The Creatures Great and small of Assateague Island

mare and foal

Rest and Renewal

Vacation is all about rest and relaxation from your daily grind. While I may rest from my daily grind- I am certainly not “at rest” while I am on vacation. I am generally up before dawn and enjoying the sunrise, or taking long walks along the beach or hiking through the woods in order to reunite with nature. While everyone has their own thoughts on what rejuvenates them and buoys their spirit, for me it will always be nature.

After a long 18 months of Covid restrictions, I was blessed with the opportunity to take a trip with family down to Ocean City, Maryland. Not only was it nice to catch up with family that we haven’t seen in at least 18 months, but it also afforded me the opportunity to go to one of my favorite places, Assateague island. This island is just 15 minutes from Ocean City. Assateague is bounding with nature from the great wild horses to the small seashore creatures that live there.

The belief is that the horses first came to the island when a Spanish galleon ship sank off the shore of Assateague. Assateague is an Island that is about 37 miles long and runs through both Maryland and Virginia. While the island is open to the public, the road does not go the length of the island leaving many miles of island inaccessible to most people. In order to manage the horses, the two states have divided them into two herds which they each manage separately. A fence along the border keeps them separate. Virginia is well known for the pony swims in the spring which drive their herd a short distance from Assateague to Chincoteague where the pony’s are auctioned off to maintain control of the numbers in the herd. Maryland residents that I talked with are very proud that they don’t auction off their pony’s and they are kept wild. However, I later learned that they are able to maintain the numbers of the herd by using contraceptive darts on the females.

Whatever you think of either practice, witnessing the wild horses in person is an amazing experience. They do not seem to mind people, but you are not to approach them and should maintain 40 ft of distance. Also do not feed the horses. Feeding can have the herd become aggressive and lead to destructive behaviors which could put the humans and/or horses in jeopardy.

The Great Horses

The “great” creatures of course are the horses. The horses are the main reason I enjoy Assateague. To see them in a natural environment roaming free is a joy. I generally go before dawn and I have one picture from a few years ago that is still my favorite to date. It is of three horses on the beach. One horse is standing guard over the others to be alert for intruders while the others slept.

horses of assateague at dawn
dawn awakening

This year the weather wasn’t as cooperative, but I managed to see a mare with her foal on the sand dune. They are looking out to the side as some more horses were awakening around the campground. I had about three seconds to get this shot before the mare and foal joined them and then galloped past me toward the beach. Unfortunately, I have no shots of that as I was busy getting out of the way of those stampeding feet. I love how the horses have no care about strolling down the beach with a lot of humans or graze in the campground spaces.

The small creatures

Assateague is occupied by a number or other creatures. I was amazed how many horseshoe crabs washed up onto the beach. I love how the receding wave leaves a trail around this crab.

horseshoe crab
horseshoe crab

While I haven’t seen pelicans in this area before, my cousins noted that they are becoming more common. We saw pelicans daily often diving for their catch of the day.

pelicans
pelicans

Sandpipers are very common and you can find them singly or in groups.

Then there is the elusive ghost crab. They will peak their tiny black eyes out of the hole to see if the coast is clear. if you make a move- they will be diving back to their hole in a split second.

I also saw many dolphin, but they were too far to get decent pictures. There are also seagulls galore. I am sure I am missing many, but the ones that availed themselves to me gave me joy and soothed my soul. I wish I could take a vacation every week! i hope you had a great summer vacation as well.



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Elaine Tweedy of I Got the Shot Photography shows why summer is her favorite time of year in the Endless Mountains of PA.




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Please contact Friends of Second Chance.

Friends of Second Chance Canine Adoption Shelter
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Capture your journey with your pet. Nancy Kieffer is a pet and nature photographer serving  Central New York, the Adirondacks and Beyond.  Capture how you share your life with your pet! It may be a vacation adventure or curled up on the couch. Travel assignments welcomed

5 Comments

  1. Elaine on September 17, 2021 at 2:55 am

    Assateague is one of my most favorite places. Whenever we vacation at Rehoboth Beach, I make a day trip to the island to photograph the ponies and birds. We’ve been going there since our kids were little, and I’m still in awe when visiting Assateague. Hope to get back next summer!

  2. Angela Schneider on September 13, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Wow, Nancy, what an amazing place. Thank you for sharing it. Your horse photos are just gorgeous.

    • N Kieffer on September 16, 2021 at 9:19 pm

      Thank you! it is an amazing place.

  3. Nicole on September 10, 2021 at 10:34 am

    It must have been nice to vacation and visit family after 18 months.

    I’ve never even heard of a horseshoe crab! What an amazing place filled with life.

    The wild horse population is so complicated. I don’t think there is a right way to deal with it. There isn’t enough food here, so when the population gets out of hand the horses are emaciated, then BLM will do traumatic round-ups and they go to auction or… I do think sterilization is more humane than what happens here, but from what I understand that also impacts the behavior of the herd.

    Thanks for sharing the images of the cool creatures and your beautiful horse images.

    • N Kieffer on September 16, 2021 at 9:22 pm

      Yes, the wild horse population is complicated. I can understand the reasoning for both and I did see one emaciated horse while i was there, so they definitely need to do something.

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