Saturday, July 21, 2018

What Lives On Assateague Island? - The Birds

Assateague Island contains over 37 miles of pristine beaches; besides the beaches and dunes, there are pine forests and salt marshes.  Assateague  became a National Park in 1965, and together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and the Maryland State Park, the land and water boundaries total over 48,000 acres in both Maryland and Virginia.
  The island is a vital resting and feeding area for a large variety of birds.  The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, located on the southern end of Assateague Island in Virginia, is one of the most popular birding destinations in the United States.  Bird watchers can enjoy the wealth of over 300 species of migratory and resident avians. Assateague is an essential part of the Atlantic Flyway; prime habitat for thousands of waterfowl and other birds with migration instincts that carry them north and south annually.  Each fall, large flocks of waterfowl, like snow geese, begin arriving on the island, where they will spend the winter traveling between the sheltered and protected bay and salt marshes, and the fallow farm fields on the mainland.
   Besides the island of Assateague itself, several salt-marsh islands in Chincoteague Bay are also included in the National Seashore and CNWR protective areas.  Found on the island are loblolly pines, sweet gum and black gum trees, white oaks, holly, persimmons, myrtle, sumac, poison ivy, roses, blackberries, bayberries, and many species of Smilax (aka catbriers, greenbriers, and prickly-ivy).
   Assateague Island in Maryland, according to the National Audubon Society, is an Important Birding Area at the global level due to the 62 pairs of Piping Plover that nest on its beaches, representing 2% of this birds' global population.  Bird species occurring in significant numbers at the State level include: the largest ground-nesting colony (114 pairs) of Least Tern in Maryland [most nests of this species are now on artificial surfaces, like rooftops], Black Skimmer (Endangered Species in Maryland), and the Peregrine Falcon.  Assateague is an important migratory corridor for Peregrine populations in eastern North America, with more than 400 birds counted in most fall seasons. Migrant shorebirds congregate along the ocean beach in numbers significant at the State level, with the most abundant species being Sanderling, Dunlin, and Ruddy Turnstone.  The salt marshes support significant populations of two Audubon-American Bird Conservancy Watch List species - in the Red category - the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow and the Seaside Sparrow, and a large range of other saltmarsh- dependent birds.  The Chuck-will's Widows breed in the pine habitats and this is one of the places in Maryland with a breeding population of Common Nighthawks; both species are on the At-Risk List in the state.
  In Virginia, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the southern end of Assateague Island, is one of the finest places for bird watching on the east coast.  It is one of the richest birding regions in the United States with outstanding year-round birding opportunities, including a healthy bald eagle population.
   Summer is a good time to see large numbers of migrating shore birds, warblers, and other birds invade Assateague.  A variety of species are visible along the National Seahore at various times during the year.  In the fall, waterfowl arrive in massive numbers, as Assateague is a vital link in the life cycle of migrating birds along the Atlantic Flyway.  Visitors are fortunate to experience an island that teems with a huge variety of waterfowl and other bird life.
   Although an abundance of birds are found at Assateague, bird enthusiasts usually find the best opportunities along the Virginia portion of the island, due to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge's freshwater impoundments combine with marshes all along Assateague's shoreline to host a variety of terns, egrets, sandpipers, swans, geese, ducks, herons, other waterfowl and more.  Making one's way by boat or kayak along the island's extensive inland waterways is a thrilling experience for any bird lover.  Herons and terns fly out from the edges as you proceed through vast winding narrows where you can also see crabs, eels, fish, oysters and other food sources these birds feed upon.
   Other than hiking designated pathways and along beaches, limited amounts of Assateague are accessible by car, so during recent times, many bird watchers have elected to travel by boat.  A bird watching voyage offers visitors a chance to see more of the refuge and it's wildlife.  Boat excursions, or renting a kayak, will take you to one of America's most unique ecosystems, with an abundance of wildlife, islands, water - and birds - as far as the eye can see...
  To see the Assateague birding check list, please visit:

No comments: