Day Scott on Birding, Creating Her Own Lane, and Finding JoyEducator Highlights
In our Educator Highlights, we go behind-the-scenes with educators who inspire us. This season, we’re excited to feature Day Scott, a wildlife photographer, environmental educator, and birder known for her playful and educational social media posts aka “Bird Stories” on Instagram as @TheWildernessGoddess.
Day hopes that her work as a naturalist and wildlife photographer encourages everybody “to get out and explore the natural world,” but more importantly she wants to “inspire and influence those closest to her heart—kids from underserved communities, people with disabilities, and survivors.”
For the full interview, enjoy the piece below and share with a friend or fellow educator who inspires you. We’ll include ways at the end of this interview to follow Day, purchase her prints, and more.
*Photo of Day Scott (above) taken by Craig Okraska.
Acorn Naturalists: What are some of your early memories of being outside and connecting to nature?
Day Scott: My earliest memories of being outside and connecting to nature are making mud and berry pies with my siblings. I also remember collecting various insects to conduct “experiments” and running from flying beetles and centipedes (aka – thousand legs). My dad and grandfather were avid anglers, so I enjoyed fishing. Growing up in a big city didn’t afford me many wilderness adventures, but there were plenty of unofficial community science projects happening right in my backyard.
Acorn Naturalists: Are there any naturalists who inspire you or influence your work?
Day Scott: My passion for becoming a naturalist was sparked by my own curiosity, but also nurtured by several environmental science professionals whom I learned from in the field. It was their kindness and willingness to share knowledge, resources, and opportunities that helped me tremendously. These one-on-one experiences enriched my soul and started me on my journey as a naturalist and wildlife photographer.
Acorn Naturalists: What’s harder to photograph, birds or mammals? And does your approach differ, depending on the species?
Day Scott: I think that both present their own simplicities and complications. For many birds, you’re dealing with timing and distance whereas with mammals, you’re possibly managing safety and ethics. Location and habitat also play a role. There are so many things to consider, and I haven’t even mentioned the technical side of photography. I’m still working on my shots with mammals.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities in Grand Teton National Park to photograph moose and bears. I admit, being close to large animals is exciting but also uneasy. I’ve noticed that the more time I spend in their presence, the more relaxed I’m becoming. Birds can be more frustrating to photograph; however, the more that I learn about a bird’s behavior, the better I get at anticipating its next move and getting the shot that I want.
Acorn Naturalists: You talk a lot about how birding is not a competition. Can you talk about that idea more?
Day Scott: In my opinion, it shouldn’t be. I was shocked when learning that some birders try to “outbird” each other. I’ve seen this in my own community. It reminds me of the movie, The Big Year, a comedy about birding.
For me, birding is so much more than a race to build a life list. When I’m not observing birds, I’m reading or writing about them (I even dream about them often!). Birds continue to help me through my traumatic brain injury (TBI) recovery by enhancing my knowledge and widening my perspective. They also bring me joy. As a community scientist, education, advocacy and contributing data are my responsibilities and priorities as a birder.
Acorn Naturalists: In an interview with Poppy Hour, you mentioned that you are all about backyard birds. We love how your playful posts on Instagram have witty descriptions. When did you start writing these posts in such humorous ways, and is there a reason? It seems like a great way to get people excited about birding.
Day Scott: Ahhhh, my “bird stories!” Writing these witty descriptions was not intentionally meant for an audience. During my initial TBI rehabilitation, my speech therapist tasked me with at-home reading, writing and memory exercises for cognition. At the time, all were extremely difficult to do without significant head pain. I chose to read about birds. To help me remember facts, I’d write mini bios about the birds. Then I began getting creative with my words and the bios turned into stories. Some of them are really funny!
Today, I’m still doing research, but I’m able to include more content from my own observations. I receive a lot of feedback about my stories; people truly enjoy them. What I love the most is that they inspire people to share their personal stories. I’ve even had people tell me that I’m writing the bird book that they’d love to buy.
Acorn Naturalists: That’s awesome. Now, for anyone who hasn’t read your article On Race and Birding, please go check it out. In that article, you write about how Black Birders Week brought a lot of joy, writing that “Suddenly, I was united with a group of nature professionals and enthusiasts that looked like me!” Can you talk a little bit about the joy you felt that week?
It was very exciting! Prior to the Black Birders Week in 2020, I didn’t know any Black person (or any person of color) who was a birder. Also, these were not just birders: I learned of an entire network of young Black scientists that include a marine ornithologist, avian ecologist, wildlife biologist, planetary geologist, neuroscientist, and a disease ecologist, just to name more than few. It’s great to be connected with these scientists; they are doing amazing things for science and their communities.
It’s been nearly a year since Black Birders Week, and I still carry that same energy and joy. I now have a community that looks like me that I can reach out to on a professional and personal level.
Acorn Naturalists: Any advice for the aspiring wildlife photographer?
Day Scott: My knowledge as a wildlife photographer came first in photo documentation for my personal catalog and then technical. It’s okay to start your journey with the equipment that you can afford and the resources that are available to you.
Spending time in the wilderness has given me the most valuable lessons. Learning about the animals that you are photographing will provide you with the most enriching experiences. You’re not just taking a photo; you’re capturing a moment of connection.
Acorn Naturalists: What birds are on your “dream list” to photograph and why?
Day Scott: Navigating life with a TBI forces me to look at things differently now. Instead of dreaming, I work within moments, abilities, and resources. I don’t have specific birds in mind right now, but I’d like to begin getting action shots of the birds in my community. Once I reach a point in my recovery where I can expand my travel range, I’ll certainly create some new attainable wildlife photography goals.
Acorn Naturalists: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Day Scott: After my car accident, I thought that my journey had come to an end. I couldn’t figure out how to move forward professionally, educationally, and even socially. It’s been nearly two years since I collided with that small herd of pronghorn. Recovering from a traumatic brain injury has been extremely challenging, especially during two pandemics, COVID-19 and racism.
I’m realizing more and more that my journey didn’t end, I just had to create my own lane within my field. My affinity (more like an obsession) for birds has led me to study ornithology. I’m not far enough in my recovery to apply or enroll in a program but that doesn’t stop me purchasing a textbook, learning, or participating in activities within that discipline. I’m going to continue to pursue my passions despite my disabilities…using my voice for advocacy, my work for conservation and my spirit to bring joy.
For anyone who would like to connect more with Day Scott, whether you want to purchase her prints or get in touch with Day, you can check out her website, FaceBook, or Instagram. And of course, huge thank you to Day Scott for all the work and joy she brings to the greater field of environmental education.