By Misty Thornton
Co-Editor, Wild Pony Tales
On an hot early morning on Assateague Island, VA, bird-lovers, park rangers and visitors gathered to enjoy a day full of family learning as well as some games and entertaining exhibits.
As we crossed the Assateague Channel Bridge to the beautiful island of Assateague, the air was moist and the sun was hot, but nothing was going to stop the excitement that was fluttering in the hearts of children and their parents. At the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge parking lots were filling up fast as people from all around came to enjoy themselves at the International Migratory Bird Day Festival.
Tee shirts and carving lessons were available just ouside the refuge information center, along with hotdogs and bottles of water.
Walking through the first set of doors to the information center four exhibits lined the lobby’s walls. Carver Bill Cowen had on display about 20 of his best power carved birds of all shapes and sizes from an arrangement of owls to a bright red cardinal.
Mr. Cowen said one of his birds made second best in the world at a competition. As a carving teacher of about 30 years he said, “I love carving. It’s just something you can sit back, relax, and not even think about it. It’s like everything around you disappears and only you and your carvings are left.” Mr. Cowen has a place on the island but mainly lives in New Jersey with his family and his business.
Then, there was an assortment of birds, ducks, and fish carvings on the next table done by Ed Kuhn of Onancock, VA., and there was also an exhibit that had photographs of birds, sunsets and wildlife taken by Robert Wilson.
The next exhibit was by Donnie Thornton. His had bird feathers with hand painted fine art on the front. He’s lived on the island all his life and painting feathers is just what comes natural. He’s been painting island houses, ponies, birds and plants on feathers for 17 years now. “When I’m not painting, I’m playing with my horse, Nugget,” said Mr. Thornton.
Inside the information center there was plenty more for visitors to experience. The conference room was the place for children. There was face painting, woodcarving for kids, experts to talk about birds and fuzzy, live birds that would later get center stage in the Scales and Tales program in the auditorium.
Coming out of the conference room and back into the main center, were two main exhibits. Residents Wayne and JeanBonde had on exhibit a large variety of duck stamps representing each year since 1934.
“The migratory bird stamps have been around since the first one in 1934. We decided to collect them which meant we had to go back and get all the other stamps in the series that we didn’t have from 1934 until 1977, ” said Ms. Bonde. “We went to stamp shows trying to find as inexpensive used ones as we could fine. It took us a while, maybe about 20 years.”
In the meantime, in 1977, they started buying a migratory bird stamp each year which keeps them up to date. The older used stamps, 1934 up to 1977, are all signed by the hunters using them. “It is a requirement,” explained Mr. Bonde, “if you are going to hunt waterfowl, that you have one of the migratory bird stamps signed by you in your possession for that year. From 1977 on, all the migratory bird stamps I have are unsigned.
Right now a migratory bird stamp costs $15. “They can also be used to gain entrances onto refuges and state parks,” said Mr. Bonde.
Further along in the information center was an artist, Jenny Somers, who had hand painted over 50 pictures. She lives on Chincoteague. “Every moment of free time I have I’m usually painting the scenery and the world around me. What a better place to do that then right outside of my home.”
There were exhibits of photographs and more paintings. One thing that attracted the most attention wasn’t an exhibit at all. It was the live eagle cam which brings the eagles and on that day just-born eaglets right onto a TV screen in the information center. The actual nest is high in the pines just off the Wildlife Loop. With visitors and Wild Pony Tales cameras looking on the first of two eggs hatched right before our eyes. Visitors were overjoyed to see the mother caring for her baby. The two eggs were special to the refuge staff because the first three eggs had been destroyed in a wind storm. (See separate story on the site.)
When the excitement died down it was time for the Scales and Tales presentation where Erica Mcgrath and Samantha Ford from the Conservation Corp. in Maryland gave detailed information on their animals they brought with them from Pocomoke River State Park. Their animals all have been wounded at some point in their life and have been taken under the park’s wing. The animals included from owls, turtles, falcons and even an Eastern King Snake. (See a separate story.)
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the National Park Service both hold events and programs for families and children throughout the summer.