This piece was sent to us by Helen, a 2014 PA Brookie – she writes about her recent vacation to Assateague Island. During the trip, she and her family had the opportunity to see the famous wild ponies, as well as a variety of other wildlife and beautiful vistas.
It must have been ten years since my family had gone on vacation when my mother decided we should take a trip this past summer. I hadn’t been to the ocean since I was three, and so it was decided that we should head to the coast somewhere—and when I heard the final destination, I was thrilled: we were going to camp at Assateague Island National Seashore, on the long, narrow island off the coast of Virginia and Maryland that is home to the famous Chincoteague ponies. Not to mention, my friend Maria was invited to come too, which made the idea all the more exciting.
It was a seven- or eight-hour road trip down to the island and our campsite, and by the time we arrived we were all more than ready to get out of our Subaru and stretch our legs. The car was absolutely packed—the trunk was so full that in order for my dad to be able to see out the rear window, Maria and I had to unroll our sleeping bags in the backseat and sit on them instead of adding them to the pile in the back. A small mountain of pillows and bags was thrown higgledy-piggledy on the seat between Maria and me, and our poor legs had very little room because of more pillows and bags on the floor. But all the arranging of pillows and bags, and stuffing of the trunk, and suffering of the cramped conditions was quite worth it, for we had no sooner driven across the bridge onto the island than we caught our first glimpse of wild ponies—and were constantly seeing them thereafter.
Our campsite was on the Chesapeake Bay side of the island. We pitched our two tents—one for my mom and dad, and one for Maria and me—between two clumps of bushes; beyond the tents we could see clear across the narrow blue strip of bay to the mainland beyond. Between us and the bay lay a wetlands that seemed to have a flock of noisy white birds constantly in residence. They sounded from a distance like a bunch of old hags, with voices raised in arguing or cackling laughter over some joke. But their appearance was quite at odds with their sound, for they were, for the most part, tall, slender and graceful: pure white with long yellow bills. They were great egrets, and it was the first time I had ever seen such birds in real life.
Indeed, I saw several things for the first time on Assateague. I had certainly never seen the ponies before, and it was absolutely delightful to be at such close quarters to wild horses in their daily life. At night we could hear them all around our tent, tearing up mouthfuls of the coarse grass and munching on it; if we looked out our tent window, we could even see some of them, big black shapes against a backdrop of stars. Much fluctuation took place among the various bands in our general area, at least while we were there—even in the course of one day, we’d see bands increase, and decrease, and mares who had just been in one stallion’s band be added to another band, and stallions who had possessed no mares suddenly become the proud leaders of three or four of them.
But much in nature begged to be seen besides the ponies. The egrets were one example; but in addition to them, Maria and I saw flocks of brown pelicans flying over the beach, and little sandpipers scampering nervously back and forth along the sea strand, as though they’d lost something and were trying to retrieve it. We even believed we saw a bald eagle flying above us at one point, though it soon got too far away to be seen clearly. Someone in our campsite found a baby turtle—it was a tiny little thing, smaller than the bottom of a glass; its Skittle-sized feet were drawn up close to its shell, and its head was drawn as far back as it would go. If we looked under the lip of the shell, we could see its tiny, elfin face, with a pair of big eyes looking rather bewilderingly out at us.
Not all of the wildlife was as delightful as that baby turtle, of course. We very generously played host in the mornings and evenings to mosquitos and black flies; on one occasion, our guests drove Maria and me to jump in the car and close the doors. We also had a few sticky (and painful) experiences with some hostile plants, which lodged in our socks some of the sharpest burrs that I have ever dealt with.
But apart from our guests and the few bits of hostile vegetation, I think all of us loved every minute of Assateague. At one time, the island was going to be made into a resort town; however, a colossal storm produced a flood that destroyed the work that was being done, and after that the island was left to the ponies. Now part of it is a national park, and part of it is a state park; the ponies roam wherever they like, and the habitat is preserved as well as possible.
