Chincoteague Island Vacation
The wild ponies of Chincoteague Island

The wild ponies of Chincoteague Island

Lots of relaxing, family, great weather, beautiful scenery and tons of photography were what made a week long family vacation to Chincoteague Island this past August just perfect. It was my first time visiting the area of Chincoteague and Assateague Islands which are famous for their herds of wild ponies that roam the barrier islands.  My father and I plan a photo trip every year but this time my wife Kim, my mother, my sister and even my parent’s dog Ranger all joined us for the trip.  We rented a house right on the bay of Chincoteague Island looking out to the separate island where Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge resides.  I couldn’t have asked for a better view for the week.

the excitement that builds as you get closer and closer to your destination

Kim and I met up with my parents in southern NJ incredibly early for the long drive down to Virginia just south of the Maryland border.  I have always loved the feeling of starting a vacation even if there is an very long drive, the excitement that builds as you get closer and closer to your destination is always so fun to experience.  I’m sure that feeling was even greater when I was a child but it’s still there and I hope I’ll never be to old to experience that.  

As we drove over the bridges onto the island I could immediately tell it was a quaint shore-town just like the countless ones I had been to growing up in southern NJ.  It was still the height of the summer season but thankfully it wasn’t too busy on the island.  Everything on Chincoteague Island seemed to be nicely spread out.  It was certainly built up and there were plenty of places to eat, shop, and have fun but it wasn’t overwhelming, it seemed just right.  We pulled up to the rental house and I walked right towards the dock to see the view since I had seen some photos online.  It was a beautiful landscape of bright green marsh grass with a maze of waterways cutting through it.  Out in the distance the Chincoteague Island Lighthouse stood with its red and white stripes - this was going to be a great trip. 


Bright Green Marsh Grasses

view from our dock out to the red & white striped Chincoteague Lighthouse

Not long after we arrived I got my first surprise

The trips my father and I plan every year are always geared towards photography and this was no exception.  Staying right on the water would hopefully allow us to view some of the local wildlife, specifically birds. Being within a 10 minute drive of the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) we hoped to have plenty of opportunities to see and photograph the wildlife, as well as add some new birds to our growing lists.  Not long after we arrived I got my first surprise when my dad called me outside to see a very tiny snake laying in the broken shell driveway.  I grabbed the camera and macro lens and ran to see what it was.  The snake was so tiny, only a few inches long and the beautiful pattern helped it to blend right in with the shells.  I do not have an abundant knowledge of snakes so not knowing if it was poisonous I kept my distance.  Thankfully it was so tiny I was still able to get some close photos without any fear.  My father and I had no idea what type of snake it was and had never seen anything resembling it.  Once my sister Stacey arrived she gave her first guess and nailed it.  She lives in Florida and has a bit more experience with a wider variety of snakes and was able to positively identify the little reptile as a Hognose snake.  What a great start to the trip.

very tiny Hognose snake in the broken shell driveway.

Now that everyone had arrived, we settled in and got down to business relaxing and catching up with each other.  With the weather forecast showing a good chance for some early rain the next morning, my father and I decided to postpone our first outing to the NWR.  I of course couldn’t wait to take more photos to I tried my hand at some long exposure night photography and got a decent one showing the lighthouse at night.

A view at night from the dock looking out towards Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

I woke up the first morning to heavy cloud cover and some light rain on and off.  Since I couldn’t go outside and take photos I figured what better time than to do a time-lapse of the clouds going by.  The results of that little project are below.

green heron perches on a branch while it begins to rain.

A little after noon the rain stopped and we all decided to pile in the car and take a drive over to the NWR to scope it out.  On our way into the refuge we all got our fist views of a small group of ponies walking through an open meadow. (the lead photo)  We even stumbled upon this medium sized snapping turtle making its way across a trail.  After a quick drive through the refuge we headed back home to eat some lunch and relax on the porch while watching the birds.

medium sized snapping turtle that was crossing an open trail.

graceful Great Egret comes in for a landing as I sit on the dock of the rental house.

Kim, Stacey and I wrapped up the afternoon with a walk around the island.  Other than the biting insects it was gorgeous out.  We walked down the main road that went along the bay side of the island that we were staying on.  It’s really great what you can find in almost any place by just slowing down and walking vs. driving.  It can be so easy to just drive from one place to another but when you slow down and walk you can start to experience the little things that give a location it’s character, such as the photo below of a fence that had hundreds of large shells placed on it.  All I could think was how long the owner of this home must have been collecting these shells to line the fence and how much longer would it take to finish?  What a perfect little shore house that had such unique character.

large dragonfly perched on a small twig.

female Mallard posed nicely near a small puddle that we walked by.

