The outdoors is par excellence the school for observation and for realizing the wonders of a wondrous universe. It opens to the mind appreciation of the beautiful that lies before it day by day…
The study of nature brings into a harmonious whole the question of the infinite, the historic, and the microscopic as part of the Great Creator’s work.
Going into the world of nature without knowing the names of the plants and animals that call it home is like walking into a room of people whom you have never met. Once we learn a name or two of what grows in the forest or people in that room we begin to feel more at home. Curiosity prompts us further and we learn about the relationships, the habits and the hierarchies and soon begin to understand our place in the larger scheme of things.
Nature study is a crucial element of Scouting not simply because a Scout learns the names of things or gains an academic understanding of nature. Scouts learn these things towards the greater aim of appreciating their spiritual and philosophical significance.
Natural history is the observational study of plants and animals. It is a more experiential than experimental branch of science ; an umbrella of many specialty sciences. A person who studies natural history is known as a naturalist or “natural historian”.
You need not become a highly trained expert to appreciate the natural world. Getting started is easy and once you begin to learn a little here and there it will become a lifelong pursuit. I began with learning the natural history behind Scout rank requirements and followed my curiosity from there.
Over the next few weeks every Wednesday I’ll publish an overview of several different branches of natural history resources for Scout leaders. A basic tool kit is helpful as you prepare to get out and study;
Camera – any simple digital camera is an essential naturalist’s tool. As Scouts we observe the leave no trace principle of leaving what you find so taking pictures is a much more permanent, manageable and ethical way to develop a natural history collection.
I own a Panasonic Lumix SZ5 (the newer model is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8). The camera is compact, has a great zoom and macro features, and is simple to use.
Binoculars or a Monocular – I have an inexpensive binocular by Barska I got on sale a few years back. A similar on is the Barska Blackhawk 12×25 Waterproof Compact Binocular. Paying a bit extra for waterproof binoculars is worth it but you needn’t spend more than 20-30 bucks for a very usable pair.
Binoculars are identified by two numbers (in the case of the Barska’s 12×25 read ’12 by 25′) the first number is the magnifying strength. Generally you’ll find compact binoculars are 8, 10 0r 12X. I am happy with 10 or 12, any higher magnification makes spotting a bit more difficult because your field of view is smaller. The second number is the objective lens in millimeters (the wide end of the binoculars) the larger the objective lens the more light it will gather. I like a 25MM objective, still compact but with good light gathering.
Many less expensive ($8-12) binoculars are available but they can be frustrating to use because the magnification and objectives are lower and they are not waterproof or particularly well made. Aim at the $25-30 range and watch for sales.
For backpacking I have an inexpensive monocular (10×21) that weighs a couple of ounces. These are fairly easy to find for $10-12.
Magnifying glass – I have several different magnifying glasses knocking around the house. For the field I recommend a simple jewler’s loupe like this 30x loupe. There are plenty of inexpensive alternatives available.
Measuring Tape – I like a sewing tape, they are light, they stay stretched out for photos if needed, and they are inexpensive. Singer makes a 96 inch tape measure, (most are 60 inches). Make sure your tape is marked in inches and centimeters.
Six inch ruler – Clear plastic in inches and centimeters.
The variety of sizes and types are so subjective that I hesitate to be more specific. My two favorites are Rite in the Rain and Moleskine. I have a Rite in the Rain 4 5/8″ x 7″ spiral bound notebook and a number of different Moleskine Pocket Notebooks