I am infinitely glad that the island was not made into a resort town. Possibly one of my favorite times on Assateague was after all the crowds were gone, taking with them the noise and the cheerful but artificial colors of towels, beach umbrellas and sand toys. We visited the beach at dusk; the sky was filled with lovely shades of rose and jasper, and I could just barely make out the thin crescent of the new moon. As the color faded to a warm purple, stars began to appear, pricking out one by one, then two by two, and then suddenly all becoming visible as the last rays of the sun faded on the horizon. Maria and I waded in the water, which was still pleasantly warm; it rushed in and sucked the sand from under our feet, and then withdrew and deposited the sand on top so that if we stood still, we kept sinking deeper and deeper into the beach. And when we looked up—above us, in the velvet-black sky, we were able to see for the first time the Milky Way. Out in the wilderness, as it were, away from the glare of the cities, we were able to see the dense band of stars that stretched across the sky, that all the people of the world must have been able to see hundreds of years ago. Looking into the sky on Assateague, one could see the vastness and mystery of the heavens; and looking across the water, one could see the vastness, mystery and power of the sea. The beach and the sky and the ocean felt wonderfully wide and open; standing there was exhilarating, and made one feel as free as the ponies that wandered over the ridge and down along the shore.
I hope the world never runs out of places like that. In the rush and glamour of ordinary life, we often lose track of what true peace and beauty are, and how precious they are. We need places like Assateague to be able to find them again.
Eli D., a 2014 PA Brookie, recently shared with us the website he has designed and created. He is passionate about birding, and discovered that there weren’t many resources for birding in his local area. He took the initiative to fill this gap! Eli explains a bit about his website (be sure to check out his blog!):
Recently, I started a website to highlight birding and conservation in the greater York Springs region of Pennsylvania. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this region of our state, it is located between Harrisburg and Gettysburg. The York Springs area has produced such rarities as the Purple Gallinule and Sand Hill Crane, and it is also one of the best places in the state to see a Red-headed Woodpecker. Until now, there weren’t any good websites about birding in the region. WWW.yorkspringsbirding.weebly.com is now a place to find information on the best birding spots, birding tips and conservation organizations from around the York Springs region. Even if you are not from the area or plan on birding, there is useful information contained in the site helpful for any birder or nature lover. I will also be running a blog, Birders View, from the website dealing with a wide variety of topics relating to birds. Please check it out and comment.
Thanks and Good Birding,
Logan, a PA Brookies graduate and Assistant Team Leader, shares his experience with the wildlife found right in his backyard! It is amazing the variety of species that make use of his wood duck boxes.
I am lucky enough to be able to look out my window and have a nice view of our half-acre pond. We have several Wood Duck boxes that we built and maintain, and each year we have several pairs of Wood Ducks that nest and raise their young.
We also have nesting Mallards, Black Ducks, and Green Herons. This past spring we replaced an old Wood Duck box with a new one, and it seems like it has become a very popular place. In addition to the Wood Ducks, this year a hen Hooded Merganser, a Kingfisher, and a Canada Goose all decided that the top of our Wood Duck box was the place to be.
Just the other day, I came home from school to find a Screech Owl in the same box. I can’t wait to see what visits next.
This blog post is the final installment of a three part series, written by Luke, a three year veteran of the Academy, who attended PA Bucktails as a student and Assistant Team Leader and PA Drummers as an Assistant Team Leader. He was asked to write a paper about a potential career choice, and decided to explore the aspects of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer.
Throughout this experience of learning about a specific career that I find interesting and would consider to pursue in a few years after I learn the basics of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer. I learned so much about the Wildlife Conservation Officer and their efforts to help the wildlife and create an equal opportunity for all of the ethical hunters and fisherman. I think this career just would be perfect for me since I love being in the outdoors, care about conservation, and am interested in criminal justice. Ever since I was little I knew I would not be good in a desk or cubicle job because I just love the outdoors so much. I hate being stuck inside all day, I would rather be outside on the lake shore or sitting in a tree just listening to the wildlife all around me.
