National Wildlife Refuge
Encompassing more than 14,000 acres on Assateague Island and adjacent barrier islands, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is a favorite destination for millions of birders and nature photographers. The refuge includes seashore, marsh and forest environments making it an ideal year round or seasonal home for a very wide variety of seabirds, shorebirds, waders, raptors and songbirds. Located on the Atlantic Flyway, there are wide fluctuations in the populations and species of birds that can be found on the property throughout the year.
Public access is primarily through the town of Chincoteague, Virginia, also on Assateague Island. The town has a good selection of motels and restaurants as well as gift and souvenir shops, many featuring merchandise with images of world famous Chincoteague Ponies. These wild ponies roam the island and are frequently seen and photographed while at the refuge.
More than 320 bird species pass through the refuge stopping to rest and feed. Peak times for bird activity are during spring and fall for migratory species and winter for ducks, swans, and geese. In the recent past, as many as 15,000 snow geese have wintered at Chincoteague.
The borrow ditches and pools along the Beach Road that leads to Tom's Cove and the ocean are good places to look for egrets, ducks, herons, and other wading birds. The marsh and impoundments at Tom's Cove frequently have shore birds most of the year and ducks, swans, and geese in the winter. Wildlife Loop is open to foot and bike traffic throughout the day and to cars from 3:00 until dusk. Here you may see a variety of ducks, egrets, white and glossy ibis, terns, eagles, and tree swallows. For songbirds, your best choice is the Woodland Trail. It is a 1 1/2 mile loop through a pine and hardwood forest.
In the summer, head to the beach. Part of the National Seashore and managed by the National Park Service, the ocean beach is a good place for shorebirds and gulls. Mosquitoes are abundant at other areas of the refuge, the sea breezes offer an enjoyable relief from these pests.
A medium length lens like an 70 - 300 or 80 - 400 will meet most of your needs at Chincoteague. Many birds here, especially egrets and herons, are very approachable if you move slowly and calmly. Even shorebirds and waterfowl will move in close to those who have the patience and discipline to minimize movement after slowly moving into their resting and feeding areas.
Like ice cream? Silly question, everybody likes ice cream. The Island Creamery on Maddox Blvd. makes ice cream and fudge on premises and it is really good.
Like seafood? Right next door to the Island Creamery is Steamers Restaurant. Very casual, concrete floor and paper on the tables, but the seafood was abundant, cooked properly, and reasonably priced.
Like a cheap room? America's Best Inn and Suites also on Maddox Blvd. is an old motor court. The rooms are small, but clean, with good beds, and the rates are among the lowest on the island. Warning: before accepting, check your room first for cigarette smoke odor, some are not as fresh as others.
The city dock runs along the east side Main Street. Check there for ducks. In addition to many domestic ducks that walk freely on the streets and parking lots, migrating ducks like loons and mergansers are often found in the channel that runs along the dock.
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