Chincoteague Out & About Dec. 20 – Jan. 1

By Evelyn ShotwellChincoteague Chamber of Commerce

December   20: Santa visits the North End of the Island in a Chincoteague Fire Truck.  Church St. is the dividing line.

December 21 & 22: Mar-Va Theater presents “Miracle on 34th   Street” at 7 p.m. Visit

December 24: Christmas Eve
–candlelight services at most area churches.   For a listing, visit  December 25: Christmas Day! Enjoy family and friends!

December 31: Pony Island Horseshoe Drop & Costume Promenade beginning   at 10 p.m. in the Robert Reed Downtown Park. Horseshoe drop at midnight!   Theme: Cowboys & Aliens!! Details at 

December 31:New Year’s Eve Concert at the Island Theater
featuring Flatfoot   Sam and the Educated Fools and Chaz Depaolo from 8-11:30 p.m.   sponsored by Chincoteague Island Arts Organization. For info, call 757-336-5825.   Tickets at Sundial Books or H&H Pharmacy.

December 31: Celebrate with the Mar-Va Theater Surf ‘n Turf Dinner/Auction   at the Pocomoke Elks Lodge. For details, call Diane at 410-957-1351.   

January 1, 2013: Polar Pony Plunge at 1:13 p.m. Be the first on the   first……meet us in the Atlantic Ocean….look for the pony! Visit   for entry form.


What’s Up With You??????Send brief news about your   business to 
 Four Seasons Florist has fresh mistletoe at 4405 Deep Hole        Road! Be sure you get plenty of kisses this Christmas season! Place holiday orders in the shop or online at

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge        Manager Lou Hinds reported in an interview with Wild Pony Tales that  cleanup from Hurricane Sandy is continuing. One of the three  Comprehensive Plan options will be announced in January. For the full      story, go to



Storms Raise Everyone’s Eyebrows as They Look to Future of the Islands

Sandy ‘A Storm of Two Faces’

By Zack Hoverson and Robert Boswell

As management at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island looks ahead to the upcoming release in January of its choice of a conservation plan, it again takes into account the wide impact of storms in recent history.

Chosen from three plans that have all drawn strong criticism from the Town of Chincoteague and the business community, the preference of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will spell out the direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years, in particular access to the widely used white sand Atlantic Ocean beach.

Lou Hinds, Refuge manager, in an interview with Wild Pony Tales last week, was not about to indicate which plan he favors. He was more focused on the work his staff is doing to clean up from the latest hurricane and make the Refuge safe for visitors. Each year some 1.4 million visitors come to the Island which  consists of more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh and maritime forest. The Island is also home to the famous Chincoteague wild ponies that live in two fenced in areas, although since Hurricane Sandy some are still running loose.

Last month Sandy  toppled many trees including the one on the Wildlife Loop where the live eagle camera was mounted. The images from that camera had become a favorite with Refuge visitors who could record their feelings in a journal after the thrill of watching an eagle mom feed its newborn hatchlings.

Sandy also caused extensive road damage and, like the other big wash-over storms, all but destroyed the recreational beach parking lots, although the ocean has returned much of the sand to the beach itself which will be wide and sparkling as ever to beachgoers this coming summer.

But it will take another $800,000 to restore beach parking back to the 961 parking spaces. The money has again been requested from federal highway funds and if approved, work will begin in March. Ish Ennis, chief of maintenance for the National Park Service in Assateague, which has responsibility for the mile-long recreational beach, said it would take 60 to 90 days to complete. Parking for about 50 cars has already been restored.

There have been three major storms in the past four years including the 2009 November nor’easter as well as Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy last month. The refuge management has learned to cope with these storms, starting well ahead of time to remove beach structures, pick up trash cans and secure anything that might blow around. Mr. Hinds, said, “With the frequency of storms, staff members have become used to packing up their offices and relocating to the Marine Science Consortium on Wallops Island.” That is where they went before Sandy hit and remained there until Wednesday when things had calmed down.  Before reentering the Refuge, Mr. Hinds and the team of 30 who accompanied him had been kept abreast of conditions by two employees and families who live and stayed on Assateague Island during Sandy.

Sandy had a wide and diverse impact on the Refuge. With their nest on the ground, the Bald Eagles have chosen a new tree near the old one and are already rebuilding, although Mr. Hinds wishes they would find another location. He is not sure the new tree could stand much wind. “To put a camera in the nest without disturbing the eagles is quite an undertaking, according to Michael Dixon, manager of visitor services. He and Mr. Hinds agreed it is probably too late to remount the camera this year. The cameras have just been recovered.

