A few weeks ago Betsy and I attended the NANPA Regional Summit at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge which is located on Assateague Island in about as northeast Virginia as you can get. (As a long-time space program nut, this was also a chance to pass by the Wallops Island NASA facility…)
Click here to visit my Chincoteague NWR gallery. I’m experimenting with changing my galleries over to the “Flash” technology (I can do this with Adobe Lightroom pretty easily) as I think it makes for a more enjoyable way of viewing the photographs.
NANPA, the North American Nature Photographers Association, consistently puts together great programs for its members. I attended a “road show” in Waltham a couple years ago and it was equally fulfilling. Oddly enough, it rained for both of these events. I hope this isn’t a pattern.
Unfortunately we didn’t catch Chincoteague at its best — and such is the “luck of the draw” for events like this (and outdoor photography in general). But it could have been worse… When we arrived it was raining – a lot. Not exactly what you want when bringing 70 or so photographers together. Late October through November is somewhat of a peak time for migratory birds at Chincoteague, but until the day before we arrived a prolonged lack of rain had mostly dried up the pools the birds use for shelter and foraging. By the time the rain subsided the pools were filling, but the birds were scarce.
Seeing how a simple dry spell can disrupt the already arduous route for migrating birds, you can’t help but wonder what will happen when the sea level starts to rise. Chincoteague NWR is located on a rather tenuous island that has changed significantly in just 100 years from Atlantic storms. The refuge is going to be between an ocean and a very wet place.
Chincoteague is also known for the wild ponies that roam on the island. Not unlike the bison in Custer State Park (in South Dakota) or the mustangs in Colorado/Wyoming, this is a managed herd and there is an annual event where ponies are auctioned off (I think they meet somewhat better fates than most of the bison and mustangs do). The ponies are pretty elusive and the few that we saw were just foraging in the distance. Most of the ponies, at first glance, appear to be pregnant. Actually they are just bloated – the high salt content in the marshland vegetation causes them to consume much more water than a horse with a normal diet. I called them “wild” ponies, but the more accurate term would be “feral” as they were introduced to the island a few hundred years ago as domestic animals and, over time, they reverted to a wild state.
Another fun aspect of visiting Chincoteague was a chance to catch up with Michael Dixon, the Visitor Services Manager at the refuge. Michael was the visitor services manager at the Assabet River NWR here in Maynard and we’ve bumped into each other a few times during his tenure here. He’s really happy at Chincoteague (although he misses Assabet) and he and the other refuge staff really were wonderful hosts for the NANPA event. A group of us from NANPA tried to return the favor and do a service project on the last day of the summit. With just three wheelbarrows, we moved a small mountain of wood chips onto a trail behind the lighthouse. It was fun work and we know the refuge staff appreciated the effort.
I hope you enjoy the photographs. There is a preponderance of sunrise/sunset photos — mostly because that was the practically only time it wasn’t raining (or threatening to) and my macro/close-up stuff really didn’t turn out very well. It was a fun place to photograph and we’ll definitely visit again and try to catch it when the birds are not hunkered down as much.