Montgomery County Top Birding Spots

Where to go…

Favorite birding locations with links to the MOS website Birder’s Guide to Maryland and DCL

Black Hill Regional Park

Black Hill Regional Park, with 1,580 acres, is one of the showcases of the Montgomery County Parks system. The centerpiece of the park is the 505-acre Little Seneca Lake, which was created as a drinking water reservoir in the 1980s. The lake has three major northward-facing arms that correspond to the three major streams that feed the lake: from west to east, these are Ten Mile Creek, Cabin Branch, and Little Seneca Creek.

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Blue Mash Nature Trail

The Blue Mash Nature Trail, near Laytonsville in Montgomery County, lies in the buffer area of the former Oaks Landfill, which closed in 1997. After the landfill closed, the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation worked with staff from the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, an advisory commission, and members of the local community to plan the trail. The Department of Public Works and Transportation opened the Nature Trail and an adjoining mixed-use trail (for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders) in 2001. The area open for public use occupies about 245 acres. The natural-surfaced Nature Trail, 1.6 miles long, has proven consistently birdy, with a nice mixture of habitats and a corresponding variety of birds. Additional habitat can be viewed from the 2.75-mile mixed-use trail. Because of the diverse habitat, including two ponds, fields, thickets, and both young and mature woods, many different families of birds can be seen, including songbirds, flycatchers, waterfowl, shorebirds, herons, and raptors. The Nature Trail is a level, circuit-route trail which conveniently begins and ends at the parking lot off Zion Road. A separate parking area for the mixed-use trail is located off Olney-Laytonsville Road.

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McKee-Beshers (Hughes Hollow) Wildlife Area

Located near the Potomac River in western Montgomery County, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a 2,000-acre state-owned hunting area featuring a mixture of woodlands, fields, wooded bottomlands, and managed wetland impoundments. The area known as Hughes Hollow is the section of the WMA adjacent to the largest impoundment; it lies near the junction of Hughes Road with Hunting Quarter Road.

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Little Bennett Regional Park

There is nothing “little” about Little Bennett Regional Park. At 3,700 acres, it is the largest of Montgomery’s county-owned parks. The park is located in northern Montgomery County, abutting the border with Frederick County. The park is located in the valley of the Little Bennett Creek and includes numerous tributary streams. Little Bennett Regional Park features a wide variety of habitats, including riparian woodlands, ridge-top forest, open fields, hedgerows, and wetlands. There is an alder shrub swamp that holds alder thickets, black willow, white turtlehead, cardinal flower, and native orchids; numerous natural and man-made vernal pools with a full complement of breeding amphibians; dry herb-dominated open canopy uplands; pristine skunk cabbage seeps; and extensive areas of rich floodplain. The park has some of the highest quality streams in the county.

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Meadowside and Lake Frank

Meadowside Nature Center and its trail systems covers almost 500 acres within the larger (1,800 acre) Rock Creek Regional Park, managed by Montgomery County Parks.  Meadowside Nature Center and nearby Lake Frank present the lush streamside habitats typical of the Maryland Piedmont. (Note: Do not confuse this county park with the similarly named Rock Creek Park, a National Park Service property located in Washington, DC.

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Rock Creek & Lake Needwood

Lake Needwood, located northeast of Rockville in Montgomery County, is in Rock Creek Regional Park, operated by Montgomery County Parks. (Note: Do not confuse this county park with the similarly named Rock Creek Park, a National Park Service property located in Washington, DC.

The 75-acre freshwater Lake Needwood was formed by damming Rock Creek. The lake is surrounded by deciduous woods, and the majority of habitat here is representative of Piedmont wooded stream valleys. There are also some fields and overgrown meadows. Shorebird habitat appears in a few places along the lake shore, when the lake water level is naturally low, or when the lake is drawn down for silt removal. Foot-trails follow the lake shore; some trails are hilly and most are natural-surfaced. It is not possible to circle the entire lake on foot, because the trail system is interrupted at the north end of the lake by Needwood Road.

