John's Journal...

Taking Great Waterfowl Pictures and Viewing Wildlife in their Habitat with Jeff Coats

Protect the Wild Horses

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Jeff Coats of Bel Air, Maryland, is a fantastic waterfowl hunter who guides hunters to sea ducks on the eastern shore of Maryland. But he also is an even-better waterfowl photographer. Here are some tips from Coats on how to take great waterfowl and wildlife photos.

Assateague Island’s wild horses are well known, even to many people who never have been to the island. According to the National Park Service, the wild horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they’re descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Horses tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant mosquitoes, stormy weather and poor quality food found on this remote, windswept barrier island have formed a unique Click to enlargewild-horse society. By enjoying their beauty from a distance, you can help make sure these extraordinary wild horses continue to thrive on Assateague Island. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast. While this dramatic tale of struggle and survival is popular, there are no records yet that confirm it. The most-plausible explanation is that they’re the descendants of horses brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

The horses are split into two main herds – one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of Assateague. They’re separated by a fence at the Virginia/Maryland state line. These herds have divided themselves into bands of two to 12 animals and each band occupies a home range. The National Park Service manages the Maryland herd. The ChClick to enlargeincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns and manages the Virginia herd, which is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge through a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The permit restricts the size of the herd to approximately 150-adult animals to protect the other natural resources of the wildlife refuge. The Virginia herd is often referred to as the Chincoteague ponies. Many visitors first learn about the Assateague horses from Marguerite Henry’s famous book, “Misty of Chincoteague,” a story that takes place during a traditional Chincoteague festival called “Pony Penning.” On the last Wednesday of July, the Virginia herd of horses is rounded up and swam from Assateague Island to nearby Chincoteage Island. On the following day, most of the young foals are auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.

Assateague’s horses are beautiful, tough and wild. They’ve learned to survive in a harsh eClick to enlargenvironment. Feeding and/or petting them is detrimental to both visitors and horses. Horses can become sick from eating human food. Those horses that learn to come up to the road to beg for food are often hit and killed by cars. Visitors are kicked, bitten and knocked-down every year as a direct result of getting too close to the wild horses. Treating wild horses like tame animals takes away the wildness that makes them special. Protect your family by respecting theirs. Give the horses the space they need to be wild. There are very-few places in the United States where you can view wild horses. Due to their complex social structure, the Assateague horses display a wide range of unique behaviors. Take advantage of the opportunity to view these horses in a natural habitat. With careful management, the wild horses will continue to thrive on Assateague Island and provide enjoyment to thousands of nature enthusiasts, photographers and people who just love horses. You can photograph these wild horses with Jeff Coats.

To contact Jeff Coats about his photography, write to 1522 Southview Road, Bel Air, MD 21015, or call (410) 937-4034, or email, or visit or

Check back each day this week for more about "Taking Great Waterfowl Pictures and Viewing Wildlife in their Habitat with Jeff Coats" "

Day 1: Learn to take Great Waterfowl Photos
Day 2: How to Set Up for Wildlife Pictures
Day 3: Taking Unique Shots
Day 4: The Exotic Sika Deer of Maryland
Day 5: Protect the Wild Horses


Entry 446, Day 5