Tag Archive | Chincoteague

Virginia 2015: Chincoteague NWR

Day 12: Thursday, October 15, 2015

After our boat tour and lunch, we made our way over to Assateague Island, to check out Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Yes, it’s confusing that Chincoteague NWR is on Assateague Island – I don’t know why either…

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

I talked in my last post about the history of how the ponies got to the island, but Assateague Island and the refuge contain much more than ponies. In the 1800s, there was a small community on the island, clustered around the lighthouse.

The original lighthouse was built in 1833, to warn ships of the dangerous shoals offshore. Construction began in 1860 on a newer, taller lighthouse, but it was delayed by the outbreak of the Civil War. Construction was completed in 1867. It has a First Order Fresnel lens, the largest type of lens made.

The lighthouse is currently undergoing restoration work – it was repainted, and the gallery deck was repaired so visitors can climb to the top of the light. I was there in the off season, so it wasn’t open, but I can imagine how cool it would be to climb to the top and see the view!

A close-up of the Assateague Lighthouse

A close-up of the Assateague Lighthouse

The community that lived on the island began to move away after one man bought a large tract of land and began restricting overland access to Tom’s Cove. The villagers gradually barged their homes and buildings over to Chincoteague Island to continue there. In 1943, most of the Virginia side of the island was sold to the U.S. Government for the purpose of creating a National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge has several trails; some of them take you by the fenced area where the ponies are, so of course, that’s where I wanted to start. The path is level and paved, so it is more a walk than a hike. But, I found myself having to walk quickly to try to avoid all the mosquitoes! I wasn’t expecting them to still be so ravenous in the middle of October!

I think this was a Boat Tailed Grackle?

I think this was a Boat Tailed Grackle?

I was able to get some good photos of the ponies from the viewing station though, so I was willing to put up with some mosquito inconvenience. They looked so peaceful, just grazing on the grass and enjoying the sunshine.

Ponies!

Ponies!

 

This little pinto was so cute!

This little pinto was so cute!

I also took a detour from the trail out to the beach, where I found a lot of horseshoe crab shells. They look so prehistoric! Unfortunately, there were mosquitoes on the beach too, although not as many. Bothersome critters!

A unique driftwood "sculpture" with horseshoe shells.

A unique driftwood “sculpture” with horseshoe shells.

My last walk for the today was to see the lighthouse – this path is about ½ mile roundtrip. It was great to get a close up view of the lighthouse with its red and white candy striped exterior. It is a very tall structure!

After that, I called it quits in the woods, and went over to the beach. It was a gorgeous, sandy beach – I can understand why this area is such a vacation destination in the summer. I walked along for a little while, just taking it all in, watching the herons and egrets fish for their dinner in the nearby marshes, and listening to the birds.

A Great Egret at Chincoteague

A Great Egret at Chincoteague

A Snowy Egret at the refuge.

A Snowy Egret at the refuge.

 

Another Great Egret fishing.

Another Great Egret fishing.

 

Geese hanging out on the refuge.

Geese hanging out on the refuge.

And before we left, I was treated to a fantastic view of a mare and her foal – they were so peaceful.

A mama and her foal.

A mama and her foal.

Dinner that evening was a quick stop for a sandwich at Subway, followed by a front row view of a beautiful sunset. The end of a great day…

The sunset started out a brilliant orange...

The sunset started out a brilliant orange…

 

The sunset turned a gorgeous pink later on...

The sunset turned a gorgeous pink later on…

Driving Distance for Day 12: only a few miles – Chincoteague Island, VA

Entrance Fee:  $8 or free if you have a National Parks Pass.

Hotel for the night: The Fairfield Inn on Chincoteague Island again – excellent!

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Virginia 2015: Chincoteague and A Pony Tour

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The last destination of our Virginia trip was Chincoteague Island. I had grown up reading the Misty of Chincoteague stories, had my collection of Breyer horse Misty and her foals, and wanted to see where the real life Misty had come from.

If you aren’t familiar with Misty, she was a real live Chincoteague pony who has purchased by children’s author Marguerite Henry. Misty and her family were the subject of several of Henry’s books, detailing her fictional life on Chincoteague Island with a young boy and girl and their family in the 1940s. For this girl who grew up horse-crazy, to see the island where Misty came it was the stuff of dreams come true. And now, we were there and I was going to see ponies!

The town park has a cute statue of baby Misty and her feathered friends.

The town park has a cute statue of baby Misty and her feathered friends.

