Monday, August 10, 2015

Assateague Adventure: Part 1

     I had the pleasure of turning 30 on August 8th (but refuse to ever grow out of my 20's) and decided that instead of the usual birthday shenanigans (which usually involves drinking copious amounts of adult beverages) I decided I would want a more memorable experience. My absolutely wonderful, fantastic, and amazing husband and I took off for Assategue Island for a weekend of outdoor adventure. Also, an amazing way to kick off my personal challenge of an every animal species big year.
     We stayed in the nearby town of Berlin, MD at the Atlantic Hotel, which is like a bed and breakfast, without the breakfast. The National Seashore of Assateague Island is only 15 minutes away, and a greasy spoon type joint, called "Bucks," on the way to the park, provided a great place to stop and pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee to enjoy on the beach.
     Upon going over the familiar-ly named Verazanno Bridge, you are introduced to a wonderful barrier island, our first glances supplied us with birds everywhere and ponies off in the distance. And from that point the adventure begins...
Assateague is most famous for its feral pony population. The ponies seem to have some uncertainty as to how they got here, and how they have been there since the 1600's. Some says a spanish shipwreck, with horses on board sank offshore, others say early colonial settlers brought horses here to graze. Either way, there population is monitored closely by the parks.
Probably the island is best well known from the where horses "Misty" and "Stormy" famous title ponies in a series of popular children's books.
The pony population is managed by parks. In Maryland they are darted with a contraceptive to reduce pregnancies. In Virginia, the famous pony swim from Assateague to Chincoteague where foals are auctioned off, this event took place just a week or so before we arrived, at the end of July.
The ponies are not shy and walk through campsites, like they own the place, which I suppose they do. They get uncomfortably close, but seem pretty used to folks. I did watch some people touch them, which I would never do. I would not want a bite or swift kick to the abdomen, I would highly suggest keeping your distance and not touching the ponies. The park highly suggests this too.
They sure do have an amazingly beautiful place to call home!
I really like this shot of this small group heading out to join more ponies out on the marsh. They are all paints too, which I tend to like as a color pattern on equines.
This scenery, with ponies, it's like a dream!
A palomino paint, my two favorite coat colors/patterns! What a gorgeous little thing!
The landscape is amazing and on such a small sliver of barrier island it boasts a bunch of habitats, from sandy ocean beach, to salt marsh, to amazing dunes, loblolly pine forests, and small freshwater ponds.
A life bird for me, a juvenile tricolored heron, who isn't all that big, as he is no bigger than these gulls!
My husband really liked watching this guy strut across the mud at low tide, and what a handsome fellow, this little blue heron is!
We watched him happily forage and do so successfully!
A tide pool makes laughing gulls, snowy egrets, glossy ibis, and greater yellowlegs pretty happy!
We walked along some amazing dunes, the National Seashore park has many short trails, no more than .5 miles each. The dune trail was the hardest as you did have to walk along much sand. 
Payoff on the dune trail... a blue grosbeak, another lifer! And a handsome one at that! Wow!
And thankfully he stuck around enough, and within close proximity to capture that lovely blue!

     The Maryland portion of Assateague Island can be accessed either by the state park or by the national seashore, which is managed by the National Park Service.
     This was only the FIRST half of the day, we drove to Virginia and visited the park down that way too, but I'll get to that in another post.
The species lists for this day, in just this portion of the island is as follows:
Birds: Just see my bird list, here.
Herps: Diamondback terrapin
Mammals: Feral Pony
Inverts: Blue Crab (AND TONS of Mosquitoes)