Thursday, October 28, 2010

Delmarva Peninsula

Yesterday, Wednesday, was one of those days for us when we had only a hazy notion of where we were going or even how far.  John's main goal was to drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the Delmarva Peninsula. The bridge-tunnel links mainland Virginia to the southern tip of the peninsula, parts of which belong to Virginia, Delaware and Maryland. The bridge tunnel is supposed to be one of the world's most incredible engineering  feats. Parts of it dips under the water so massive ocean-bound freighters can pass over the top of it. There are two sections of the bridge where the tunnel plunges under water.
Immediately upon arriving on the peninsula we stopped at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. This area straddles one of North America's most important avian migration funnels. Each fall millions of songbirds, monarch butterflies and raptors converge here to rest and feed before continuing south. By the time we arrived there it was about noon and getting quite warm. We did some hiking in the refuge and at one time counted about a dozen raptors in the sky.  The songbirds were there but flitting about so rapidly that we never identified any particular one. The guide at the visitor's center  informed us that the songbirds were there to feed on the butterflies and the raptors were after the songbirds for food. I think somehow John and I also were part of that food chain because the mosquitoes were certainly feasting on us! After visiting the refuge we continue further north on the peninsula, finally deciding that we wanted to make the 64 mile trip north to see the wild ponies on Assateague Island. It was an interesting drive up the peninsula. We passed fields of cotton, two large chicken processing plants, as well as a NASA Flight Facility. The U.S. space program began on the Virginia coast. It was about 3PM when we arrived at Chincoteague Island, so we drove straight from there to Assateague Island National Seashore. The wild horses stay around the salt marshes  and we were able to view them in several locations of the park. There is usually about 150 of them on the island but we saw only about twenty. Many of the horses are pintos in all colors marked with patches of white.
 I do not believe I have been at a seashore before that is teeming with so many shorebirds and waterbirds. We saw a great number of herons, egrets, snow geese, and a variety of ducks, to name but just a few.
There is both seashore and forest to explore on this island. While hiking in the forest we read an interpretive sign which noted that the Delmarva fox squirrel, once almost extinct, is now making a comeback at Assateague. We were fortunate to see several of them while hiking around. At least I am fairly certain we saw that particular squirrel as he has particular physical features that are different from those of the common gray squirrel. Never thought I would get excited over seeing a squirrel!  Their numbers at one time were dwindling because of the harvesting of the loblolly pine trees; the nuts of that pine tree are a food source for them. 

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