Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a marshy, partially wooded barrier island off the coast of Virginia and Maryland, with the southern portion being part of VA and the northern part MD. There are three distinct ecosystems: Woodlands, Beaches, and Swamp Marshes.
They also have a nifty lighthouse (174 steps, whew!)
This place is often described as a well-kept secret, habituated only by locals and Virginia residents, but you may have seen the book Misty of Chincoteague in the elementary school library like I did when I was a child. The book was about a wild pony who grew up on the island, captured in the annual roundup and subsequently sold at auction (It’s a masterpiece of anthropomorphous fiction, i.e. Misty is happy in captivity in the end.) While the animals’ lives and imagined feelings are romanticized, the story’s events are pretty accurate, based on what we learned while visiting there. There are approximately 150 wild ponies on Assateague Island (not Chincoteague Island, which is heavily developed.) The Chincoteague Island Volunteer Fire Department actually owns all the ponies and has annual roundups, where the strongest, healthiest ponies swim the channel between the two islands and are then sold at auction. The juxtaposition of the ponies first living free and then later living in captivity is pretty sad. It would be a truly happy ending if their lives were lived in reverse, ending in freedom.
Binocular-viewing opportunities abound, both land and air.
Just as as side note: The squirrels in the refuge are Ginormous! There’s nothing for good perspective in the photo below, but trust me, this one is the size of a small cat.
The seagulls around here are also pretty fat and sassy, too.