It’s in your nature: Assateague Island offers many opportunities to spot different species of wildlife
Assateague Island’s horses draw visitors to the island. You can see them in the marshes, in the campgrounds, and may even join you on the beach.
LEFT: Great egrets can be found by the hundreds in the marsh’s tidal pools or soaking up the sun from perches.
Tricolored herons, seldom seen in Pennsylvania, gather on the island in September to feast on the abundance available to them in the marshes and bays.
As the tide recedes, sometimes hundreds of egrets, herons, ibises and gulls find it easier to snatch food in the now shallower pools.
ABOVE: Besides the wild horses, other mammals such as a red fox can also be observed.
Over 300 species of birds have been seen on Assateague Island. This black crowned night heron is one of the most reclusive, seldom seen during the day.
A little blue heron is just one of the heron species to be seen here. This one found a “perfect scratching perch” on one of the raised bird walks available to you.
If you are patient or lucky enough, you may even glimpse a rather uncommon American oystercatcher. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
I worked with a gentleman for quite a few years and we would share fishing or hunting outings. He often fished Beltzville Lake and would rave about how many bluegills and perch he would catch. Since I never fared that well there, I would ask him “where did you catch them?”
I never got a “straight” answer. I guess he didn’t want to share his best spot. I may be making a mistake, but I think I’ll share one of my favorite nature areas, and I don’t think I’ll regret it or spoil it.
Assateague Island is a barrier island stretching from just south of Ocean City, Maryland, into Virginia. It is largely a national park but also a Maryland State Park as well. The land now encompassing both parks was planned as quite a large new development; however the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 devastated the island, including the streets and structures that had already been built by then. Plans for a new resort town were dropped. In 1965, Congress designated this a national park.
Wildlife on the island includes: White-tailed and sika deer, red fox, rabbits, wild turkeys, many, many varieties of herons/egrets, shorebirds, brown pelicans, and of course the wild ponies. My favored way of viewing this “smorgasbord” of animals is to hop on my bicycle with a camera and a pair of binoculars and get close and personal. Paved bike lanes allow you to safely move about. A number of birding and observational decks/walkways have been built. You sometimes meet up with a few mosquitoes but neither millions nor “2-inch specimens” as reputation reports.
The national park has a beautiful nature and visitors center with historical, nature and touch tanks for you and the youngsters. About 2 or 2½ miles of the parks are developed into campgrounds. The rest consists of beautiful beaches, many back bays, and some forested areas found on the hummocks. If you have the appropriate vehicle, an over-sand vehicle permit will allow you to drive the high sandy beach area into Virginia where many travel to surf fish, camp, or clam/crab the secluded bays.
Assateague’s ponies are free to roam the island, and you can see small bands of them in the bays, in your campsite, and even on the beach. They don’t receive veterinary help because they are considered wildlife. Their numbers are controlled by a form of birth control administered via dart guns, because if the population would continue to grow, it would seriously affect the island’s wildlife and plant communities.
May is a great time to see thousands of migrating shorebirds as they stop to feed on the beach. Many songbirds also pass through the island. However, I enjoy late September, when hundreds and hundreds of herons, egrets and ibises arrive to feed until migrating farther south. Many shorebird species also stop there, too. The island’s bayside tidal pools lure these birds to feast on the minnows and crustaceans trapped as the ebbing tide lowers the pool levels. Take about a four-hour drive and you can experience a great natural wildlife area. Enjoy. Enjoy.
Test your outdoor knowledge: _______ are an endangered species who have found Assateague to be one of the few remaining beaches on which to breed. A. Killdeer, B. golden plovers, C. piping plovers, D. spotted sandpipers.
Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Most probably know that moths emerge from a pupa case called a cocoon.
Contact Barry Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.