Douglas Herr , Dec 08, 2003; 01:57 p.m.
Zooms lenses are not always cheaper than telephoto lenses. They're cheaper if the manufacturer has cut corners in the design and construction but if you compare equivalent quality lenses then a zoom ought to be more expensive than a non-zoom telephoto.
Since you are new to nature photography I suggest not buying the latest and most expensive thing because at this point you don't know how deep you want your involvement to be. Once you have some experience and have a better idea what your likes, dislikes and personal working style are you can replace the initial lens with one that better meets your needs.
Consider a zoom of moderate focal length range and aperture, for example an 80-200mm f/4 or so as an all-around lens. At medium apertures the performance will usually be quite good as long as you avoid backlit situations. The better non-zoom telephoto lenses will perform better at wider apertures and with backlight but if you don't know if you like to use the lens in these conditions, buying one now could be an expensive mistake.
If you want to photograph wildlife you'll need something longer than 200mm. My main lens for wildlife is 400mm and my long lens is 560mm, both non-zooms.