Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Assateague Adventure: Part 2

     On Saturday, 8/8/15 we decided that why not drive to the Virginia side of Assateague Island. Assateague is split between Maryland and Virginia and to get to the Virginia portion of the island, one needs to drive through the famous Chincoteague Island.
     Only a 1 hour drive will get you from the Maryland side to the Virginia side, with a bonus of stopping off at the NASA Wallops flight facility visitor center on the way there. One thing you should bring with you when visiting this portion of the island is some black market, deet-loaded bug spray. The mosquitoes are far more aggressive than they were in MD (don't get me wrong, they were indeed awful in MD) and my husband and I suffered far too many bites (I definitely got attacked worse than he).
     Despite the mosquitoes, we enjoyed this side of the island, although we saw zero ponies on this side, but perhaps that is due to the recent  roundup, swim, and auction that took place in late July. The birds and mammals had a good showing, though:
Upon arrival and parking our car, this great egret was in the adjacent creek, actively slamming his face into the water, coming up with small fish in its beak.
We walked the Tom's Cove loop by the visitors center. We had passed a group who finished a ranger-led walk. I caught snippets of the ranger sharing that now these folks now know that there is tons of life around the area and how they should make observations carefully, because otherwise, you'll miss things that could be right near by.
Just a stones throw away I saw fluttering in the dried reeds below the elevated boardwalk we were on. I was so super stoked to see this common buckeye and a few others just right there below us. The people from the group just passed by, as if their nature blinders went right back on. I was able to point it out to one family, and we also saw a red admiral in the same area. I hope the people from that walk saw more on their trip aside from white egrets and ponies.
On the Woodland Trail we got attacked by dozens and dozens of mosquitoes, so many that a walk down the path would involve speed walking or erratic motions, of slapping, wiping, and swatting. Someone would be coming from the opposite direction, doing the same thing, the biting insects were relentless here. On the walkway we saw a bright red ant. This Velvet or Cow Killer Ant is actually not an ant at all. It is a wingless wasp (in the same group of insects as ants, hymenoptera) that looks for cicada killer (another wasp) burrows. Where they find a cicada killer larvae, their eggs are laid on the pupa that the larval velvet ant feeds on and eventually kills (badass, right?!). The velvet ant earns its name "Cow Killer" as it possesses a sting that is said to be painful enough to kill a cow. They are harmless to people but will sting if stepped on or handled roughly. All I can say is, "wow!" to those warning colors!
We have lots of grey squirrels in NY, we know them well, even my husband shared how this squirrel seemed different from the grey's we know oh-so-well. He was right, this is a Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel!
The Delmarva refers to DEL-MAR-VA, the peninsula made up of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. This squirrel is an endangered subspecies of the fox squirrel (how lucky were we to see this!). Unlike it's cousin the grey squirrel, this guys spends more time on the ground than in trees. They also really love the loblolly pines that are found throughout Assateague in its wooded areas.
This creek along Black Duck Trail led out to a large wildlife trail that supposedly has a pond it surrounds. The pond seemed very dried up, but by the looks of these Eastern Painted turtles just hanging out in the water here, it seems like this is a good freshwater source for wildlife, and stagnant for more mosquitoes. 
Around the freshwater area, aside from mosquitoes there were E. cottontails, and lots of youngsters, very small, and not too afraid. Also saw purple martins, barn and tree swallows, zipping about, grabbing insects. We also observed muskrat swimming through and hiding along the greenery.
Where the pond should have been, we observed cattle egrets, which seems shorter and more squat than the great egrets. They also, when in breeding plumage have buttery yellow plumes on their head and chest.
But like their great egret cousins, they are also equally beautiful in flight!
Soon after seeing this munching bunny, we saw a less lucky bunny, foxes and birds of prey frequent the area, so I hope this little guy wises up and starts learning that big animals=seek cover, fast!
     On the VA side of Assateague, we added on some more species for my personal big year of animal species. For birds, just check out my bird report here. The eastern painted turtle is the only reptile observed on this trek. Insects, I identified the red admiral butterfly, the common buckeye, the black swallowtail butterfly, and the velvet ant. Mammals we saw were the eastern cotton tail, muskrat, Delmarva Penninsula fox squirrel, and a white tail deer as we left the island.
     I still have one more portion of our trip to report, but, I will leave that for yet another day.