Mr. Hinds said that after taking a helicopter tour of the damage over the refuge he felt that the northern part of Assateague Island did not have as much tree damage as the south end due to Chincoteague Island protecting Assateague. Another observation made by Mr. Hinds was that Irene and Sandy both created breaches in the beach into Swan Cove Pool which helped drain the flooding created by both storms. This did not happen in the 2009 nor’easter and the refuge remained flooded much longer.

With him on the helicopter tour were Chincoteague Mayor Jack Tarr, and Trish Kicklighter, superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore. “My biggest surprise,” said Mr. Hinds, “was that most of the damage, 95 percent of it, was on the south end of the Island. As we flew further north there was not the same amount of damage, not as many trees down.” As Mr. Hinds called Hurricane Sandy “a storm of two faces,” he said that the winds coming from the North-East, which caused the storm surge flooding of the impoundments was one face, the other being the very strong winds from the South West which caused severe damage to Beach Road. As the winds came, northwest Chincoteague Island took the brunt of them, weakening the winds as they hit the western shore of Assateague Island.

Mr. Hinds said a strong storm surge filled Refuge impoundments and the water was high enough to wash across Beach Road, eroding a lot of roadway. In the helicopter, Mr. Hinds said while they did not find more trees down to the north, they could see how badly the town of Chincoteague was flooded. The mayor banned non-emergency vehicles from Chincoteague streets during most of the storm. Mr. Hinds said despite the heavy damage, there is nothing to cause any changes to the Comprehensive Conservation Plan, known as the CCP.

“The CCP is a 15 year plan that is a framework from which other plans are made,” he said. He said the plan influences what is put into pony management, hunt and other plans.” One change that has recently developed, Mr. Hinds said, is a need to reduce the populations of Canada and Snow Geese. “This will be something to address in the new hunt plan after the CCP is completed. There may be limited goose hunting allowed on Assateague Island.”

As these storms become more and more frequent, hurricane Sandy being the most recent, it forces the refuge management to look at considerations on how to reduce the damage done to not only the Refuge but also to the recreational beach which will be addressed in the CCP.

One of lessons already learned by the Refuge management concerning the beach was that the old dune system was not as beneficial as previously thought. As Mr. Hinds explained,  “Some islands will support dunes and others don’t due to their unique geological features.” He also said the dunes were very expensive to maintain.

An unintended result of the dunes, he said, was the disruption of the over wash which would have built a new island to the west. Instead it extended Tom’s Cove Hook on the southern tip of Assateague.  As a result, the elimination of the dune system has allowed the natural cycle of things to take place, with the Island moving westward from approximately Swan Cove bike trail.

A common request Mr. Hinds hears is to install a snow fence on the recreational beach. “If the request were to install it for wildlife, we might consider it. But when people say to me putting a snow fence along the section would protect the town of Chincoteague then I have to ask myself, are we taking on a whole new aspect to the CCP that’s not part of the refuge purposes.”

The CCP has three options as how to address storm problems and they are labeled A, B, and C. The option of A is to proceed as the status quo and not change management plans. Option B is a balanced approach which calls for the integration of public use and access with species protection and habitat management. It also, calls for the relocation of the recreational beach and all 961 parking spaces 1.5 miles north of their current location where beach erosion and storm damage is not as much of a constant threat.

The C Alternative, labeled as the reduced disturbance option, focus on maximizing the habitat and wildlife management strategies and reduction of public access and of the recreational beach which would still be relocated 1.5 miles north but with only 480 parking spaces. In both options B and C the option of purchasing off-refuge parking would not be pursued.

Mr. Hinds said he hopes when the preferred option of the Refuge is released to the public in January that they will “look objectively at it.” Said Mr. Hinds, “This is a 15 to 20 year plan. We have to look at climate change, sea level rise and the constant damage during these major storm events.”

Mr. Hinds said the selected plan will be released first to the public, giving people time to digest it. Then a public meeting will be held.

The National Park Service manages the recreational beach and also, has input in developing the CCP. The CCP will then after release and public input is taken into consideration be revised and released at a later date. What remains to be seen is how the community will react and what input citizens will have to preserve their businesses and community.