These large beautiful shells were all carefully placed along the fence of this quaint shore house.

first heard this elusive but loud Clapper Rail as we walked by it and I was able to find it hidden in the tall marsh grass.

The following morning my dad and I woke up and the two of us headed right over to Chincoteague NWR with the hopes of finding and photographing some new birds.  It was a pretty slow morning and there wasn’t too much activity but we did manage to both photograph the Brown-Headed Nuthatch which was a first for both of us!  I also got a few decent photos of some other shore-birds.  Before 3pm every day the wildlife loop trail is closed to vehicles so you can safely walk or bike the trail.  The only problem with walking the trail were the mosquitoes.  At one point I was actually jogging just to try to stay away from them.  In most locations if you held still for a moment you were swarmed and bitten constantly.  It made for some difficult photography since it’s hard to hold your camera while swatting bugs away.  Other than that it was a great morning with some new birds and some decent photos to be had.  You can view my bird list from the entire trip here.

Greater Yellowlegs walks along the dried mud flats looking for food.

tiny Semi-palmated Sandpiper at the refuge.

One of my first ever photos of a Brown-Headed Nuthatch.  

A beautiful Black and White Warbler looks out while hanging onto a tree.

When we returned from the refuge Kim and Stacey had rented some bicycles to ride around the island, so Kim and I took a short ride.  Bicycles turned out to be the perfect transportation for the island, hence the name “beach cruisers” I guess.

After a while back at the house I got restless again so I went out to the dock and started tossing some old bread to the gulls flying around.  They were really challenging to photograph while flying in so close and grabbing the bread, so it was a fun time that resulted with a few decent photos.  While I was sitting on the dock I though of an idea for a unique family portrait to remember the vacation by.  I waited until dusk so I could use the flashes the way I wanted to and we each got a turn being really goofy in front of the camera and I assembled the group in Photoshop.  Ranger the dog even got in on the fun.  Someone had the idea of asking my dad to just stand there looking all bored to add some more humor to the photo.  It came out just how I wanted - not the same old boring family photo!

pair of rented beach cruisers sitting on the dock at the rented house.

Bicycles turned out to be the perfect transportation for the island

My wife Kim cruising down the road not far from the house we rented.  Everything was so green!

handsome Laughing Gull squawking at me while I was throwing bread around.

The Laughing Gulls weren't even bothering to land, they would just swoop down and grab the bread without stopping. 

Our unique family portrait.

The following day was spent just laying around and relaxing.  I’m the type of person that likes to keep active but on a trip like this a day spent just lounging around is certainly nice.  My sister and I did take a trip out on some rented kayaks to see the water and marshes from a different perspective and it was a wonderful day for it with a little bit of sun and perfect temperatures.

My sister Stacey and I kayaking in front of the rental house.

Kim took this photo of me just before I paddled out into the marsh.

An early morning trip with my father revealed these ponies grazing before the sun even came up.

large Spotted Orbweaver spider hanging on its web on a trail along the WIldlife Loop at Chincoteague NWR.

rabbit who looks like it's smoking some grass at Chincoteague NWR.

Towards the end of the vacation we had all chipped in a bought my dad a boat tour around Chincoteague Island.  The whole family went on the amazing boat ride.  We had the whole boat to ourselves and the captain was so nice and accommodating, slowing down whenever we wanted to take photos and taking us to good photography locations.  We all got to experience the most beautiful sunset of the trip while cruising out on the waterways surrounding the island, it doesn’t get any better than that!  As with every vacation it sucks when the end gets near but  we truly had a perfect ending to the trip and I’m looking forward to next summer’s vacation to Maine.  

Thanks so much for taking the time to read about this trip and if you enjoyed the story and photos please feel free to share it with your friends and family or comment below.  - Ray

My parents and Kim and I out on the boat trip. 

couple of the group of dolphins that were swimming right around the boat.

An Osprey sitting on its nest as the sun starts getting low.

We all got to experience the most beautiful sunset of the trip

A large dead tree silhouetted against the sunset.

Such amazing colors at sunset over the water.

I loved how the sun seemed to be slipping into a pocket in the clouds.

Some stadium lights reflecting on the water at night.

The night before we left there was a huge storm that dropped a ton of rain.  This was the aftermath along some of the streets near the house we stayed in.

Nature photography has become a very passionate hobby of mine and whenever I get a chance I love to get outside and enjoy being outdoors. I am also the co-owner of KGM Expressions, a wedding and portrait photography business, with my wife Kim. This is how we make our living and I love that we get to do that together.