It's not all about the
beach. Sure, we go to Chincoteague, well, Assateague (to be exact) to frolic in the waves, sink into the sand with a good book and build super-deluxe beach castles. However, we also go to discover (and re-discover) the swath of land between the Assateague Channel and the ocean.
It teems with wildlife of every sort. Assateague and Chincoteague may be famous for the wild ponies that live in the marshy woods, but that is hardly the only draw. Birders flock to the island to catch a glimpses of herons, egrets, and piping plovers (among others) and will no doubt see more gulls (laughing and sea) than may be desired. Those who have more of an interest in earthbound marsh creatures can find a plethora of crabs, shells (and the animals that dwell within), and fish.
On Wednesday (1 July, I am a bit behind...) we opted for a less structured non-beach day. While in Chincoteague last summer, we finally stopped by a little creek that had garnered our interest over time. We had noticed cars by the side of the Beach Access Road, just yards from the beach. We were never entirely sure what folks were doing, but were too busy at the visitor centers, the pony center and the beach. Many folks tend to crab near the bridge, so we assumed perhaps this was a different venture. In fact, we were quite correct in our original assumption.
The girls wanted to try and crab, not so much to catch an edible treat (no place to steam) but just to try and get a bit closer to the little guys (or gals) in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, we had neither a proper net nor any bait to tempt those that tend to live just a bit too far from shore to be caught even with a long net. This year we were a tiny bit more prepared.
We had stopped at Woody's for lunch, and Kelsey was not quite as hungry as her normal self. She opted to save her sandwich as a treat for the crabs. Not a chicken neck, but hopefully would do the trick (mind you, as if we knew how the meat would get out to the crabs...). We also picked up a two long-handled nets and then headed to the creek.
We pulled over on the gravelly shoulder, gathered our meager crabbing supplies and headed down to the creek that eventually flowed into the ocean. We were lucky to find another family, experienced at crabbing (to say the least), well- involved in a search for the elusive creatures. They had string, bait, nets, and coolers, and were clearly in not only for the long haul, but possibly also for dinner. We observed them carefully as they loaded up their hooks with glistening, raw chicken necks, tied their strings to sticks rooted in the mud and gently tossed them as far as possible into the water. Our kids were (not surprisingly) suddenly incredibly jealous of their careful system...how could they possibly find even one tiny crab by tossing cold pulled pork into the water?
The answer presented itself quickly as I scanned the shore that bumped into the the rapidly rising path to the road: trash. Sadly, previous visitors felt no issue with dumping everything from obvious recyclables to leftover crabbing tools. I started a pile of garbage to be removed when we left and and looked at Peter as I picked up a clump of string. He looked at my hand, inspected the contents and instantly understood my idea. He then ran to the car to find an old bungee cord for disassembling. Five minutes later we had a line (pulled from the trash), a hook (old bungee clip) and bait (yep, the pork). Not thinking it would work and realizing Nicholas seemed to want to explore more, we crossed the street to another more solitary part of the marsh.
Selfishly, I had also been tempted by a great egret (hope I pegged that one correctly, Jack & Janet!) that had landed on the lower part of the bridge. He remained for a few photos and only flew away when I inched just a bit too close for his comfort. I thought with my newfound stealth skills, perhaps Little Guy and I could catch a photo or two of other elusive island dwellers for the memory book.
We tiptoed across the mud, and I caught a quick glance of a tiny animal slipping into a perfectly circular hole in the mud. It was a fiddler crab, a first for Nicholas. Even bettter? When two popped out at the same time to dance around on the sand in unison, pausing only when we caused slight tremors with our footsteps.
We continued along, moving further away from the road and in a southerly direction towards the water. We thought perhaps we might catch sight of a pony, but instead found a plethora of fiddler crab homes. We caught sight of two more, but sadly I still have but a weak point and shoot that couldn't capture them quickly enough.
Realizing that quite a bit of time had passed since our departure, we crept quietly up to the road and back down the path to the creek. To our astonishment, each of the girls had managed to tempt in a Maryland blue crab. Kelsey's disappeared before Peter could wrangle it with the net, but had successfully pulled in Cait's. Cait realized, as you will see in the video (now here, see below!), that she really had no plan beyond the attempt.
She had carefully put him in a bucket with marsh mud and plenty of water. The crab buried himself and after several more unsuccessful attempts on Kelsey's part, we were out of bait. We tumped the crab out onto the ground, snapped a few photos of Cait's catch and watched the little blue creature skittered into the creek.
Finished for the day, we, too, scurried home to our hotel with three tired and sandy, but very triumphant explorers.