For more information go to

For more information and videos on the eagle’s nest go to: /archives/1754

The Ever Changing Coast a Photographer’s Palette

By Zackrey Hoverson

Using side lighting of the Sun and getting low techniques addressed by Nikhil Bahl enhance this photograph of a Great Blue Heron. (Photo By Zackrey Hoverson for Wild Pony Tales).

Nikhil Bahl, a nature photographer, presented what Assateague as a barrier island can offer  photographers. He encouraged those with cameras to look for simple photographs, and not include too much in their pictures. Nikhil spoke to an audience in the auditorium on Assateague Wildlife Refuge during Waterfowl Week, November 23.

Nikhil is a professional nature photographer, educator, author, lecturer and workshop instructor. He currently resides in Montgomery Village, Maryland. His work has led him to volunteer his time and photography skills with the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Many people don’t realize Assateague is a barrier island and what comes with that is taking the brunt of storms and changes as the years go by, protecting the mainland from storm surges, erosion, and other weather impacts. Those who have visited Assateague Island over the years have seen the elimination of the dunes that used to be on the beach and the shifting of the beach southward to Toms Cove Hook.

Patience and waiting allowed this behavioral photo of a Great Egret to be captured. (Photo by Zackrey Hoverson)

Nikhil Bahl, like many others, is fond of taking photographs along the Assateague Beach at either sunrise or sunset. A favorite subject  are the dune grasses which are not as common as they once were. The water on Assateague can be photographed many different ways, but Nikhil prefers to take the abstract approach and leave more to interpretation instead of just the obvious straightforward approach. “Photographers,”  he said, “tend to include too much in a picture and that simple photographs can be just as intriguing, for example just a seashell on the beach can be an interesting photograph.”

As Nikhil pointed out, Hurricane Sandy has offered photographers a unique opportunity to capture the damage on the beach and how it heals itself over time. The sight of stumps of what used to be shrubs now seen in the water is just one example of the changes that a photographer can capture on Assateague Beach.

Nikhil describes Assateague Island as a barrier island “that is an island on the move as it is ever changing.” The walkway to the Tom’s Cove Visitors Center from the beach, for example, has been partially covered by sand from Hurricane Sandy. Another opportunity of barrier islands  is capturing fresh seashells in photographs right after a storm has washed them up.

Using longer exposures and back lighting this photo of a Great Blue Heron is given a more abstract and artistic feel. (Photo By Zackrey Hoverson)


Assateague Island is along the Atlantic Bird Migration Flyway, which offers photographers a diverse selection of birds to photograph. Nikhil advises that when photographing birds patience is required. Sometimes, he said, he has spent over an hour photographing a flock of birds. Also, Nikhil encourages photographers to explore different angles and perspectives from which to photograph various subjects.

The changing coast can offer different numbers of birds from year to year. In recent years there have been fewer snow geese seen at Assateague. Nikhil recalls one time there being so many willets on the beach that when one pulled up a mole crab other willets would fight to steal it. “This was fun to photograph,” he said. Nikhil also explains that using backlighting on the beach is great to capture silhouettes.

Backlighting on this Great Blue Heron has created a silhouette of the bird enhancing the photo. (Photo By Zackrey Hoverson)

Capturing downed trees that once housed Bald Eagle’s nests and watching as animals adapt and overcome the changes are one of the most unique and amazing things to capture on Assateague Island, said Nikhil.

For more of Nikhil’s work and information go to:


Mother Nature Needed Lots of Help with Colt Named Lucky

By Robert Boswell

Publisher, Wild Pony Tales

Updated August 30, 2012 

Editor’s Update: Lucky, who will be four months old September 3, has found a new home at The Refuge Inn, in the corral between the Inn and McDonalds. “He does not like to socialize with the other ponies and seems to stay off to himself,” says Donna Leonard. “Maybe if we put a tractor in the pasture he would hang out with that, he loved all the farm equipment while at the Chincoteague Pony Farm.” Donna says when she goes out to the pasture and calls his name, he lets out a whinny and comes running. “Many visitors have fallen in love with him,” Donna said. Right now the Leonard’s plan is to have him live at The Refuge Inn.

Originally post June 7, 2012

No one may know how many foals have been born since Donald Leonard moved his pony business to the far end of Chincoteague Island in 1962. But it is doubtful that any one of them came into the world under more traumatic circumstances than the one named Lucky delivered by Arthur, Mr. Leonard’s youngest son, as the foal’s mom lay dying. It is a story that will reach into the hearts of pony owners and pony lovers everywhere.

