junior division. Each group would have a winner, and the winners would get $25. Anyone else could also claim a cash prize of $5 by getting at least 100 species on their list.
A week after the contest started, we had another family video meeting to see how things were going. I came away with the sense that there was a lack of enthusiasm for the challenge on the part of many of the grandkids. I was pleased to find out I was wrong several days later when some of us met at Harriman State Park to celebrate my wife’s birthday.
While at the park, the kids began to proudly share their lists with us. In just nine days, several had lists totaling over 60 species. At Harriman, I played spotter with the spotting scope and the kids would line up to see each new bird I could find. By the end of the day, the kids had added up to 28 species to their totals.
I am now confident that the majority of those playing (three are too young) are taking the challenge seriously. Yes, the money is a huge motivator—even a little money can motivate a child. However, even the older kids are really engaged. My oldest grandson made me proud when he told me that he had now identified eight different species of swallows and, with the help of an App on his mom’s phone has been able to identify more insects than anyone else. His count when he left was 92 species in 9 days.
I hope that our challenge will do more than entertain our grandchildren for a month. I hope that one or two of them will, because of this and fine parenting at home, develop into true naturalists. I can tell already that the activity has made all of them at least a little more observant of the wonderful world around them.
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
TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.