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C & O Canal Locks – Pennyfield, Violette’s, and Riley’s

The stretch of the C&O Canal in Montgomery County that contains Pennyfield Lock, Violette’s Lock, and Riley’s Lock offers a rich diversity of habitat, including the Potomac River, flooded portions of the C&O canal, and adjacent woodlands, impoundments, and marshes that provide varied birding opportunities for migrating, nesting and over-wintering birds. Violette’s Lock itself is the #1 eBird hotspot in Montgomery County, with over 270 species reported, and Riley’s Lock and Pennyfield Lock are not far behind.

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Seneca Creek State Park

Seneca Creek State Park encompasses 6,300 acres spanning 14 miles in the Seneca Creek valley, arcing through western Montgomery County from I-270 all the way to the Potomac River. The park has several distinct sections within this large expanse. There is an extensive trail system within the two larger sections, Clopper Lake and Schaefer’s Farm, as well as longer-distance trails linking the various sections of the park.

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Lois Green Conservation Park

The Lois Y. Green Conservation Park (aka Green Farm Conservation Park) consists of a 200-acre parcel that Mrs. Green gave to Montgomery County Parks in 1975, plus an additional dedicated stream buffer area of 50 acres. When Mrs. Green donated the park, she specifically directed that the park was to “be used as an open space, for parkland, and for recreation in such a manner as to evidence the conservation of soil, water, woods, and wildlife… and shall be maintained essentially in its natural condition…” Today the Park is a remarkable oasis in a highly developed area of Montgomery County. The expanse of the park’s grasslands, topography, tree-lined stream, large ponds, wetlands, and woodlands create a feeling of respite and retreat.

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Wheaton Regional Park & Brookside Gardens

Wheaton Regional Park, managed by Montgomery County, is an extremely popular 539-acre park with extensive deciduous woods, hedgerows, open fields, and several small ponds, of which the largest is Pine Lake. The park, fairly hilly in parts, has excellent habitat diversity. There are three main areas of the park, named for the roads from which they are accessed: Glenallan (includes Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Wheaton Riding Stables, and an extensive trail system), Shorefield (includes Pine Lake and trails as well as picnic shelters, a miniature train and a carousel), and Orebaugh (primarily sports fields and associated structures). Most birders will want to visit the Glenallan and Shorefield areas.

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Blockhouse Point Conservation Park

Blockhouse Point Conservation Park is named for the Civil War fortification built on a cliff that lies within its boundaries. The “blockhouse” served as an observation post and signal station for the Union forces patrolling the banks of the Potomac River. Situated between River Road and the C&O Canal, this 670-acre wooded tract, laced with several springs and streams, is a generally infrequently birded area. Aside from some initial traffic noise and the occasional distractions of dog-walkers or horse riders, it can be a pleasant, productive place to spend an hour birding.

Directions: From 1-495, take exit 39, River Road, toward Potomac. At 3.3 miles you will cross Falls Road; another 5.1 miles will bring you to Pennyfield Road. Continue another 1.2 miles and watch for a brown sign on the left marking the entrance to a gravel parking lot. It’s easy to miss the unmarked lot on this curving, fast-paced road.

A good way to sample the upland forest is to take the equestrian trail just beyond the lot for a short distance, look and listen for woodland birds, and then return to the main path. The equestrian path on the right is a good choice, for the deciduous woods in spring often hold vireos, tanagers, and warblers while a stand of old pines (about 200 feet into the woods on the right) attracts mixed flocks of foraging winter birds.

If you have just an hour or so to bird, simply walk down the wide petroleum pipeline cut–a minuscule section of the 5,349-mile pipeline that begins in Texas and ends in New York–descending from the lot. This graveled roadway of some 2,500 feet leads directly to the canal but does not cross it, so there is no access to the towpath from this side.

