view counter

Natural ­Wonders of Assateague Island

Through his lens and words, Mark Hendricks captures rare moments with elusive creatures

Assateague Island, that 37-mile barrier island where the Atlantic Ocean meets our Eastern Shore, is a place I love to be. Having toddled around Key West in my earliest years, I love ocean, beach and island, and Assateague gives me all three. As a four-season repeat visitor, I thought I knew Assateague fairly well.
    Mark Hendricks’ photo- and storybook Natural Wonders of Assateague Island shows me how wrong I was. Poring over the 198 photos in its 144 pages, I recognize that to see, you’ve got to look hard. To know what you’ve seen takes even more dedication.
    As he writes of the river otter in one the three charming Photographer’s Journey essays that add storytelling to his sharply etched photos, “Having a keen understanding of the species’ natural behavior is helpful, as are some basic tracking skills. Of course, a bit of luck is always welcome. However the most important skill (or virtue, depending on who you ask) is patience.”
    In Hendricks’ photos, I realized I’ve looked at Assateague like a tourist, while he looks like a reporter at the island where, he writes, “I first experienced the magic of coastal light.”
    A former marine mammal biologist and animal rescuer, Hendricks turned his camera into a tool for conservation storytelling.
    “I desire to go eye to eye with my subjects,” he writes, “as eye contact is a powerful compositional tool. It allows the viewer to peer into the ­spirit of the animal as metaphysical as that may seem. It’s these images that I hope inspire an appreciation of the species.”
    River otter, snowy owl, Assateague pony, diamondback terrapin, Delmarva fox squirrel, Fowler’s toad, snow goose, red fox, Baltimore oriole, dragonfly, double-crested cormorant, harbor seal, osprey, ghost crab, bald eagle: All these and more look at you eye to eye in these pages. Here too are the vistas we love studded with fauna you, like me, may have overlooked: saltmarsh cordgrass, serviceberry, beach heather, seabeach evening primrose, sea rocket, seaside spurge, seabeach amaranth.
    This book will be with me when I return to Assateague next month. With its help, I’ll finally verify my identification of seagulls. It will give me names for what I’ve seen and what I know now to look for.
    To improve my sight and insight, I’ll bring my iPhone camera, my notepad, sketchbook, pencils and watercolors. Inspired by Natural Wonders of Assateague Island, I’ll be a reporter as well as a beach- and island-loving tourist.

Author photographer Mark Hendricks