Chincoteague Island, Maryland

The Assateague Lighthouse built in 1867 
Having visited Assateague Island four years ago, we had known since our departure that we would come back again.  This time we planned to spent several days, and for the most part, the weather cooperated beautifully.  Known as the Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) because that is the closest zip code, visitors come to see migrating birds and wild ponies.  We did not see any ponies during our earlier stay in the area and intended to remedy that this time.  By camping on Chincoteague Island, VA, we were only a few miles from the NWR.  The northern portion of the island is designated as the Assateauge National Seashore (located in Maryland), but that will need to be explored on yet another trip.

With several miles of biking and walking trails available within the NWR, we enjoyed a few outings
Great Egret looking for lunch
on the well-maintained bike trails that meanders through the refuge.  Even though the area draws ten of thousands of birds during the migration season in the fall and spring, we caught it off season.  But   Canadian geese, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets (Great White Herons), cattle egrets, ducks, gulls, terns, sanderlings and vultures were still easily spotted.  One Bald Eagle even posed for pictures (which I missed getting in spite of his help!)  The refuge is residence for or temporary resting place for over 300 bird species.  Spraying up with some type of mosquito repellent, before heading out for a walk or a ride, is essential.  As home to the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel, we did catch a glimpse of one of these large (up to 30 inches) furry fellows, but he wasn't posing like our eagle friend and disappeared quickly into the brush.

The NWR herd of 150 wild ponies is owned and cared for by the
Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. Herd size is
controlled by a Pony Auction every July.
Learning about the Chincoteague Natural History Association bus tour, I booked us on the next open excursion.  With only 30 seats in the air-conditioned vehicle and limited trips (none offered from December through March), the popular tours fill up, but seats can be reserved ahead of time.  The 90-minute trip goes into an area that is not typically accessed by visitors, down a 7.5 mile service road.  A knowledgeable bus driver also functioned as our tour guide.  With a spiel covering all the basics about the NWR, she was also able to answer most of the questions thrown her way.  On this drizzly day, it turned out to be a perfect outing.  The numerous ponies and waterbirds (and the aforementioned eagle) could care less about the rain, and were seemingly following their normal routine.

Bigger Dream rockin' the town.
Unbeknownst to us, a Plien air painting event was also scheduled in the area overlapping with our stay.  Alan set up his easel and painted a few times in preparation for the Ft. Myers happening he will be participating in this November.  With 40 artists registered for the Chincoteague affair, we sighted artists in town and in the NWR.  The culmination of the artist's efforts were shown Saturday evening, which happened in conjunction with the town's monthly Art Walk.  Featuring music by the 6-piece band, the Bigger Dream, along Main Street, we joined many residence and visitors dancing in the street to their lively mixture of rock, motown and country.

All the ponies are named and checked by a vet 3 times a year.
Their bloated stomachs are caused by excess of salt in
their diet from eating the plants in the marshes.
Concluding our visit with a trip on Captain Dan's Tour Boat, we lucked into seeing numerous ponies, dolphins and an eagle, hitting what Dan terms his "trifecta".  Having scheduled a morning outing on a  chilly, windy day, we bundled up for the trip.  The 2-hour tour departs from the waterfront dock downtown, and runs around Chincoteague Island.  With a 6-pack license, the groups are always small, and we traveled with another couple and their young child.  Captain Dan provides a knowledgeable narrative but is also open to questions.  It was a wonderful finish to our return visit.
Canadian goose

Statue of "Misty" in waterfront park, The local horse made famous
 by the children's book, Misty of  Chincoteague written in 1947
by Marguerite Henry.

Commercial fishing boats along the waterfront

Small shacks in the waterway built by oyster men to keep
watch over their oyster leases, built in the 1800's
One of numerous birdhouses in NWR for Tree Swallows, said to eat
2000 mosquitoes a day.

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