July is here and many folks begin thinking of Chincoteague and Assateague for the historical and well-known places of the famous wild pony swim that occurs on the last Wednesday of the month. The pony swim and the famous ponies of the Chincoteague and Assateague Islands were immortalized in the classic book, Misty Of Chincoteague by Maguerite Henry which was published in 1947. Each year, as many know, the wild ponies that live on the wildlife refuge are rounded up by the “Saltwater Cowboys” of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department and are moved from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island for the pony penning event and the accompanying summer carnival at the carnival grounds on Chincoteague. The ponies generally will swim at what’s called “slack tide”, which is a period of time between the tides when there is no current. The swim typically occurs between the hours of 7 AM to 1 PM. When the ponies arrive at Chincoteague, they are paraded down main street and are corralled at the fairgrounds. The foals are auctioned off on the Thursday after the swim. Then on the Friday after the auction, the adult ponies are sent back to Assateague until the next year. Pony Penning day is quite an occasion for the island and it’s locals, as it’s one of the busiest times of the year.
But throughout the year, other than at pony penning time, the wildlife refuges at Chincoteague and Assateague are a veritable paradise for wildlife watchers. There are often numerous species of herons and egrets who make the refuge their homes throughout the year. In the spring and fall, during the migration seasons, many folks can go and observe quite a variety of different animals in their natural habitat. There are Sika elk, an Asian species of deer that lives and thrives in the refuge. Delmarva fox squirrels, a large endangered type of squirrel that makes its home in the loblolly pines found throughout the refuge. Numerous species of waterfowl enjoy the protective covering of the trees, marsh grasses, and shrubs in the wetlands. The refuge is also home to many types of birds of prey such as Merlins, a small falcon that is similar to an American Kestrel. In the past, it has even been a place of irruptions of snowy owls, owls that are usually found in the northern areas of the USA and Canada. When the population numbers of the owls surge, the owls will move southward in search of food.
Although the ponies are the most well known residents of the refuge, many other types of wildlife make their homes there. It is a fantastic place to take a trip out to when it’s not pony penning time if only to take a moment and enjoy natural surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of an urban lifestyle.