Binoculars: A Most Valuable Tool

Cathy Thomas uses her new binoculars to really see into Everglades National Park in Florida.

At first glance, the sagebrush flat was devoid of life but we focused our attention on an old badger hole about 30 feet away. I asked my friends to take a careful look at the hole in the earth. They couldn’t see anything unusual. Then I asked them to look again, this time using binoculars. Within seconds, they both exclaimed, “There it is!” The binoculars revealed the top of the head of a small burrowing owl, just half her beautiful yellow eyes showing above the hole.

Besides nimble feet and a quick and curious mind, sharp eyes are a nature lover’s greatest asset. Thankfully, eyeglasses have leveled the playing field for me. For well over 50 years they have kept my world from being less like an impressionist painting and more like a photograph.

A good pair of binoculars though, takes even excellent eyesight into an entirely different realm. My wife confided to me that before she owned her first pair of binoculars and began to use them on a regular basis, she had never realized how much diversity is in our world. For instance, she had assumed that every small bird was like every other, something naturalists call LBJs, (scientific lingo for Little Brown Job, the technical term naturalists use when they can’t identify a critter).

Once she acquired the binoculars though, an orange and black bird wasn’t just a robin. It could be a Bullock’s oriole, a black-headed grosbeak or any number of other birds. Deer became bucks, does or fawns. Pretty scenes could be dissected into component plants, wildflowers identified and geology could be examined in detail. It was somewhat like someone accustomed to oatmeal three times a day discovering a smorgasbord.

She had realized that the world is full of wonderful surprises only disclosed through the powerful lens of a pair of binoculars. Her world evolved from one of generalities to a kaleidoscope of detail previously hidden in plain sight. Her outdoor experiences have been greatly enriched and nowadays, she is rarely without her binoculars. With them she has learned the difference between looking and seeing.

If there is one outdoor tool I try to always have with me, it is a pair of binoculars. With them, I see things like the burrowing owl that would otherwise be hidden and identify LBJs and other wildlife. They are essential for wildlife surveys, identifying distant wildlife and finding secretive and well camouflaged animals such as American bitterns. I can’t think of very many outdoor pleasures that cannot be enhanced by the constant use of binoculars.

My wife didn’t use binoculars for very long before she recognized the simile between looking and seeing in the outdoors and in other aspects of our lives. How often are we caught looking at the outside without ever seeing who a person really is? How invaluable would a pair of binoculars be that could look past the surface and into the heart and soul of others and find beauty otherwise missed?

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