Assateague Island

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2008

By Wayne Hinshaw
Assateague Island encompasses two states ó Maryland and Virginia. On the Maryland side is Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park, where we visited recently. On the Virginia side is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
This area is mainly known for one thing ó the herds of wild horses that populate the island.
They run free throughout the island, although the two herds are separated by a fence at the state border.
Each year in Virginia, some of the horses are herded up and sold at auction.
People are fascinated with the horses, but there’s also an abundance of wildlife on the island. When we visited the Maryland side of the island, we also saw deer, and a guide we picked up said we could also see possums, bats, meadow jumping mice, red foxes and river otters.
There’s lots to do on the island besides watch for the horses.
I’m not a camper, but you can camp right down on the beach. There’s kayaking and there’s birdwatching. You can go crabbing, and I suppose you could fish. It’s a good place for bicycling and swimming.
I thought we might not see any horses, but they were pretty tame. They come out pretty readily. At the northern end of the island, the horses are everywhere.
One of the more interesting things was seeing the snowy egrets riding on their backs. This served two purposes: the birds kept the flies off the horses and they got a free ride, too!
We saw white-tailed deer and sika deer. I’m not sure which one I photographed. The deer, of course, weren’t as tame as the horses.
We saw a few great blue herons and several other birds.
It’s an undeveloped area, and that makes it nice.
There are two stories as to how the horses got on the island ó by shipwrecks, and by farmers who let their horses loose there to graze. Apparently, both of those things might have happened, but we do know that before the Civil War, horses were grazing on Assateague Island.
They’re small horses. They’re real hardy looking, but small. The majority of them are reddish-brown in color. They’re not supposed to be fed, but they’re awfully healthy looking horses. I just wonder if they don’t get fed. When we were at the parking lot, about two dozen horses appeared there late in the afternoon. Somehow, the horses thought that was a good place to be at 5 o’clock in the evening.