On spring mornings, check the large oaks and tulip poplars near the parking lot. As the sun hits the trees, you may find such delights as Pine and Palm Warblers and other migrants. If you begin your walk in early April, you will almost certainly hear the ringing notes of a Louisiana Waterthrush along the creek that begins about a third of the way down the pipeline cut on the left. As you reach the end of the path and come to the canal, check the large white oak and smaller sycamores on the right, consistently good in spring for warblers, tanagers, and orioles. Then look across the canal at the towpath; chances are you’ll find fellow birders with binoculars focused on the very same birds.

By early summer, the persistent buzzy trills of nesting Worm-eating Warblers coming from the upland woods on the right will tempt you to enter the woods in search of this voice-thrower. Recent breeding bird surveys indicate the rich bird life in summer includes Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Acadian Flycatchers, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Wood Thrushes, Northern Parulas, Kentucky Warblers, Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings. As summer progresses, you may have to be content with birding by ear.

In winter, large trees on both sides of the cut should hold most of the expected woodpeckers–Red-bellied, Pileated, Downy, Hairy, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Northern Flicker–as well as White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. The grassy areas bordering the gravel path are usually mowed and usually birdless, but piles of weathered logs and weedy patches close to the woods provide cover for Carolina Wrens, Song and White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. As you continue along the cut and reach more level terrain, look above the creek on the left for a moss-covered rocky outcrop dotted with mountain laurel. A Winter Wren or two is likely to be nearby.

In all seasons, keep glancing skyward for raptors: This open expanse is good for spotting Broad-winged Hawks in spring and fall migration and Red-tailed Hawks and both vultures throughout the year. Infrequently, a Great Horned or Barred Owl will put in a surprise appearance.

The “Blockhouse Point” cliff, where traces of the old fort remain, can be reached from here via the almost invisible path to your right, but it’s a steep scramble and the path is often overgrown. Retrace your steps to the parking lot. — Linda Friedland

Click here for the eBird hotspot for Blockhouse Point.

Redgate Park

RedGate Park is a former golf course that opened as a park in the summer of 2019. Its 131 acres include many habitats—woods, marshy areas, several ponds, and lots of high grass/tangles for the winter sparrows. From August 2019 to March 2020, birders recorded 158 species!

The City of Rockville launched a new website in March 2021 to get input on RedGate’s future (https://engagerockville.com/redgate-park). The survey is active until April 16, 2021. For those who bird at RedGate, now is your chance to “plan the future of RedGate Park.”

The park is birdy in all seasons. In the winter of 2020, the park hosted a nesting Great Horned Owl, and one young owl fledged. There was also a nesting Red-tailed Hawk. Birders have seen Merlin, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Barred Owl. We even had a few visits from Pine Siskins in fall 2020.

If you enjoy watching sparrows, RedGate is a must-visit. There are multiple sparrow habitats, and birders have recorded Chipping, Song, White-throated, White-crowned, Field, Fox, Vesper, Grasshopper, Lincoln’s, Swamp, Savannah, and American Tree Sparrow. A few just pass through during migration, like Vesper, Grasshopper, and Lincoln’s, but many of the others can be seen throughout the fall and winter and some into early spring.

Spring migration brings many species of warblers, swallows, orioles, as well as Common Nighthawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and sometimes a rare visit from an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-throated Warbler, and even a Connecticut Warbler in fall 2020.

Both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles nest in the park, as do Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, Brown Thrashers, Yellow Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Great Crested Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, Warbling Vireos, Eastern Phoebes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Blue Grosbeaks, among others.

Year-round residents and visitors include Northern Mockingbird, woodpeckers (Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy,  Pileated, and Northern Flicker), Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Chickadee, and Chipping Sparrows, which often are seen in high numbers.

There are several birdy areas of the park. Near the parking lot, there are two large ponds. You can often find sparrows, Great Blue Herons, and both kinglets flitting around the edges during the winter months. In summer, you can see Orchard Orioles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Barn Swallows, and Eastern Kingbirds.

