Gear Up For Nature

Now that kids are home from school, get them outdoors and away from their electronics. Make this the summer of nature. Exploring fields, woods and streams is a great way to spend quality time with your children. It just requires a few simple tools.

First, and most important, bring far away things up close with a good pair of binoculars.

Understanding the basics of binoculars requires knowledge of the numbers involved. Every pair of binoculars is described by two numbers, which are usually found on the center focus wheel. Among the most popular sizes are 8×32 (best for kids), 8×42 and 10×42.

The first number indicates the magnifying power of the lenses. Eight power makes things appear eight times closer; ten power lenses bring things ten times closer. Higher magnification requires steadier hands. Avoid anything stronger than 10x because they are just too difficult for most people to hold without shaking.

The second number is the diameter of the objective lenses (the ones farther from your eyes) in millimeters. The larger this number, the more light the lenses transmit and the brighter the image will be. Brighter is better, especially for early morning birding, but bigger objective lenses mean more glass. And that means more weight.

Choosing the right binocular means balancing magnification, brightness, and weight. My favorite all-purpose binoculars are 8x32s.

One consideration that often does not become obvious until after a purchase is made is that binoculars must “fit.” Even expensive binoculars will frustrate users if they are too big or small for their hands or if they can’t be adjusted to fit the distance between their eyes. Larger outdoor stores usually have a nice selection of optics to “try on.” Then shop around for the best price, which is often found online.

Today most binoculars in the $200-plus price range are waterproof and come with a lifetime warranty. Image brightness, and quality on $200 to $400 binoculars will satisfy most casual nature watchers.

Close focusing ability is also important. Birds sometimes come within ten feet of quiet observers. Plus, if binoculars can focus down to five or six feet, they are perfect for studying butterflies, dragonflies, wildflowers, frogs and snakes.

And before making a purchase, be sure the binoculars are guaranteed for life. A good warranty repairs or replaces damaged binoculars at no cost.

For a good selection of quality binoculars, shop the large outdoor stores and avoid the big box discount stores. To compare pricing, visit online sites such as www.vortexoptics.com.

Other items that may come in handy on nature walks depend on your specific interests.

Field guides are essential to identify the plants and animals you find. Golden Guides and Peterson Field Guides can be found at your favorite book store or nature center.

If insects are on the agenda, a lightweight net for butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and other flying insects is essential. A heavier sweep net is perfect for beating tall grass in old fields and meadows.

For exploring streams and other wetland habitats, invest in a mask and snorkel. You’ll be amazed at the fish and invertebrates that come into view. And a small dip net will help you capture aquatic life. As a bonus on a hot summer day, fishwatching is deliciously refreshing.

The remaining items will fit easily into a pocket or two. An 8x or 10x hand lens helps you examine plant parts and small invertebrates that can be handheld. A pair of forceps can help get a grip on particularly small items. And carry a few unbreakable specimen jars to collect creatures you can’t identify. A field thermometer lets you monitor air and water temperatures throughout the day.

Finally, carry a notebook to record observations and illustrate things you’ve never seen before. And use a cellphone camera to record things that might be difficult to describe.

A few hours spent with children exploring nature is time well spent. Get out at least once a week, and you might just spark a lifelong interest or even a career.

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Dr. Shalaway can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com.Visit Scott’s website www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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