Assateague Island Virginia

Geography

Assateague Island is a pristine area along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The majority of the Maryland parcel of the island lies within Assateague National Seashore. Roughly 400 acres of Maryland land is part of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The Virginia portion of makes up the larger part of the island. Virginia land is occupied by Assateague National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Island lighthouse is located within Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge The structure is a familiar landmark to residents of Chincoteague and is a popular tourist stop. The Lighthouse was originally built in 1833 and major reconstruction occurred in 1867, raising the structure to 142 feet high on a site 22 feet about sea level. The lighthouse was located near the southern tip of the island upon its initial construction but is now several miles away from the southern tip of Assateague.

The structure is one of the most attractive and recognizable lighthouses of the USA east coast. It is constructed of brick and was painted in the red and white pattern in 1967. In 1910 a keeper's quarters was added and remains today. The lighthouse is owned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and is still actively used by the United States Coast Guard as an aid to navigation. The keeper's quarters remains as well and houses refuge employees at times.

 

Assateague Wild Ponies

The ponies are the property of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company whose famous "saltwater cowboys" round up the horses annually during the Pony Penning on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Started in the early 1920's as a fundraising event, it now also serves to keep the population of the horses down to the 150 adult animals that the National Park Service deems appropriate to protect the island habitat from overgrazing. The ponies are driven across a narrow part of the Assateague Channel at slack tide on Wednesday, corraled and auctioned off on Thursday. The "pony swim" is the highlight of the summer season.

 

Bird Watching on Assateague

The coast, marshes, wildflowers, fields and areas of brush on Assateague provide ideal nesting and feeding habitat. Other songbirds inhabit the tall pine forests there. Warblers, nut hatches, sparrows, red wing blackbirds and others nest in the summer, while cardinals, jays, woodpeckers and finches reside there during the winter months.

Herons, egrets, ibises, oyster crackers, march hens and other shorebirds are frequently spotted along the marshes. On the beaches, dozens of species of sandpipers, plovers, gulls and terns feed, nest and raise chicks.

Ospreys arrive in the spring to raise young and feed on the abundant fish stocks. As seasons change, some ospreys migrate south while other birds of prey arrive. American eagles, red tailed hawks and other large hunters are present in the fall thru spring. Other hawks such as sparrow hawks may be found year round.

Ducks, geese, brant and swans all make stops at Assateague Island. In the refuge, geese and swans take up residence year round. Other full time residents include black ducks, wood ducks and mallards which raise their young on the marshes. As autumn arrives, ducks and geese migrate into the refuges and surrounding areas.  Shoveler ducks, pintails, mallards, widgeons, teal, rudy ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, ring necked ducks, bluebills, and others fly in. Mergansers, buffleheads, goldeneyes and other diving ducks show up in the bay waters as cold weather sets in. Off the coast, rafts of sea ducks and small groups of oldsquaw ducks forage along the shoals over the winter.

The ocean waters off Assateague Island are visited by up to 30 species of pelagic birds including albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, storm-petrels, phalaropes, skuas, jaegers, gulls, terns and alcids. These birds migrate along the offshore waters far from land. Many pass off the coast and never see Virginia's beaches.

 

Hiking Trails

Vacationers can enjoy the wildlife loop on foot or by bicycle while the park is open, or by vehicle from 3pm-dusk. The wildlife loop is 3.2 miles long. The woodland trail is 1.6 miles long, forming a loop thru the forest and to an overlook of the marsh. The overlook is one of the most reliable places to spot Chincoteague ponies, although they are often at a distance. Photographers with high powered lenses will find this an excellent spot to photograph wildlife. The lighthouse trail leads up a hill to the Assateague lighthouse. This is a short hike with a spectacular view at the top. The lighthouse sometimes features tours and other events. The black duck path leads from Beach Road thru the marsh and onto the wildlife loop. This is an excellent trail to search for herons, turtles and other marsh life. The marsh trail leads along the western edge of the snow goose pool, inside the wildlife loop. This is a great trail for enjoying Chincoteague's waterfowl. The swan cove trail leads behind the beach and out onto the marsh on the east side of the wildlife loop. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge website and brochures provide safety tips concerning insects, poison ivy, interacting with animal life, etc. Both sources also have warnings on feeding wild animals and disturbing plant life.

 

Enjoying the Water

Much of the recreation around Assateague is water-related. There is swimming, sunbathing and exploring at the beaches. Fishing, clamming and crabbing are also popular activities. There is also kayaking, power boating, sailing, and nature cruises.

One of the most popular water activities is surf fishing on Assateague Island. Surf fishing is relatively inexpensive, peaceful, requires little in specialized tackle and no boat is needed. Anglers can reach the surf on foot from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, or drive on designated areas with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. A permit is required for over sand vehicles.

Fishing begins in March but most anglers concentrate on fishing from Mid April-thru late fall. Species vary from week to week. Local fish may include red and black drum, flounder, striped bass, trout, croaker, spot, kingfish, bluefish, small sharks and others.


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Submitted by: cin