The former driving range, which has patches of high grasses and bushes along the edges, is a great place to see a variety of sparrows during migration. Eastern Meadowlark and Wilson’s Snipe have also been spotted here. And at the far end of the driving range is where the Connecticut Warbler stayed for a couple of weeks in fall 2020.

Past the driving range is a marsh pond, where Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Blue Grosbeaks can be seen in summer. Toward the back of the pond, close to the woods, is a small indentation in the land some folks call the natural amphitheater. Here you can find sparrows and bluebirds in winter. Occasionally, birds of prey fly nearby.

The park is open sunrise to sunset 7 days a week. There are no bathroom facilities. The address is 14500 Avery Rd, Rockville, MD 20853. Several Ride-on buses—48, 49, and 52—stop on the corner of Norbeck and Avery roads.

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Rachel Carson Conservation Park, Bookeville, MD – Originally written for the Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County in 2008

It is fitting that this park was named for biologist and author Rachel Carson (1907-64) who wrote her final and most influential work, Silent Spring, here in Montgomery County. Published in 1962, the book sounded a clarion call that ultimately resulted in the founding of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the banning of the persistent, toxic pesticide DDT, and the passage of significant national environmental legislation. A long-time county resident, Carson left a portion of her property wild — as she stated in a letter to a friend — “for the birds and frogs.”

M-NCPPC and Montgomery County Parks designated this 648-acre tract as a conservation park on two accounts: first to preserve its exemplary natural communities and populations of rare plants and animals, and second, to protect its unique archeological and historical resources. The park thus offers a wide variety of natural habitats and historical sites for birders, naturalists, and history buffs alike to explore.

The park contains impressive stands of mature upland chestnut oak forest as well as rich bottomland forests, old fields, hedgerows, small ponds, and the picturesque Hawlings River. The large quartz outcrops in the park provided early Native Americans with a source of raw material for stone tools. Later, enslaved people used these same rock outcrops as hiding spots as they fled north via the Underground Railroad.

The Hawlings River once powered two mills. Remnants of the earliest –in operation from 1769 to 1900– can be found east of Zion Road. A second mill, just west of Georgia Avenue, operated from 1840 to 1926, and parts of its old dam are still visible.

The park contains 6 miles of trails used by equestrians and hikers. Trails are generally good but can be muddy after rain. Rubber boots can be helpful in crossing the stream, as there are no bridges and the Hawlings River is just wide enough to make a dry crossing difficult without them.

Directions:

From 1-495, take exit 31A, Georgia Avenue (Route 97), drive north 10.3 miles to the town of Olney, and turn left onto Route 108. Continue approximately 2.5 miles and turn right onto Zion Road. Proceed 2.6 miles and cross a one-lane bridge, keeping alert for fast-moving cars. Continue another half-mile and look for the park’s sign on the right. There is a parking area and kiosk with a park map and other information. Suggested walks begin at this point.

From 1-270, take exit 8, Shady Grove Road, east. Proceed 3.5 miles and turn right onto Muncaster Mill Road. At 0.25 mile, turn left onto Muncaster Road. Go 3.5 miles to the end of Muncaster Road and turn right onto Route 108. In less than 50 yards, turn left onto Brookville Road. Drive 0.5 mile to the first stop sign, Zion Road, and turn left. Proceed 2.1 miles to a one-lane bridge, and follow directions as above.

Area (a): Begin birding from the parking lot focusing on the old fields, hedgerows, and wood edges along the mowed paths and gravel road. Mixed habitats offer good birding throughout the year.

Common spring and summer species include Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, Red- winged Blackbird, and Baltimore Oriole. Look over the open fields for soaring Red- tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and Black and Turkey Vultures, all of which nest in the park.

In fall and winter, walk along the wood edge and hedgerows looking for sparrows, including Field, Song, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco, as well as occasional American Tree, Fox, and White-crowned Sparrows.

