Friday, July 25, 2014

Assateague Island

After our family-filled Pine Barrens adventure this past weekend, Paul and I continued south to visit some friends on the eastern shore of Maryland. And since we were already in the area, we decided to spend Monday morning in a very cool place: Assateague Island!

My parents claim that I've been to Assateague before, but I don't remember that trip. All I know is that I read the Misty of Chincoteague books when I was little, and ever since then Assateague has been a quasi-fantastical place in my mind, where untamed horses (pony-sized but apparently technically horses) have roamed free for centuries. So the big question on Monday morning was: would we see any horses? Our answer came as soon as we drove across the bridge onto the island! (Yes!)

The northern part of Assateague Island is in Maryland, and the southern part is in Virginia, and the feral horses on the two portions of the island (~100-150 animals in each part) are kept separate and maintained differently by different organizations. (The Maryland portion of the island also has a state portion and a federal portion; it's all quite confusing.) In the Maryland part of Assateague -- where we were -- the horses wander wherever they want and are treated with contraceptives to manage the population but otherwise have no human interaction. (In Virginia, the horses get veterinary care and are periodically auctioned away as pets.) These are definitely wild creatures, and we saw signs all over the place warning people not to get too close; these horses bite, kick, trample, etc.

In any case, we saw horses in several places on the island. They foraged out in the marsh:

And they grazed in the middle of the campgrounds (this picture has a passing bicyclist for perspective):

Hello, beautiful creature:

Horses are the famous highlight of a trip to Assateague, but we saw lots of other cool things here, too. I loved walking on this beach; the landscape is so very different from what we have in Connecticut. Who knew beaches and dunes could be so vast:

The tracks and tunnels of Ghost Crabs were all over the beach, but we only got fleeting glimpses of these creatures before they dove back into their holes:

A male Common Yellowthroat sang out his ownership of a particular area of the dunes:

How cool to be in a place where big Brown Pelicans soar by overhead:

We went into the marsh fearing the tons of biting insects that we'd heard haunt this island in the summer. Instead we only found hoards of small and beautiful dragonflies, Seaside Dragonlets (Erythrodiplax berenice), a species which has the distinction of being the only dragonfly in the western hemisphere to breed in salt water:

Most of the Seaside Dragonlets we saw were these slate-colored individuals, which might have been males or dark-colored females:

But there were also several female Seaside Dragonlets with just shockingly bright yellow-striped outfits:

What a fantastic creature!

It was indeed a successful visit, and now we're back in Connecticut for a few final weeks.... Adventures abound!

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