We had huge thunderstorms overnight and it was still raining this morning, so rather than going to the beach, we decided that it was the day to drive to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, which is about an hour and a half from Bethany Beach where we are staying. The past two years we have gone to Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, where it is easier to see the wild ponies -- the ones on Chincoteague tend to remain gathered near the shore where the pony swim takes place in the spring and eat their way inland -- but Chincoteague has two nature centers, a lighthouse, a vast wild bird sanctuary and many other features, plus a decent-sized town just before the entrance to the national park with more pony souvenirs than I had ever imagined. (I did read Misty of Chincoteague in my youth but King of the Wind was my favorite of Marguerite Henry's books.)
On the way we stopped at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which has free admission to see several rockets, displays on the history of spaceflight, a history of the site which is NASA's most active launch range and the home to numerous satellite dishes to communicate with rockets in flight, and a short movie about the space shuttle and life in space for US astronauts. It's a bit smaller than the Langley Research Center at home and of course miniscule compared to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, but there were displays about Wednesday's planned space shuttle launch and computer simulations to practice lifting into orbit and things like that.
As it happened, we did get to see ponies, though not in the wild; after the young ponies are auctioned to help raise money to care for the herd and control the numbers of wild horses on the island, the mares with foals who haven't been weaned yet are taken to a large pen until the young ponies can be sent to their new homes and the mothers can return to grazing wild. We also saw piping plovers, great and snowy egrets, hawks, gulls, geese, ducks, sandpipers and many dozens of shore birds I couldn't immediately identify. At the nature center there were tanks with many of the water residents, including horseshoe and hermit crabs, clams, rays, skates and fish, plus views out over the wetlands. The lighthouse unfortunately is only open for tours on the weekend but it's still well worth the quarter-mile hike up to see it.
Assateague Lighthouse, rebuilt in 1866 after damage to the 1833 lighthouse.
The area around it is quite dry this year despite Sunday night's rains -- here are a group of egrets standing among dry wetlands.
Here are a group of plovers, one of the island conservation program's success stories -- their numbers are up significantly after a catastrophic drop.
And a close-up of an egret just because the plumage is so pretty.
Here are some of the mares and foals protected by the fire department until the foals are old enough to go live with their adoptive families and the mares can return to the wild herd.
They seem no more afraid of people than the horses on the Maryland side of Assateague, who wander across the road careless of cars and hikers.
I'm not sure whether this is a skate or a variety of little ray. This one lives in a tank at one of the Assateague Island information centers.
We didn't get back into Delaware until after 6 and didn't start dinner till after 7 -- we went to Cottage Cafe and nearly all got some kind of flounder, either stuffed with crab or broiled in lemon butter. So we weren't back at the condo till it was nearly time for the Giants game to start. As of this writing, Barry Bonds still has not hit THE home run. I was kind of hoping the game would be early enough for it to happen at dinner so we could hear whatever volume of cheering or boos the beach could sustain!