The small stream and wet woods along the gravel driveway attract birds looking to bathe. Several trails lead from the meadow to the rest of the park. Most go through mature woods, and a number of circular walks are possible. Like most woods, they are best in the morning.

All the locally common forest birds can be found here. In drier upland areas, watch for Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. Along streams and bottomlands, expect Wood Thrush and Louisiana Waterthrush. Common species throughout the forested areas include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Pileated, Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied Woodpecker, as well as Northern Flicker and White breasted Nuthatch.

An additional attraction for birders is the large pond visible from Zion Road adjacent to the park. This pond is on private property and should be viewed from the roadside and only from outside the fence. The waterfowl-watching opportunities are covered in more detail in the Duck Ponds site description

Area (b): One of my favorite destinations is about 1.5 miles round trip to a pond that sits across the Hawlings River. There are two ways to get there. The first usually requires knee-high waterproof boots to get across the river, the other doesn’t. Either route will take one to two hours. Both offer similar woodland birds.

The boot-wearing route: From the main parking area, walk counterclockwise around the meadow about 150 yards and take the first right turn onto the Rachel Carson Greenway trail. Follow this trail about 0.5 mile and go right at the next two intersections. This will take you to the river. The pond and associated open areas are on the other side; you will need to find the best place to cross.

The dry route requires a short drive: Turn left out of the parking area onto Zion Road and go about 0.5 mile where you will see a dirt pull-off on the left side of the road. Carefully pull completely off the road; this spot can get muddy after a rain. From here, walk south on Zion Road for about a quarter mile. The birding along the road can be very good, but exercise caution –the road is very winding, has no shoulders, and cars drive fast. Traffic is generally heavy during weekday commuting hours and light on weekend mornings.

About 150 yards beyond the one-lane bridge, take the trail to the left. It winds uphill through second growth and then down through open woods, good for Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested and Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, and an occasional Northern Parula.

After about a third of a mile, the forest opens into a clearing. This secluded area of old field, swamp, and a small lily-covered pond is one of the best wildlife-watching places I’ve ever found. The overgrown field will likely produce Yellow-breasted Chat, Common Yellowthroat, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and Indigo Bunting. As you approach the pond, you may flush a Belted Kingfisher or Green or Great Blue Heron. Mallards and Canada Geese nest here each year.

Despite the pond’s small size, you could scare up a Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, or Ring-necked Duck from late fall to early spring. This is a great place to linger a while and see what comes to you.

A visit to the pond and adjacent stream just before dusk will likely offer views of beavers, muskrats, and, if you’re really lucky, a mink or even a river otter. River otters scat — about a half-inch in diameter and composed of fish scales and crayfish parts — can usually be found along the pond edge. If you walk out at dusk, don’t be surprised to see an owl cross your path. Great Horned, Barred, and Screech Owl all nest here.

Area (c): An additional spot worth checking is near the Hawlings River Bridge on Sundown Road. From the parking area, drive north on Zion Road to the intersection with Sundown, turn left, and proceed about a mile to the bridge. Park just past the bridge, being careful to pull as far off the road as possible — people like to drive fast here too!

The old-field and tree-lined stream on the south side of the road is park property. There are no trails, but the overgrown field area is accessible by walking back up the road about 150 yards. This is a good spot to find Willow Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Grasshopper Sparrow. The north side of Sundown Road is private property. The many dead trees on the far woods’ edge are worth scanning for woodpeckers.–Rob Gibbs

Back Roads of Western Montgomery County – Originally written for the Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County

The western portion of Montgomery County consists primarily of large tracts of forested and agricultural land. A series of paved and unpaved roads cross this area, running some 10.7 miles from the intersection of River Road and Sycamore Landing Road to White’s Ferry. This route roughly parallels the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, although both are visible only at Edward’s Ferry and White’s Ferry.

