Our first visit to Assateague

After a quick stop at the visitor’s center to gather up maps and information (as well as use the loo), we slowly made our way over to Assateague Island National Seashore. Just over the bridge we saw our first pony, but I didn’t get a photo of it. I was too busy acting all touristy, jumping up and down in my seat and saying, “Look! Look! A horse!!” M, in his usual dry way, responded with “You act like you’ve never seen a horse before.”

Heh. Not in the wild, I haven’t.

The first creature I managed to get a photo of was one of the little deer that are running around the island:

It was a wonder that I spotted her. The deer blend in quite well with the scenery (as is usually the case). For those that are interested in such information, there are two types of deer on the island. One is the native white-tailed deer and the other is the non-native sika deer which is actually a small species of oriental elk introduced to the island in the 1920’s.

With map in hand, we decided the easiest thing to do was to hike one of the small, 1/2 mile loops. For a fee you can buy guidebooks for these hikes. Being the thrifty types, we didn’t buy them. I sort of wish we had as it would’ve been nice to read about some of the things we were looking at. To be honest, I would have bought the guidebooks if I’d noticed them while in the visitor’s center. M noticed them, but he’s the really thrifty one in this relationship. He’s probably right in his thriftiness as I’m now looking up things I want to know about the island by surfing the internet, something we’re already paying for.

The Life of the Marsh trail was the closest so we decided to start there, saving the other trails for Sunday.

One good thing about going to Assateague at the tail-end of winter is that you don’t have to worry about mosquitoes or biting flies. One bad thing about it is that it was extremely windy. It was also cold, the cold made worse by the wind. Even so, it was a lovely day.

The Marsh trail takes you along a boardwalk through the marsh. It’s apparent that the horses use the boardwalk, leaving droppings all over the place.

There are more than two dozen species of grasses on Assateague. Along the Life of the Marsh trail the most prominent is salt marsh cordgrass, a plant that has adjusted to saltwater flooding by releasing the salt through its leaves. Gotta love the way nature adapts.

The channels you see here are not natural. Someone had the brilliant idea of building homes here (I believe this was in the 1950’s) and they brought in equipment to do just that. Thankfully, the project didn’t work out too well. The marks they left behind are still there, making me wonder just how long it will take for these channels to be absorbed back into the ecosystem or will they remain as they are now, straight lines marching through the marshland.

Look! Look! Horses!! (You’d think I’d never seen a horse before.)

I read somewhere (Wikipedia, I think) that “wild” is not an appropriate term for the horses/ponies on Assateague Island. They are more appropriately called “feral” horses as they are descendants of domesticated horses which early colonists brought to the island so they could graze.

After a brief look at the horses, we continued along the boardwalk to the overlook where I took a few photos before heading back towards the horses.

I’m posting the above photo just to give you an idea of how windy it was, and how choppy the wind made the water of the bay.

And now, back to the feral horses…

That’s me on the right. And this is one of the few times when I’m quite happy that WordPress cuts off a good portion of my photos.

We left the Life of the Marsh trail shortly after this point. Along the way I spotted a few cacti, which seemed unusual to me because I generally associate the cactus with hot deserts. I’m wrong in that association. The prickly pear cactus is native to Assateague Island. Native Americans used it to treat wounds and as a tea for lung ailments. The fruit of the cactus was eaten fresh or dried for winter use.

Back in the parking lot, we encountered more feral horses, including a baby.

Isn’t it cute?

Stay tuned. More to come…