How It All Began

Red-breasted Nuthatch Eating Suet

These little guys used to be a regular at my suet feeders during the winter. Then for a few years none appeared. This winter, however, a pair seems to appear sporadically. Red-breasted Nuthatches do nest in Rhode Island. In fact, I spotted a nesting pair a couple of summers ago while participating in the RI Bird Atlas. So, why a post about them when their cousin, the White-breasted Nuthatch, is so much more common? Here are the Whites, for comparison.

White-breasted Nuthatch with seed
My White-breasted Nuthatch Foraging

My father taught me to love the natural world. While serving in India during World War II he collected butterflies. An unfortunate plane crash took out his efforts, as well as the pilot, sadly. My naturalist education began with the study of butterflies when I was in the fourth grade. We spent summers in Michigan, so I became rather proficient with species from central Ohio and northern Michigan, though they are quite similar.

The next step for me was birds. I loved watching them come to our home feeders. One of my absolute favorites was–and still is–the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are slightly smaller than their White-breasted cousins. My father broadened my birding experiences over the years. More than once we drove from Columbus to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Toledo. As any serious birder will confirm, these locations are among the premiere places to see warblers. As these colorful little birds migrate to their nesting grounds in Canada they stack up along the shore of Lake Erie, feeding and resting, awaiting just the right conditions for taking off over the lake. I remember one time, after a morning of constant warbler sighting and identifying, we were sitting in the car eating lunch. The warblers literally dripped off the tree in front of the car! What a memorable experience.

By the time I reached the seventh grade I wanted a pair of binoculars of my own. “OK,” said my father, “but you have to pay for them yourself by saving your allowance.” At that time Columbus was home to a company that made binoculars–Burton. I needed $65.00 to purchase a pair of 8-power binoculars suitable for birding. It took me a year, but I made it. My father drove me to the factory store, and I handed over my hard-earned cash for my new birding companions. I vaguely remember that Burton was bought out by another company, but I can’t remember exactly who. Perhaps it was Bushnell. At any rate, a Google search yielded this ad from a hunting magazine.

Hunting magazine ad for Burton binoculars.

I had those binoculars for several years, until an unfortunate roll in a canoe proved that they were, indeed, not waterproof.

Binoculars today usually look quite different. The Burton ones were of the porro prism design, the only thing available at the time. Because of the interior placement and shape of the prisms, the objective lenses in porro prism binoculars are wide-set in relation to the eyepieces. This makes them awkward to hold. The roof prism design allows for the objective lenses to be in line with the eyepieces, making for lighter weight and greater comfort, at the expense of greater cost. This article gives some historical insight on the shift from porro prism to roof prism binoculars.

From butterflies to birds to nature as a whole. I love it all. In recent years I’ve added photography to the ways I enjoy the natural world.

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