The roads are easily navigated except in heavy rain or snow. Still, as you travel this route, there are a few precautions to keep in mind. First, although the primary road is River Road, its name changes several times on the way to White’s Ferry before it eventually changes back to River Road. Second, the entire stretch is a series of narrow two-lane roads without convenient pull-offs, so when pulling over make sure that visibility is good in both directions. Finally, there are no facilities until you get to White’s Ferry. However, armed with a full tank of gas, a scope, supplies of water and snacks, and a spirit of adventure, you should be rewarded with an enjoyable country ride and good birds. Western Montgomery County has also produced birds that are difficult to find elsewhere in the county: Sandhill Cranes, Lapland Longspurs, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Dickcissels have all made appearances in recent years.

Suggested route:

0.0 miles: Set your trip odometer at the intersection of Sycamore Landing Road and River Road. (See McKee-Beshers WMA map.) Head west on River Road.

0.0 to 0.2 miles: On your right is a small hillside of dense bushes and saplings. Look and listen for Gray Catbirds, Indigo Buntings, Brown Thrashers, and Eastern Towhees. Above this is an overgrown pasture: Listen for Prairie Warblers. In August and September check the telephone wires for Tree and Rough-winged Swallows. The area at 0.2 miles can be productive for Bank Swallows.

1.75 miles: There is an entrance to a turf farm on your left; this is private property and should not be entered. Turn sharply right as River Road continues but changes its name to Mt. Nebo Road.

2.1 miles: At the driveway on the left I have pulled in very early in the morning in early spring and heard Wild Turkeys calling on more than one location. Keep an eye out for this elusive game bird throughout your trip.

3.1 miles: Stop where safe and listen for both Eastern Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows from May to September.

3.3 miles: Mt. Nebo Road now becomes West Offutt Road.

3.8 miles: Start checking the fields on both sides of the road for Eastern Bluebirds and the roadside weedy scrub for Savannah Sparrows (winter months). An occasional Vesper Sparrow may be seen here in the spring/summer time.

4.25 miles: West Offutt dead-ends at a T-intersection and stop sign. Turn left onto Edward’s Ferry Road. Approach this intersection slowly, on the lookout for raptors (especially Cooper’s Hawk) in nearby trees. Examine the nearby pine trees for Golden-crowned Kinglets. For the next mile, look for woodpeckers in the wooded area on your left, Red-tailed Hawks over the open fields, and swallows on the wires.

4.8 miles: It is worth pulling over here just beyond the driveway on your right. Scan the trees (cedar and deciduous) and brushy areas on the opposite side of the road (especially in the winter months. Possible species to be seen here include Cedar Waxwing, Purple Finch, and sparrows–White-crowned, Fox, White-throated and American Tree have all appeared here in the past.

5.3 miles: There is a stop sign at a three-way intersection. Turn left at the “Park Entrance/Edward’s Ferry”sign and park in the lot on the right. (Do not block the boat ramp). Here you have access to the C&O Canal towpath, where you can take a short walk to look for seasonal specialties. In spring and early summer listen for flycatchers and warblers, in the winter months for Barred and Great Horned owls. Use your scope to scan the Potomac River for ducks, Osprey, eagles, and swallows. Exit Edward’s Ferry and return to Edward’s Ferry Road.

5.6 miles: Turn left. This is the fourth and final name change–welcome back to River Road! From here to White’s Ferry, the road is unpaved and can be very dusty in dry weather. For the next half-mile, look and listen for American Redstart, Wood Thrush, and Wild Turkey in spring and summer. In winter, this stretch is good for Hermit Thrush.

6.3 miles: An underground gas line (marked above by poles) crosses the road. Check the secondary growth at the edges of the fields on both sides of the road for Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers. For the next mile, listen for American Woodcocks, often heard “peenting” and seen displaying on warm evenings (especially those with a full moon) from mid-January to April. The fields on the right can be good for sparrows during winter months.6.7 miles: A one-lane bridge crosses over a creek known as Broad Run. It is worth pulling over here and stopping for ten minutes anytime of year. This can be a good location for Eastern Phoebes and Louisiana Waterthrushes.

