Technology helps budding naturalist develop eye for nature


January 2, 2022

Sixteen-year-old Emily Thomer’s interest in nature has been growing for the past four years, but her discovery of the natural world comes with a modern spin. The budding naturalist has found nature through the lens of technology. This proves a passion for the outdoor world may unite nature enthusiasts but their journeys may start from very different trailheads.

For Emily Thomer, the natural world has largely been discovered through the lens of technology. She shared images of a cedar waxwing, Carolina wren and a tufted titmouse, along with scenic shots she captured from Natural Falls State Park and of a black oak growing on her family’s land in the inaugural ODWC Shutter Slam.

“At first, I didn’t really notice the nature surrounding me, but my tablet and then my phone helped me take an interest in plants,” said Thomer.

Thomer started using her tablet and camera phone to document plants growing wild on her family’s land and growing in her garden. Once her interest in photography bloomed, she then turned her camera’s focus to her domestic geese.

But it was a birthday present from her parents that really helped develop her eye for nature and wildlife.

“I was gifted a camera with a good zoom,” Thomer said. “Thanks to this gift, I’ve been able to start photographing wild birds, which was nearly impossible with my camera phone.

“I really love photographing wild birds. Each wild bird is so unique and beautiful. Photographing them gives me an opportunity to glimpse a bit of their life."

With her new camera in hand, Thomer has been exploring her family’s land with a fresh eye.

“My go-to bird-watching spot shifts depending on how often the birds visit. Recently, I’ve been hanging out by my garden where I have a big sunflower plant that offers the birds seeds. I also have a feeder there that the birds have just begun to use,” Thomer said. “To get close enough to photograph a bird, I usually just sit there for a very long time so they don’t notice me. I really enjoy being outside and sitting very still isn’t a problem for me.”

Once, while sitting under a tree waiting for the resident pair of Carolina wrens, Thomer was lucky enough to photograph a wren that had landed right above her. Another time, Thomer was on a photo hunt for a pileated woodpecker when she came across a small flock of cedar waxwings.

“I had just recently been hoping to see a waxwing, and knew almost immediately what the birds were when I saw them flying into a privet tree,” Thomer said. “I was so excited about them that despite the long walk, I brought my family back to the area so they could see them too!”

Thomer continues to show her family photos of birds, especially those she’s never spotted before, and photos she’s especially proud of. Her family has provided pivotal support and encouragement in her interests.

“It’s so beautiful where we live, and I know they all appreciate living where we do and seeing the natural world around us.”

While Thomer has been able to expand her discovery of nature with her new camera, she still relies on her phone to learn about the birds she has seen.

“I mostly use the ‘Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab’ app to help identify the birds I’m seeing. I have plenty more to learn about wild birds, but what I’ve learned so far amazes me.”

Emily Thomer is the featured artist for the Wildlife Department’s inaugural Budding Naturalist Shutter Slam. Learn more about the photo challenge at


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