The most famous inhabitants of the Coastal Bays Watershed are the wild horses of Assateague Island.  The novel  Misty of Chincoteague  comes alive here everyday.  Though the exact cause of their coming to the islands are apocryphal and shrouded in mystery.  The most popular story is that of horses who survived shipwreck and swam to the island, though what is more likely is that they are of descendents of horses brought to the island by farmers wanting to avoid taxation of livestock.  
 A Mid-Atlantic sunrise post storm.  The Coastal Bays Watershed features the most diverse area within the state of Maryland for both wildlife and habitat.  Bays, wetlands, and forests make up this incredible location.
 While the horses appear to have a tame demeanor this is far from the truth.  These are wild animals.  Unfortunately visitors to the area are bitten and kicked every year after venturing too close.  The horses have also learned how to open up tents to steal food and will attempt to stick their heads into cars to accept handouts.  This has led to increased aggression with human visitors and fatalities due to automobile collisions. 
 Common during the fall and winter months, Common Loons can be found within each of the Coastal Bays.  They may also be found surfing among the waves along the Atlantic Shoreline, like this one.  The winter plumage is not of the striking checkerboard patterns seen in the summer months but of a metallic grey, which brings its own form of subtle beauty.
 The horses have adapted to life on the barrier island.  Because they feed on the salt marsh cordgrass, the salt leads to the appearance of a bloated belly.  They have also taken on a smaller appearance unlike the wild horses of the American West.  This has led to the herd being colloquially referred to as "ponies."
 Sinepuxent Bay- one of 6 Bays in the Coastal Bays Watershed, is also the healthiest.  It contains the best water quality and more sea-grass than the other Bays.  Of concern, however, is the decline in sea-grass seen since 2005
 Seals are more likely to be seen here in the winter months, with Harbor and Grey Seals making up the majority of sightings.  Less commonly seen are visitors from the arctic such as the Ringed Seal and, as in this image, the Harp Seal. 
 The tidal marshes in the Coastal Bays actually differ from their counterparts in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  The wetlands in the Coastal Bays formed as a result of sediment accretion as it grew above sea level.  The Chesapeake Bay tidal marshes, in contrast, are a more recent development due to sediment drops by streams and estuaries. 
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 Assateague Island is a barrier island whose existence has always been a subject of change.  Its form has changed due to the movement of sand on the land facing side of the island.  At one time it was even connected to Fenwick Island until a Hurricane in 1933 separated them.  However as the climate warms and sea level rises the increase of overwash could eventually destroy the entire island.  During Hurricane Sandy none of the famed Wild Horses were killed.  With the increase in powerful storms they may not be so fortunate in the future.
 A Whitetail Deer saturated in morning mist on Assateague Island.
 The maritime forests of the barrier island are mostly lobolly pine with scrub pine and greenbrier mixed underneath.  You can also find sassafras, oak, and sweetgum. The central forests of the Coastal Bays are more protected from the salt-laden winds and over wash near the dunes providing ample safe nesting for a variety of bird species.
 While not the first time Snowy Owls have been documented on Assateague Island, never have so many been seen as in the irruption of 2013-2014.  The plethora of owls that used the Coastal Bays Watershed as their wintering grounds allowed scientists to study the majestic species like never before and gave rise to important projects such as Project SNOWstorm.
 The horse is not the only exotic mammal on the island.  The Sika Deer, a species of Elk from East Asia, was released in this area in 1916.  They are not an invasive species because they do not compete with native wildlife for food and habitat.  They are inhabitants of the loblolly pine forest but may be seen amongst the marshes of both the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays Watersheds.  Over 10 distinct vocalizations have been recorded, including alarm calls and communication between mothers and their young.  Such was the case here when a curious yearling approached me from within a loblolly pine forest and her mother called for her to return.  Like most youngsters she ignored her mother until her 4th, and much louder, call was sounded.
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 A Merlin with prey.  Assateague Island and the surrounding Coastal Bays are an important nesting and resting area for over 320 species of birds. 
 Wading birds, such as this Great Egret and Tricolored Heron, can be found fairly regularly on the Coastal Bays depending on the season.  Only in Florida have I encountered more species of these beautiful birds in one location.
 A Sika Stag chases off a smaller competitor during their annual rut.  Like the Elk of Pennsylvania and the American West, the Stags emit a haunting bugle during this annual ritual.   
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