7.0 miles: Turn left to stay on River Road; (Elmer School Road goes to the right), watching for small potholes for the next 0.1 mile. There is a small farm pond on the left with very limited visibility and an even smaller pond on the right (close to the road) that sometimes has good possibilities.

7.1 miles: The road makes a 90-degree turn to the right; the Fairbanks Farm is on your left. Look for White-crowned Sparrows near the driveway during the appropriate months. During shorebird migration (March-May and July-August), if the field on your left is flooded, it can hold Least Sandpipers and both yellowlegs.

7.2 miles: The field on your right is good for displaying American Woodcocks. Listen here for Great Horned Owls.

7.5 to 7.75 miles: Look in the small trees at the road’s edge for winter sparrows, including White-crowned, White-throated, Fox (February and March) and American Tree.

7.75 miles to White’s Ferry: The final three miles take you through an agricultural area that can be the most rewarding section of the trip in all seasons. On your left you will see the J.T. Patton Turf Farms; on your right are other private farm fields where crops rotate between corn and soybeans. Small wooded areas separate the crop fields. Both sides of the road are private property; do not enter the fields or farm driveways and do all birding strictly from the side of the road. The road is not heavily trafficked, but please park carefully, allowing room for other cars–and large trucks travelling to and from the turf farms–to pass.

7.75 to 8.75 miles: Scan the farm fields and the turf farm. Look for perched Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks along the tree lines and, during the summer months, American Kestrels on the power lines. Northern Harriers are possible from late August through May, especially over the fields on your right.

January to March is a good time to look for gulls; most of the time you will find Ring-billed, but an occasional Herring, Laughing, or Bonaparte’s can show up in migration. Check the bushes and small trees at the edge of the road on your right for migrating Palm Warblers, as well as Savannah and Vesper Sparrows. The turf farm fields can be productive for shorebirds. Killdeer are likely almost any time (unless the winter is very cold or snowy). During migration you may find American Golden-Plover (September to November) as well as Pectoral Sandpiper (March to mid-May, and rarely, late July to October). Buff-breasted Sandpiper seems to make an appearance every two or three years. During spring and fall migration, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers are likely. Killdeer usually breed nearby. From December to March, scope the turf farm fields for Horned Larks and American Pipits, especially after the fields have been plowed and manured. Occasionally a Lapland Longspur can be found among the Horned Larks.

9.1 to 9.2 miles: Check the wooded areas for sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Eastern Towhees, and Brown Thrashers.

9.4 miles: A partially overgrown drive is on the right. During the summer months, check the edges of both sides of the drive for breeding White-eyed Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chats.

9.8 to 10.0 miles: Be on the lookout for a resident Red-tailed Hawk.

10.4 miles: River Road bends to the right and continues 0.3 mile to White’s Ferry. Here you will find a small convenience store (open April to October) and portable toilets. Once again you can access the C&O Canal towpath and the Potomac River (scan for Bald Eagles in winter). Should you wish to continue your explorations into Virginia, a car ferry can transport you across the Potomac.

To return to “suburban” Montgomery County, you may either: 

1) Continue on White’s Ferry Road for approximately 6.5 miles to Poolesville; White’s Ferry Road becomes Rt. 107 in Poolesville and then runs into Rt. 28 towards Rockville. (Poolesville has many amenities).

2) Retrace your steps to Sycamore Landing Road. Helpful hint: If you choose to follow the directions in reverse on your return trip every turn will be a RIGHT- hand turn. The only exception is at the entrance to Edward’s Ferry Park; here, make a left-hand turn onto Edward’s Ferry Road. 3) For the truly adventurous,  pull up your phone’s map app and explore some of the other back roads of western Montgomery County. -Jim Green