Adventures in Birdland

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Virginia’s eastern shore is a very special little place. It’s part of the larger Assateague National Seashore and features approximately 14,000 acres of beautiful beaches, marshlands and forests. You can see a lot in a day, though I would recommend spending several days quietly exploring all the park has to offer. They have a well-maintained walk/bike trail system, a great info center and super friendly park rangers.

The refuge was established in 1943 primarily to protect the nesting and migratory grounds of a variety of bird species. On a typical day, you’re bound to view herons, egrets, eagles, ducks, plovers and geese. I’ve also been lucky to share time with the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel and the wild Chincoteague ponies on previous trips.  When an artist friend of mine, Kathleen Perelka, asked if I wanted to spend a day watching the snow geese migration, I was game. I don’t fancy myself as a bird photographer – it requires a ton of patience and very long lenses – but I packed up the gear I had and prepared for an adventure.

Snow geese at dawn in Swans Cover Pool

Snow geese migrate to the eastern shores of the US (also the mid-west, pacific northwest and as far south as Mexico) from the Arctic tundra during the fall. According to the park rangers, a group of about 5,000 birds typically winters in Chincoteague, while others stop over to rest in the refuge on their way south. Seeing them was not a guarantee but when we found a small group feeding along Swans Cove Pool at sunrise we were thrilled.

Then they started to come in by the thousands…

Snow geese migration


By afternoon the flock had at least tripled in size. According to a park ranger, there were approximately 8,000 birds hanging out in the park that day.


The afternoon flock in Little Toms Cove

The sound was amazing.

After watching the snow geese in Little Toms Cove, we decided to explore the rest of the park for the remainder of the day. The Wildlife Loop is always a treat as are the canals along the main road. I’m always impressed by the variety of color in the marshland grasses and the diversity of the scenery in the refuge. There’s really something for every nature lover. Plus, since it was off-season, we almost had it all to ourselves.

Reflections in the canal along Beach Rd

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Marshland near Little Toms Cove

Wildlife Loop: Shovler Pool

Dusk on the Atlantic

Since we only had one full (good weather) day, we were unable to explore large areas of the park. Next time. Departure day was cold and rainy so we decided to leave after breakfast. We took one last drive through the park to see the geese but they were gone. Maybe the nasty weather motivated them to move on as well….



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Sue These images are impressive as are the birds themselves. The lighting you achieved makes it an even more magical place. Thanks for sharing.

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