Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge - Virginia
Snow Geese, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 11-14-08
Snow Goose, Chincoteague
- Joe Kegley
Located on the Atlantic Flyway, the 14,000 acres of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is an important stop for a large number of migratory birds. Located mostly on the Virginia side of Assateague Island, the refuge provides recreational opportunities such as wildlife observation, fishing, and hunting. The beach at the refuge, part of the Assateague Island National Seashore, is a popular swimming and sunning spot during the summer months.
The refuge contains several miles of trails for hiking and biking. In addition, there is the 3.5 mile Wildlife Loop which basically follows the outline of Snow Goose Pool. The loop is open to bikes and walkers at all refuge hours, but cars are only allowed after 3:00pm. A 7 mile service road that travels north from the Wildlife Loop is open to foot traffic only. Bathroom facilities are available on the refuge at the Herbert H Bateman visitor center.
--- Chincoteague NWR - Video ---
Snow Geese, Chincoteague
- Joe Kegley
Approximately 2600 acres of freshwater and moist soil management units have been developed on the refuge for waterfowl. Thousands of geese and ducks winter in the refuge. In addition, large numbers of shorebirds inhabit the refuge during fall and spring migrations.
Though this was my first visit, I personally observed thousands of Snow Geese; and hundreds of Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Black Ducks on the 3.5 mile Wildlife Loop. Shore birds were abundant too at this time, but I did not identify the species.
Bald Eagle, Chincoteague
- Joe Kegley
In addition to the waterfowl, the refuge also hosted long legged waders such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Cattle Egrets. Cormorants were also somewhat abundant throughout the refuge.
About a quarter mile into the Wildlife Loop, two Bald Eagles could be spotted most mornings perched on a pine Island to the right. Per refuge personnel, a seasonally active eagle's nest is also on this pine island, though I did not personally observe it. Osprey were only seen occasionally. Another raptor I observed, but only once, was a Peregrine Falcon, also viewed from the Wildlife Loop.
The 3 most common mammals on the refuge have to be the wild ponies, Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, and the sika elk. I enjoyed watching these animals almost everyday on my trip to the refuge.
The sika elk could be found anywhere on the refuge, including traversing across some of the wetland ponds in the mornings and evenings (especially Black Duck Pool). I could usually count on spotting them in the morning or evening near the shorter section of the Service Rd. that connects the Wildlife Loop to the visitor center. About an eighth of a mile into the Wildlife Loop you will encounter this branch of the Service Rd. There is a sign saying No Public Entry.
Wild Pony, Chincoteague
- Joe Kegley
While the ponies are wild, they are fenced in to a degree and managed by the Chincoteague volunteer fire department. Every July the ponies are herded across the sound to Chincoteague Island where some are auctioned off to raise money. The "south" pen is located in Black Duck Marsh which is on the east side of the Beach Rd. (across from Black Duck Pool). The "north" pen is about 3.5 miles up the 7 mile Service Road. The Service Road actually travels through the middle of the pen.
Another area to see the ponies without the fencing is on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore, here the ponies run wild and go as they please.
The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel can be found in any of the forested areas, but I always saw them when I walked the Woodland Trail that branches off Beach Rd.
Sika Elk, Chincoteague
- Joe Kegley
Wilderness Experience Perspective
The main avenue for wildlife viewing, Wildlife Loop Road, is somewhat heavily trafficked once the gate is opened at 3:00 pm for automobiles. Definitely not a wilderness experience at this time, though if you walk or bike the loop before the gate is opened on weekdays, you can find "some" alone time to relax. There will be other walkers and bikers, but they are sparse and an encounter is usually brief.
If you are wanting more seclusion then I suggest the 7 mile Service Rd. Only foot traffic (with the exception of Refuge staff and possibly hunters during season) is allowed on this road and I only encountered two couples on my 4 hour hike. Walking a couple of miles north on the beach would also be somewhat secluded.
Camping is not allowed on the refuge. Car camping is allowed on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore, in addition there are also a couple of primitive camp sites on the Maryland side that require hiking or kayaking to get to.
Sika Elk at Sunrise, Chincoteague
- Canoe/kayak/Jon boat - Should you wish to explore the sound side of the island bring a boat. Not a necessity to view wildlife, though some of the better wild pony photos I have seen appear to have been taken from a boat.
- Insect Repellent - Depending on the season, the mosquitoes can be a nuisance. I was there in mid-November and the mosquitoes were still out and about.
- Neoprene hunting boots - Boots are handy for walking in some of the boggy spots. Not a necessity to view wildlife, much can be seen from the roads and trails.
- OSV Permit - You will need to obtain an "Over Sand Vehicle" permit if you decide to venture on some of the 12 miles of unpaved beach front on Assateague Island. This is not a necessity to view wildlife. Check out the Assateague National Seashore website for more information, such as required gear, rules and regulations, and cost.
Location and Points of Interest
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Map (Google interactive map)
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- http://www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco/ - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website for the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
- http://www.nps.gov/asis/ - Assateague Island National Seashore website. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is located on Assateague Island. The Assateague Island National Seashore website has very good maps of the whole island and better instructions for obtaining an OSV (Over Sand Vehicle) permit. An OSV permit is necessary to drive the 12 or so miles of unpaved beach front on the Island.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge ... a nature, wildlife, and photography perspective.