Wild Ponies. These two simple words conjure up all kinds of thoughts that can run wild in our imaginations. Ponies running wild and free!
Assateague Island is the home of several hundred wild ponies. I had the opportunity to photograph them this past January. I was first in Chincoteague where I enjoy bird photograph. Oh a few mammals do appear from time to time, but the ponies are usually seen from a distance at Chincoteague. At Assateague, on the other hand, these ponies can come right up to you and literally be an arm-length away!
This particular pony warmed up to me right away and approached me. The rules forbid petting or feeding the ponies, but I will confess it was tempting! I refrained from physically befriending this cute little pony but then he followed me as I was walking down the path to photograph another pony. I guess you could say he tugged at my heartstrings!
These wild ponies display a variety of colors. This one is a paint–a reference to how it looks like God just used different colors of paint when creating these wonderful creatures! This pony was not as quite as bold as the first one, but it did warm up to me after a little time. Trust is not always easy for wild animals, which is why we photographers and wildlife viewers need to respect these animals and never give them a reason to distrust us. We have a big responsibility here and when we heed these high standards we not only get the opportunity to view or photograph these animals again, but we also allow future generations to do the same!
Interestingly, there are some small fresh water ponds on the island. They fill up with rainwater and provide drink for the ponies. They eat on the local grasses, which you can see hanging out of this pony’s mouth.
If you get a chance to visit Assateague, I highly recommend it. I know I will be going back again sometime soon myself. I just cannot get enough of these beautiful wild ponies!
Last month I was in Chincoteague, Virginia for some bird photography. I just love this place! There are lots of different species here and there are plenty of places to photograph them. I was a little rusty out of the gate the first morning and missed some nice birds. Patience and persistence paid off, however, and before long I found myself back in the swing of wildlife photography. I spent two days at Chincoteague and then spent part of a day in Assateague, hoping to get some wild pony photos. I did, but I was also surprised to see this lone Blue Heron fishing not far from the road. This was surprising to me because usually I see few birds at Assateague. This guy didn’t seem to mind me watching him trying to catch dinner.
It was mostly quiet–no cars, just a whole lot of wind! Still, this bird didn’t mind. With a hungry belly to feed it kept watching, waiting, stalking, and attacking the small fish in the vicinity. It was amazing to watch. The more time I spent observing and photographing this bird, the more I could anticipate when it would thrust its beak into the water after a fish. This watchful preparation helped enormously. Then with the jerk of its neck and a splash of water, the beak penetrated the water to snag some dinner. Amazing to watch and wonderful to photograph!
“Working the subject,” (which isn’t a phrase I actually like to use because how can this be work?) I saw more and more detail with each fish caught. Sometimes the little fish was caught well and it was a simple task for the bird to flip the fish from its beak into its throat. Other times, however, it was not a simple task. The fish was flopping dramatically and the bird had to figure a careful way not to lose this delicious bite. Catching the fish was only part of the process. Eating it could be a completely different matter.
Then there were those times when my camera and the eating bird seemed to sync together. I somehow managed to click the shutter release at just the right moment and everything was just perfect. The heron got its dinner and my camera captured the phenomenal moment! Isn’t it just great when everything comes together at dinner time?
Petting the ponies at Assateague is illegal. This pony either wasn’t aware of the rule or didn’t care and wanted to test it! Not only did this pony come right up to me, just inches away, but it followed me down the trail as I walked away after photographing it. Animals are truly amazing and sometimes they just tug at my heart! This one certainly did.
This particular day was extremely windy and overcast, which made for some very nice lighting. I appreciated these conditions since it 12:46pm, one of the worst times for photography. This just goes to show that you never know what might be possible at any time.
I often see the ponies at both Chincoteague and Assateague, but always have many more photo ops at Assateague. These truly are amazing animals and I can’t wait to be there to photograph them again!