Donald Leonard passed away in 2010 at age 84. His four children, Carlton, Jane, Donna and Arthur live on the property now where the ponies run loose and Big Oyster Bay is a few steps out the front doors of their homes.

“One thing Dad gave us was his love for Chincoteague ponies,” remembers Arthur. “They are a special breed. They are all different, all special in their own way. Some of them will get in your trash and all of them will eat your flowers.”

The senior Mr. Leonard would be more than pleased to know how Arthur and the rest of his children and grandchildren pulled together to save one of their foals twice from near death. As Arthur tells it, most of the time when their mares are ready to foal they let mother nature take its course. “But when we came up (to the stall area) in the morning Lucky’s mom was in distress,” said Arthur.

The only person present other than Arthur was Sharlene, his older brother Carlton’s wife. “You could tell something was wrong with the mare,” said Arthur. “You can tell when they are stressed. Usually they are up, they are down, turning, looking at their belly, always doing something. She wasn’t doing any of that.

“She was laying down, jaws clinched, legs out rigid and not in the normal birthing process. “There was no sign of Lucky yet,” said Arthur, “but around lunch time there was a little bit of a sign that he was on his way. But he was stuck. One leg was out but every time she had a contraction it would impact so I actually had to reach up in there and finagle things.” Continued Arthur, “I pulled him out once..but he went back in, his mother was in such bad shape.”

Arthur said he didn’t want to do anything wrong. The mare had been in labor for awhile, the foal was all bunched up in the birth canal. “I had a limited window of opportunity,” he said. “When I was able to get hold of his front legs I saw his muzzle and pulled him rest of the way out. He wasn’t breathing.” Arthur then took the umbilical sack from around the newborn’s nose and put him on a blanket. “I rubbed him and that got him going, he started breathing.”

A call was placed to their vet at Eastern Shore Animal Hospital. With Lucky on the blanket taking his first breaths, Arthur still had more to do. With the mare taking her last breaths, Arthur began milking her to get the all- important colostrum that a newborn foal must have. Colostrum is produced by the mammary gland of a mother prior to the production of milk. Only colostrum collected in the first milking has the nutrients and antibodies that a newborn requires. To a newborn foal, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Before Arthur could finish the milking process Wolffie, the mom, died. But Arthur continued milking her, getting the colostrum Lucky would need to survive. “We couldn’t help her but we could help him,” said Arthur.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s sister Donna took off on a shopping trip to Tractor Supply Co. in Pocomoke. On her list, formula, bottles, nipples, bowls and a bucket.

After the vet arrived, using an IV they gave Lucky nutritional supplements and then tried to introduce him to another nursing mare. “It worked at first,” said Arthur, “but three days later Lucky was near death. He couldn’t stand, his equilibrium was off.” So the vet was called again and came and filled him with liquids. Then he drank his milk too fast.”

At that point it was clear Lucky would need 24 hour care. At first members of the family took shifts feeding Lucky with a bottle, which they later learned could not be held too high. Then they used their fingers to get the formula into Lucky’s lips. Finally they tried dipping the nipple in a bowl of formula and moving it to the foal’s mouth. “This worked better than fingers,” said Donna.

After nearly two weeks the Leonards realized they needed help and posted a call for volunteers on Facebook. Several people came forward including some members of the Buyback Babes, the group of women who closely follow the Chincoteague wild ponies.

All through the first days and nights of Lucky’s care, the Leonards and volunteers kept a journal. Everything going in and coming out was recorded, not unlike in a hospital.

“…3:30 a.m. drank 8 ounces, 4:30 no go. At 12:30 p.m. no more sedation needed for Sassy. Sassy was the mare they first tried to nurse Lucky. She liked peppermint, so they got her some to encourage her cooperation.

“…Sassy’s colt walking all around…put Lucky in opposite stall to pick up smell of mare…at 3:30…no sedation…Sassy kicked him once but let him nurse…

…at 6:00 maybe ok…drank twice as much at 7:45…standing up…put lead on Sassy, …Lucky drank easily…Sassy not happy, eventually he nursed.

But by 2:30 that Saturday Lucky sat listless and couldn’t get up.

“…sat in Arthur’s lap…Dr. Nuno came and gave 1500 ccs IV fluid…drank 6 ounces of milk…belly swelled up…shaking all over…wrapped him in blankets…

But, little by little, Lucky improved. A later journal entry: “… running in stall like a different horse…no more Sassy, (the mare filling in for the mom who had died)…Art stayed all night…”

Aunt Donna, as she was known to Lucky and others, discovered that the colt liked to chew on paper, magazines, bags, his journal and even the reporter’s notebook while Arthur was being interviewed for this story.

