I never take the wildlife of Sussex for granted. While I’m not in the same league as some of the county’s great wildlife photographers, I try to track down the occasional deer or fox. I’m not one of those people who can get up at dawn and sit back and wait for hours on end for something to happen. Besides the animals and birds that are already here, we have some great wildlife visitors throughout the year.
Snowy Owl Mission
However, there was a period of time when I was on a mission to take pictures of elusive snowy owls that visited East Sussex between 2012 and 2017. I can’t tell you how many miles my wife and I drove around on a whim when someone said they saw a snowy owl.
My mission began in 2013, when snowy owls were spotted along the Delaware Gulf Coast. I didn’t see one that year, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The first photo I took was completely serendipitous. I saw the little guy sitting on the dunes not far from Route 1 near the lifesaving station near Indian River Inlet in early January 2014.
In December 2017, someone posted on Facebook that they saw an owl in the dunes of Fowler Beach at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. So, I did what I said I don’t and headed there before sunrise. Although it was a 50-minute walk, it wasn’t hard to find the location because several other photographers had already set up on the beach with tripods and long lenses waiting for the owl to honor them with his presence.
As the sun rose, the sky was ablaze with red and yellow. It had to be one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen.
While my interest was in watching and photographing the sunrise over Delaware Bay, a darn owl sat on a fence of sand dunes for the whole world to see. The name of the area was changed to “Euler Beach”.
Click, click, hum, shake the cameras focused on the owl. Took my share of photos, too.
What a morning it was – a real double shoot.
That year was a real fortune to see the snowy owl. Environmental officials said at least 20 owls were spotted in December and January 2018.
It is unusual for snowy owls to migrate as far south, but they have been spotted over the past decade.
I haven’t been able to see one in the past few years. They may have been under quarantine at home in the Arctic due to the pandemic.
But I’m optimistic that one or two will venture south this winter, and once again, the hunt for the snowy owl will begin.
Snow geese, vultures, eagles
Another job I do every winter is photographing snow geese. The Cape is on the migratory routes of many bird species, including snowy geese that repeat ritual nights on the waters along the coast and days in the agricultural fields.
I keep my eyes on the sky looking for geese as I travel the back roads of Sussex. How often you appear every winter is always a topic of conversation.
It’s the same with the eagle that arrives every spring in the Cape. I know where the best sites are and I frequent them while they build their nests and then raise their young every year. There is no doubt that the population of the punishment has rebounded.
I think the ultimate discovery is a bald eagle. Majestic birds are found around this area, but it is not always easy to find them. Photographer Ken Arne, who spends a lot of time in nature photographing animals, has some amazing eagle photos in his portfolio.
Canadian geese are migrating, but more and more geese are becoming residents of the province throughout the year. Every year, I watch as their young hatch and try to sneak up on them to take pictures.
Wild turkeys, reintroduced in the county, are another prize for photographers. Any pictures of turkeys I’ve taken over the past few years are purely coincidental.
Seals and swans
For whatever reason (some would say climate change), animals not normally associated with Sussex have emerged over the past few years. At the top of that list are the seals and pelicans that reside along breakwaters off Cape Henlopen State Park. Some people have even been lucky enough to see a whale or two.
development and wildlife
People complain that the rapid pace of development is pushing wildlife into the woods in East Sussex. It’s true that you see deer, foxes, and other wildlife in places you wouldn’t normally see as the forests disappear.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people testify during public hearings asking what happens to the wildlife in their area when forests are cut down for housing projects.
But don’t give up on our wild life. They find a way to survive and adapt to most of what humans throw at them. However, there comes a tipping point when habitat loss is too much to overcome. At that point, we all suffer.