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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Between The Ocean & The Bay

The narrow strip of land known to locals as the Delmarva Peninsula is an unpolished gem for nature shooters

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ocean and bay
Little Blue Heron, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.

The little blue heron can be skittish and a challenge to photograph unless its mind is on finding dinner or it’s preening time.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
Established in 1943, Chincoteague is considered one of the crown jewels of the 99-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System. Protecting more than 14,000 acres of salt marsh, loblolly pine forests and freshwater impoundments, Chincoteague is world-renowned for its diversity of wildlife, especially birds. More than 320 bird species have been recorded here. The refuge’s many wetland habitats provide feeding, resting and nesting sites for a variety of wading birds, including glossy ibis; great and snowy egrets; great blue, green, tricolored and little blue herons; and the yellow-crowned and night-crowned herons. Other wildlife specialties include the diminutive sika deer, the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, the river otter and the muskrat.

The refuge is a nature photographer’s dream with infinite possibilities of landscapes, wildlife, close-ups and abstract subjects. A great place to start your exploration is along the main thoroughfare on the refuge, Beach Drive, which leads to the Assateague Island National Seashore. Drive slowly and watch for river otters feeding and playing in the channels along the road. Belted kingfishers frequent the same area and can be photographed from the comfort of your vehicle as these supreme fishers perch on fence posts along the channel.

For a stunning sunrise location, drive along Beach Drive to Black Duck Pool. A mixture of loblolly pine hammocks and wetlands creates a visually appealing composition. As the sun rises behind the pines, the marsh becomes painted with hues of red and gold. Add in the possibility of waterfowl, shorebirds and sika deer in the composition, and you’ll have the signature image of what makes this refuge so special. Other locations to explore include Woodland Trail, Marsh Trail and Wildlife Drive.

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland-Virginia
When visiting Chincoteague, you can’t help but spend time at Assateague Island National Seashore, which adjoins the refuge. Assateague remains the longest stretch of undeveloped beach in the mid-Atlantic region, and its remote beaches are important nesting, staging and migration habitats for a variety of migratory birds, including the endangered piping plover. Stretching for 37 miles along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, Assateague Island harbors an amazing diversity of life. Expect the full gamut of coastal subjects to photograph, including seashells, stunning sunrises over the Atlantic, shorebirds and abstracts.

While the summer season can be very crowded at Assateague and Chincoteague, during spring, fall and winter, visitation is greatly curtailed. These are the times I enjoy Assateague and the Eastern Shore the most—enjoying the silence, solitude and the opportunity to watch nature’s dramas unfold before me. Once you visit the Eastern Shore, you’ll make plans to return. And when you leave, you’ll make an excuse to linger just a bit longer.

To learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge System, visit www.fws.gov. Jim Clark is a contributing editor to Outdoor Photographer.

To see more of Clark’s photography, visit www.jimclarkphotography.com and www.mountaintrailphoto.com.


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