Why a Wonder: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is located in Virginia's Eastern Shore area along the Atlantic Coast. Here you can photograph abundant wildlife, beautiful coastal scenery, and Chincoteague's famous feral ponies.
Where: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is found at the southern edge of Assateague Island, which straddles the border between Maryland and Virginia. The refuge is right outside of the town of Chincoteague in Virginia.
When: You can visit Chincoteague anytime of year. Summers can be hot and buggy. Winter is the peak time to see many migratory bird species, with large numbers of snow geese visiting the refuge.
On the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company does its annual "Pony Penning" next to the refuge (also known as the "Pony Swim"). Chincoteague's "Saltwater Cowboys" herd the wild ponies from Assateague Island across the Assateague Channel. After the swim, the foals are auctioned, and the adult ponies are returned to Assateague Island where they will live in the wild for another year.
Photography: There are plenty of long lens opportunities when photographing wildlife and horses within the refuge. Sunrise and sunset, when the light is soft and colorful, are typically the best times for wildlife photography. Also keep an eye out for interesting photos showing the ephemeral boundary between land, water, and sky in the salt marshes found at the western edge of Assateague Island.
You can also photograph spectacular sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean from the shore of Assateague Island. Consider a wide-angle lens which allows you to simultaneously include incoming waves and colorful sunrise clouds. Use a tripod and a half-second to one second exposure to capture motion blur with incoming or outgoing waves; this allows the waves to create interesting shapes during the long exposure.
If you visit during the annual Pony Penning, you can set up on the far shore to photograph the ponies swimming across the channel, but be aware that you'll likely be there with thousands of other photographers. You can shoot from the water if you have a boat or kayak (you can also reserve a spot on a tour), but be aware that there are restrictions on where you can go so that boaters don't disturb the ponies. Whether you are on the water or the land, be advised that the swim happens fast, so be prepared once the herd is spotted heading your way.
Learn more: To learn more about the Pony Penning, visit the website of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce: https://www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-penning/
You can get more information about Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the refuge website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/chincoteague
© Ian Plant
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