Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chincoteage NWR: Road Trip Beach Weekend

Wow!  It has been quite some time since we have posted any new hikes.  I assure you, we have spent a great deal of time outdoors, we just got a little bit behind in our blogging.  I promise you that there are a rack of blogs waiting to be written and posted as we speak.  While you wait on those, check out a couple new features on the site.  We have added a LinkWithin widget to the end of each blog that will suggest other entries you might enjoy reading.  At the very bottom of the page, there is a new listing showing this weeks most popular blogs, so be sure to check that out also.

Chincoteague Pony
Mid July, we decided to take a road trip to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  Chincoteague was made famous by Marguerite Henry with her books about the wild ponies of Assateague Island.  Once a year, I like to get to the beach to relax.  I could care less about the actual laying out activity, it is just a peaceful place to go, listening to the water and smelling the salty air.

While we were there, of course we had to check out the trails.  Frankly, to call them trails is a bit silly.  These are paved paths designed for tourists who probably want to do minimal work for the maximum viewing pleasure.  Bicycles are one of the most popular means of travel around both the town of Chincoteague and Assateague Island which makes these "trails" easily accessible for them.  One thing to keep in mind about any of these trails is that they are plagued by large numbers of mosquitoes.  While we normally try to shy away from using bug spray, it was absolutely necessary here.  A couple we passed on one of the trails said that DEET was no longer effective against them, we found that it was better than nothing.
Assateague Lighthouse
The Lighthouse Trail is the shortest trail in the refuge, but this one offers a bit more (though a very small bit) terrain variety and is unpaved, which is a bonus.  It takes you to the Assateague Lighthouse.  Once adjacent to the water, it is now surrounded by land, as the barrier island has grown about 5 miles since the lighthouse was built in 1867.

The endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel

If you are lucky, you will get a chance to see the Delmarva fox squirrel.  This is an endangered species that was released here to help increase the population.  They are generally lighter in color and have a shorter nose than the  gray squirrel.  This species walks up on its haunches and seems to stay closer to the ground that the gray squirrel.

Old watchhouse

The Woodland Trail is a one-and-a-half mile loop that takes you to an observation deck that offers a view of the salt marsh, where the wild ponies spend some of their time.  Keep going around the loop and it will take you to an unpaved, unmarked trail that leads you to Tom's Cove.  The first thing you see is an old watch house that was used by oystermen to protect their oyster beds from poachers.  Bring your binoculars to get a glimpse of the Ospreys nesting atop the house.  Cormorants can also be seen on the posts surrounding the house.  Walk along the beach here and you will see horseshoe crabs and may see a diamondback terrapin swimming along with their head poking out of the water.

Take the 3 1/2 mile Wildlife Loop to see the many waterfowl and wading birds that use the water impoundments.  Egrets, herons, and ibis are the most common.  There are also many short trails branching off of this loop that take you to different types of habitat.

Sunrise on the Atlantic
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Pocomoke State Park

Blue Dragonfly at the swamp
While we were on the Eastern Shore, we decided to hit up a couple of Maryland's hiking spots also.  The first, a short drive from Chincoteague, was Pocomoke State Park in Worchester County.  Part of Pocomoke State Forest, preserved land is 15,000 acres total.  Bordering the Pocomoke River, habitats include loblolly pine forest and cypress swamp.  While, not exactly the challenge we were looking for, we took the "Nature Through Time" trail.  It is a self-guided trail that leads you through part of the forest and cypress swamp.  Brochures at the trailhead give you descriptions of different spots throughout the trail and brief history of the area.

Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area

Entrance to the Schoolhouse Woods Trail
The next and last Maryland hiking destination we stopped at on our way home from the beach.  We stopped at Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area to stretch our legs when we were about half way home. Just a short trip from the Bay Bridge and located in Queen Anne's County it offered a quiet place to explore.  We took the Schoolhouse Woods Trail around the swampy area and then took the Holly Tree Trail back to the car.  The Holly Tree Trail has some of the oldest growth trees in Marlyland.  The trail offers glimpses of the estuary surrounding the Island.  Be careful on the rickety bridge; best not to jump on it while your partner is on said bridge thinking it is going to come crashing down. Oops!  While we didn't spend enough time hear to give it it's own blog entry, we will definitely be back so be sure to stay tuned for a complete review.

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