The ponies live on Assateague Island, which is one of the barrier islands off mainland Virginia. It is uninhabited, with the people living on nearby Chincoteague Island. There are a couple different explanations about how the ponies got there, but each story has some supporting evidence and which one is true is unknown.

A palomino stallion on Assateague Island.

A palomino stallion on Assateague Island.

  1. The inhabitants of Chincoteague Island and the mainland placed their horses out on Assateague Island in order to get out of paying taxes on them. Over the years, some went wild, or were forgotten, and there they remain.
  2. In the 17th century, a Spanish galleon wrecked off the coast of Virginia, and some of its cargo of horses were able to swim to Assateague Island, where they remain.

The Chincoteague ponies are actually horses, but a couple hundred years of living on a salt marsh island, subsisting on poor quality forage, as well as years of inbreeding has created animals with a smaller stature and more pony-like characteristics. The pot bellies that are evident on many of the ponies are also a trait that has developed due to their poor quality diet.

A pinto mare on Assateague Island.

A pinto mare on Assateague Island.

There are two herds of ponies, separated by a fence that divides the Virginia side of Assateague Island from the Maryland side. The Virginia side is Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and although they allow the ponies to live there, the refuge management has enforced a limit on their numbers.

Every year in July, there is an pony penning on the Virginia side of the island, where the ponies are technically “owned” by the Chincoteague Island Volunteer Fire Department. The ponies are swum across the short distance between the islands (it is a really short distance, and very small foals are given a lift), given veterinary care, and some of the foals are auctioned off, both to earn money for the Fire Department and to control the population. The official annual event began in 1924, and features the usual festival accoutrements, lots of food, a carnival, and fireworks.

American Oystercatchers on Assateague Island with a background of ponies!

American Oystercatchers on Assateague Island with a background of ponies!

On the Maryland side of Assateague Island, the second herd of ponies are considered wildlife by the National Park Service. Other than contraceptive darts, these ponies are given no medical care, and live their lives as truly wild animals.  Aside from all the tourists that undoubtedly feed them tons of junk food – you can get a fine for it, but that never seems to stop dumb people.

And now I was finally there, and even though it wasn’t during the annual festival, I was going to get to see the ponies. I booked a tour on a “pony boat,” my term for the small boat that was scheduled to take us around the island to see the ponies from the water. And in the afternoon, we were going to visit the Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island to see them from a different view.

A bald eagle soaring above Assateague Island.

A bald eagle soaring above Assateague Island.

That morning I woke up early and took a stroll around Chincoteague Island to see what there was to see. It was pretty quiet on a Thursday in October. It was nice to see the pink light of the sunrise reflecting off the water, even if the sunrise itself was blocked by houses.

Seagulls enjoying the sunrise on Chincoteague Island

Seagulls enjoying the sunrise on Chincoteague Island

 

They had those giant chairs! Of course there was no one around to take my picture sitting in one...

They had those giant chairs! Of course there was no one around to take my picture sitting in one…

We met Captain Dan at the dock to commence our “pony boat” excursion. There were two other couples on the boat with us, so it certainly wasn’t crowded at all. And off we went. Captain Dan grew up on the island, and shared lots of interesting information about the history of the island, the patterns of erosion of the sandbars, the nearby military facilities, and the wildlife. And of course, the ponies.

Captain Dan had a book with photos of all the ponies that live on the island, complete with their birth dates and parentage (if known). He knew which stallions had bands consisting of which mares, and where each group liked to hang out. He told stories of various ponies and their lives.

Two pinto mares on Assateague Island.

Two pinto mares on Assateague Island.

While I wouldn’t say it was a banner day for pony spotting, we saw about 8-10 ponies over the course of our three hours on the boat. We had plenty of time to observe the ones that we saw. We also got great views of the lighthouse on the island, two bald eagles, and a tri-colored heron! The weather and the scenery were fantastic and it was wonderful to be able to relax for a couple of hours out on the water.

The Assateague Lighthouse - built in 1867.

The Assateague Lighthouse – built in 1867.

 

A Tri-Colored Heron - he was gorgeous!

A Tri-Colored Heron – he was gorgeous!

If you are visiting, I would highly recommend Captain Dan’s tour – I loved it!  We finished off our morning tour with lunch at the Jackspot restaurant again; I couldn’t get enough of those oysters that we had the day before. And at $1 per oyster, who could go wrong!

My fish tacos at Jackspot

My fish tacos at Jackspot