Two weeks after Arthur’s frantic moments bring him into the world Lucky learned to drink his milk formula on his own. Donna showed how they dipped the nipple used on the bottle into the bowl and brought it up to Luck’s lips. Step by step, he got the hang of it and has been drinking from a bowl ever since.

Lucky had lots of care from Arthur’s wife, Mary Ester. “She is an intensive care nurse,” said Donna, “and while he was on Iv’s, she was his full time medical assistant.” Said Donna, “Mary Ester was the one who taught Lucky how to drink from the basin and got him off the bottle.”

Arthur said that by three weeks, since being on an antibiotic, Lucky’s condition was a lot better. “He’s got a veracious appetite. Most of time he’ll meet you at the door wanting to eat, although he had to be awakened on this day to get his picture taken.” exclaimed Arthur.

Arthur said they were all appreciative of the volunteers who helped Lucky. “We could not have done it without them,” he said, “or at least not without some completely worn out Leonard family members. An orphan foal, needing constant watching doesn’t fit into a regular work and home schedule.”

The three younger Leonards own and operate the Refuge Inn next to McDonald’s, and the oldest, Carlton, runs Island Cruises and the Sandbar Shuttle. Carlton also does most of the horse management at the Leonard’s Chincoteague Pony Farm.

Also helping Lucky make it through those first harrowing weeks were other members of the Leonard family, Dr. Glenn Wolffe and Jane Wolffe, Arthur’s sons, Hunter and Ayden and Chris Hamberger who works on the farm.

While he has been around the ponies all his life, Arthur said he never had an experience like he did with Lucky. “I helped deliver a foal once from a small mare, but it was nothing like this.”

So what’s Lucky’s future? Will he be kept with the Leonard herd or sold? “We don’t know yet,” said Arthur. “We all will have to get together and see. I would like to see him go to a therapy group that works with children.”

This summer Lucky was moved to the corral between McDonalds and the Refuge Inn where he became a star, his presence and his story promoted by a poster Donna printed and put on every fence post. “He is learning to work that fence,” said Donna, and getting lots of attention.”


4,000 Early Spectators Cheer Ponies on Beach

By Robert Boswell

Dawn was just breaking over the Atlantic Ocean on Assateague Beach on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Yet up to 4,000 people were up and waiting as the waves lapped the sand on this warm morning near the end of July. It was not your usual beach crowd. Not as many towels, sand buckets, chairs or umbrellas. 

But it wasn’t the water and sand that brought so many to the beach this Monday morning, July 23. It was the arrival of the northern herd of the famous Chincoteague wild ponies.

The equally famous Salt Water Cowboys had been up and riding long before the crowd settled in along the waterfront. They had opened the gate to the northern corral, home overnight to about 100 ponies and foals. As the ponies came out they were surrounded by the Cowboys in a formation that would prevent ponies from escaping as they were marched along toward the beach.

Once at the beach the escort party turned south and headed to the waiting crowd near the traffic circle at Assateague Beach. In a little while the people who had left their motel rooms or driven to the Island that morning were not disappointed. They cheered as the whole entourage came into view, many getting a first look at the ponies that were made famous by Marguerite Henry in her best seller, “Misty of Chincoteague.” More than any other story, her book and the later movie had brought people to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands from across the country. Thanks to Ms. Henry the Chincoteague ponies had become a national treasure, mystical to many and legendary to others.

Now, here they were, passing right in front of starry eyes of children and parents.

It didn’t take long. The whole formation went by in 10 minutes. The foals didn’t know it but, except for a few, they were leaving Assateague Island forever. Their time of roaming free as they had in recent months was over.

Once the formation reached Beach Road it turned west, passing more cheering people lining the roadway, and headed to the big corral on Beach Road where they joined the southern herd, putting every pony on Assateague into a single corral. Many of the spectators followed, crowding around the fence, trying to see the ponies and sometimes witnessing a disagreement between stallions who were used to having their own bands of mares in the wild.

In the corral the ponies got water and hay and also got to rest before their big day on Wednesday.

On Wednesday they would become the star attraction, swimming across Assateague Channel with up to 40,000 fans looking on. They would wind up that day in the corral at the Chincoteague Carnival Grounds to await the famous auction on Thursday. The auction would bring in money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company that owns the ponies.