What a Wild Year: My Favorite Wildlife Encounters from 2022
January 18, 2023
By Morgan Hooks, Environmental Content Creator
2022 was a wonderful, wild year on Bald Head Island. It was my first full year on-staff here at the Conservancy, and it was a year that kept my curiosity peaked, my mind open to learn more and more, and my camera always steady and ready in my hands. Surrounding myself in nature on a daily basis allowed for incredible iNaturalist observations and island wildlife encounters, which resulted in a year’s worth of cherished photographs. I wanted to share with you ten of my favorite wildlife encounters from 2022, and what made them so special for me.
Dragonflies were a species on my photography “bucket list,” but photographing such rapid-flying insects seemed impossible to me. I remember this encounter being the one that taught me the most valuable tool you can own as a photographer: patience. Surely enough, when I allowed myself to sit and wait for a dragonfly to fly by, this Golden-winged Skimmer landed to bask within a few feet of me.
I shot this photo of a Squareback marsh crab during our Nature Observations program this summer and, truthfully, it was also the day I learnt that they can climb trees! I remember my participants and I tip-toeing in circles around this tree trying to get a glimpse of the crab as it scurried from side to side and up and down the trunk of the tree. Everyone was overjoyed with the photos they captured of this crab.
One afternoon while I was showing my mother around the island, we came across another mother and child: a White-tailed deer doe and her fawn. We had a quiet moment together as they passed through the forest and onto the golf course green. While the doe continued ahead through the trees, the fawn poked their head out of a gap to take one more curious glimpse at us before sneaking along.
I was still a “baby” birder when I tagged along for a fall bird survey. We had recently added a new stop to the survey route, so we were unsure of who to expect once we arrived. I remember how happy I felt to be the one who spotted this Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron above the pond, and then to notice a full flock roosting together. This was my “spark” bird, or the bird that sparked my passion for birding!
This Squirrel tree frog was happily resting on this Palmetto leaf during one of our Barrier Island Botanists programs and was pointed out by one of our students. We were asking the students about what wildlife may use the forest and a student yelled “frogs!” after noticing it tucked away. I loved how we all immediately circled together to check them out.
While watching Ibis roost at the Wildlife Overlook takes your breath away, I am always partial to watching them messily wading through the marsh mud. After a successful hunt, this juvenile perched a few feet away from me, proudly up-turning their bill to show off the mud still stuck to it. Seeing them so close and stationary and also seeing just how tall they are was incredible.
Hands-down one of the coolest critters on the island is the Eastern glass lizard, and I think they know it, too. Despite their intimidating likeness to snakes, they are very skittish and elusive, and not an animal I thought I would see or photograph up-close. That was until one morning around sunrise on Middle Island, I found this one perfectly posed on the side of the dirt road!
While this Painted Lady technically isn’t “wildlife” and was one of the butterflies our education team raised this fall, both the release of the butterflies into the wild and then watching them explore nature for the first time around our campus was an unforgettable experience.
I think there is a gentleness to nature we often don’t think about, but I remember it when I think about this gentle encounter between one of our smallest dragonflies and one of our largest reptiles. This juvenile American alligator did not seem to mind the dragonfly using their head as a portable basking spot, and even paraded around the pond as if to show the Yellow-bellied Sliders their new companion.
Of course, one of the highlights of my year was experiencing my first sea turtle season. This hatchling had a hard time with the first few waves that rolled in, but in the moment that I captured, you can see a look of determination on the hatchling’s face as they crawl towards the next wave (and they successfully caught it!). Seeing that expression was always my favorite thing during a release.
What was your favorite wildlife encounter or sighting in 2022? Tag us in your on-island observations with #BHIConservancy!