This job is all about the outdoors, from being in it to protecting it, this job clearly deals with the outdoors. Being a Wildlife Conservation Officer would provide me with the opportunity to teach people the information I already know and what I have learned through this research process. I love informing the public on how to be a part of conservation or talk to them about specifics on one of my favorite topics, the White-Tailed deer. My whole life changed since attending the Wildlife Leadership Academy where I talked to so many knowledgeable adults who wanted to spend time with the other teenagers that were there with me. These adults opened my eyes to what I could do to teach everyone else in the world about the passion I have for the outdoors. This is why I feel that being a Wildlife Conservation Officer would be a great career for me.
This blog post is the second of a three part series, written by Luke, a three year veteran of the Academy, who attended PA Bucktails as a student and Assistant Team Leader and PA Drummers as an Assistant Team Leader. He was asked to write a paper about a potential career choice, and decided to explore the aspects of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer.
Throughout many experiences in the outdoors and talking with quite a few professionals I have realized that I would like to become a Wildlife Conservation Officer. It is a job that I have thought to be interesting and something I could see myself doing. This job has interesting aspect about it that I just think would be so fun and enjoyable to do as an adult. Everything about being a Wildlife Conservation Officer sounds so intriguing and amazing. These men and women are somewhat overlooked and need to be recognized for their service to our wildlife and forests. The job of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer is great for someone who loves the outdoors, cares about conservation, and is interested in criminal justice.
As a Wildlife Conservation Officer, the person has to really enjoy the outdoors and being in the wilderness. The primary goal is to stop poaching or at least slow down the number of poaching kills. To begin with, if the Wildlife Conservation Officers do not try to stop the illegal activity of poaching there will be no animals for the ethical hunters who are hunting properly. Also, they regularly walk through the woods to try to find traces of a poacher and follow leads on poaching. To add, wildlife Conservation Officers work in natural parks and game preserves and they check licenses for proper usage. An example of this would be during hunting season to make sure each hunter has the proper licensing and is hunting the right species in the correct season. These police officers of the woods need to be aware because of the ever present wildlife and people. Additionally, people can be armed with a gun or knife because they just finished or are hunting. We need these men and women to protect our natural resources, so to make sure they are safe, the Wildlife Conservation Officers are issued a gun and a knife for self-protection. The Officers patrol back roads, rivers, and hiking trails. The Wildlife Conservation Officer is essentially a police officer but protects wildlife, fish, and other resources instead of just people. Undoubtedly, all of these points culminate into one main theme and that is the love and interest in the outdoors that a person needs to possess to be a Wildlife Conservation Officer.
“In order to be a Wildlife Conservation Officer,
one has to show that they care about conservation.”
The Wildlife Conservation Officer does a lot of work dealing with restoring conservation and making sure conservation rules are followed. A Wildlife Conservation Officer checks fishing licenses so that lakes and rivers do not get overfished. These men and women work with the community and visit schools to talk about endangered species. It is recommended to take biology or wildlife conservation in college to understand some laws and tactics of conservation.
A Wildlife Conservation Officer also deals with a lot of criminal justice so to be one a person would have to be interested in criminal justice. This career again is basically a police officer but with some differences. As a Wildlife Conservation Officer someone would track down illegal importations and exportations of federally protected fish and wildlife. Also someone would arrest or ticket illegal hunters or fisherman for hunting out of season or the illegal taking of fish or game out of season. There are also forensic investigations conducted in the case of a murder or a poaching kill. The uniform of a Wildlife Conservation Officer looks similar to that of a police officer just a different color. Just like a police officer, a WCO wears a uniform with badges and patches. Another parallel is that as a Wildlife Conservation Officer someone would carry a gun and a knife for protection from angry individuals and charging wildlife. A WCO also drives issued trucks, atv’s, or even fly a helicopter if needed for a search or patrolling. Obviously, criminal justice is a big part of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer so you have to want to be in the criminal justice field.
In conclusion, the job of being a Wildlife Conservation Officer is great for someone who loves the outdoors, cares about conservation, and is interested in criminal justice. Being a Wildlife Conservation Officer is a job that revolves around conservation and the outdoors. In a sense these men and women are put in this position so that all outdoorsmen and women and the public can enjoy the wildlife and fish that inhabit our country. These people are the only protection the animals have, so the job really is great for our ecosystem so that it can function properly. These dedicated men and women make hunters and fisherman ethically hunt and fish so there is opportunity for all.