New Tourist Eyes

Sometimes you need you need to visit new places or look at the same places in new ways to discover how much is there to see. Photo by Jeff Tome

The flashlights bounced along as we walked through the pitch black of night, with only the bright lights of a distant town lighting things up. The round spots of light glowed as kids searched excitedly across the ground, looking for the slightest motion. Then, there it was — a blob that looked like sand rolling on sand. It was the Ghost Crab.

We don’t have those around here, in case you are wondering, but I was struck by the joy and excitement of kids at the beach searching for crabs: Green Crabs, Lady Crabs, Horseshoe Crabs and Ghost Crabs. Our kids showed other kids. Over the week at the ocean, more and more people started looking for crabs. The joy of new discovery was contagious.

It made me realize how much we take things for granted around here. The ocean was full of marvels: quick sandpipers on the shore, Brown Pelicans with big beak pouches, dolphins leaping out of the water and more odd bits of life than I care to name. In the end, as we arrived home, we took a deep breath of tree-fresh air and felt like we were home.

Sadly, we don’t always seem to have that same joy of discovery in the place where we live. While we won’t find ghost crabs skimming across the back yard with a flashlight, I have to say that I don’t know what we would find. There would be some nightcrawlers and some moths, perhaps a raccoon or two, but I don’t know what else.

On vacation, we soaked up every second of time to explore, play and find new things. At home, we ease into our everyday routines, go to work, cook dinner, mow the lawn and forget to be awed by the amazing things around us.

Believe me, there is plenty of things around here to take our breath away. We also get huge flocks of sandpipers, the occasional pelican and amazingly diverse birds. We have moths that are larger than many of those birds and other moths with wings that move like hummingbirds.

The local waters may not be full of dolphins, but few people closely examine the amazing life that is there. There are muskellunge, with mouths full of razor sharp teeth and tiny caddisfly larva that make houses of debris from the bottom of the lake. The lake is full of migrating birds in the fall, from rafts of red-eyed Common Loons to tiny American Coots that look like diving chickens.

It seems like every season of every year I hear someone tell me that they have lived in this area their entire life, but never seen Cicadas or sandpipers or the dangling bag-like nest of the Baltimore Oriole.

It’s easy to spend your whole life outside and not notice so many things. It happens to me too. We live in an amazingly rich, diverse area that we too seldom appreciate, but others come here to vacation and appreciate that which we neglect.

Look around at the license plates the next time you are out and about. Campgrounds and cottages are filled with license plates from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina and other areas. While we leave to visit other places, like my trip to the ocean, others come here to enjoy the things we take for granted.

Take some time and look through the area like a tourist. Visit a new place, wander the woods with a flashlight, take advantage of a hiking, biking or canoeing trail that you might otherwise not think to use. Western New York has a lot to offer. Don’t get stuck in a rut — look around the area with the new eyes of a tourist. You might be surprised at what you find out there.

Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or