Monday, June 14, 2010

Chincoteague - Land of Mist and Ponies

From the time I read Misty of Chincoteague when I was about 9 years old, I have wanted to visit the wild ponies of Chincoteague Island. Legend maintains these ponies are the direct descendants of Spanish ponies that swam to shore from galleons that were wrecked on the treacherous shore of Assateague Island. I was fortunate enough on this trip to Virginia to have the time to take the two plus hour trip north to the islands on the eastern shore of Virginia. For the second time, I traversed the 14 mile Chesapeake Bay bridge, complete with two, one-mile tunnels under the bay. For a claustrophobic like myself, that is a bone-chilling proposition that results in a rapid heartbeat and a death grip on the steering wheel. But oh so worth it to travel on a bridge over the ocean, for there is little shoreline in sight and you feel as if you are sailing across the sea in your car! The day began with low grey clouds and a mist over the water, hiding the horizon, creating an other-worldly feeling that I could see the end of the earth. Easy to see why the ancient sailors thought they would fall off the edge of the earth if they dared to go too far.

When I arrived at Chincoteague, I headed straight for the Assateague/Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The first question I asked at the gate was, "where are the ponies" to which I received a vague, "umm, you can sometimes see them up the road on the right". I couldn't wait. I drove quickly up the road. In the distance, I saw.....three ponies. I thought that must be the strays and continued up the road. No ponies. Those three ponies were to be the only three ponies I saw all day. And by the time I realized that was my photo opportunity, they had vanished.

But I was NOT disappointed. Because this refuge has birds. A wonderful variety of my favorite animal and many that I had not seen before to add to my life list of bird sightings. The first sighting of a group of Snowy Egrets just barely visible in the mists. Stalking their prey in the water, sometimes running after something in the water looking silly trying to move those long legs quickly.
Beautiful terns graced the air currents, almost hovering in one spot as they rode the wind.
A Ruddy Turnstone posed briefly for me (below).

A juvenile Forster's Tern explores his new world (below).

Along side the road, a Little Blue Heron searches for dinner (below).

Suddenly, I began to hear the sound of waves crashing on the beach and I follow signs to the ocean, hoping for a chance to put my feet in the Atlantic Ocean proper (a much more inviting ocean to put your feet in as it is sooooo much warmer than the Pacific in Washington State). The beach is crowded with sun bathers and the sun breaks through the clouds to wrap them in a blanket of warmth and tanning rays. I love the fragments of shells on the beach. So much more than the perfect shells in the stores. These shells have a story to tell of journeys through stormy seas and rough beach landings and becoming a meal for a passing seagull or two.

And yes, I dipped my feet into the Atlantic.

And the waves crashed about me...

But my time is passing quickly and I can't take a long walk down the beach to look for sea glass and wampum clams and other flotsam as I would have liked. I hike back to the car and continue my journey around the island, stopping and hiking the short trails as I found them. And I was rewarded at every turn by local wildlife. This small swallow stopped long enough for me to snap a photo.

A small, pale grey squirrel was busy on the side of the road.
The island was exquisitely beautiful.

Canadian goose and goslings.
And a Great Egret looking for food.
A Cattle Egret with his brightly colored bill looking for a mate.
And finally, as I was leaving the refuge, I found the three original ponies I had seen in the morning and quickly took their photo before I lost the chance to prove there are, indeed, wild ponies on Chincoteague (actually, smart ponies, they stay in the part of the island not accessible to visitors...)

As I left town, I investigated the few stores still open, late on a Sunday afternoon and snapped a shot of Misty as she plays with geese, a memorial to the pony who made this island famous.

Soon it was time to leave and head for Hampton to get ready to fly home to Washington the next day. This is an amazing area of the country. Sparsely populated, ruggedly beautiful and teaming with animal life. I hope to return for the wild pony roundup one day, but for now, this is one more item on my bucket list I can cross off.


Queen Of Toys said...

You are such a beautiful writer, love the ponies and the birds. You are knocking down the items on that to do list.

Lucy said...

What a beautiful island. Beautiful pictures too!
Hugs Lucy

Paula McNamee said...

Jan, thanks for sharing your photos and experiences- it's a wonderful blog post story- makes me want to visit these islands, too. Hope our paths cross sometime this summer.

cynthia said...

That was a wonderful post about a place I had only read about. So cool that you actually got to visit and see the wildlife!