A Butterfly at the Audrey Carroll Audubon Sanctuary

Top Spots for Nature Watching and Birding

By Heather Cisar
A Butterfly at the Audrey Carroll Audubon Sanctuary

With its intermittent barrier islands, scenic cypress swamps and Eastern Shore bays, it makes perfect sense that Maryland is home to a diverse array of bird-watching sites and natural habitats. Birds pass through during their annual migrations and will leave you wide-eyed with wonder. Careful not to blink because you won’t want to miss the Bachman’s Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker, or Roseate Tern.

Open For Birding
Pair of ospreys on St.George Island
BC Petrie Photography

Situated in the geographic middle of the Atlantic Flyway, Maryland is a bird-watchers paradise. Here are some ideas for making the most of your birding experience.

Cranesville Subarctic Swamp, Oakland
Cranesville Swamp Preserve

This area provides a boardwalk tour for visitors to cross the 850-acre marshy swamp, adding the option to cut course onto six meandering nature trails through this pristine habitat. 

Dan’s Rock
Dan's Mountain State Park
Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Located in Dan’s Mountain State Park, this place is a gold mine when it comes to the Common Black and White Warbler, and the Common Raven. Even more amazing are the overlook views of the Potomac River Valley, from which you can spot beautiful birds in flight, day and night. On the downslope trek, the area’s chunky geology and forested habitats serve as a natural trail guide. 

Antietam National Battlefield, Hagerstown
Antietam National Battlefield

This historic battlefield serves as a breeding ground for birds returning from Central and South America, with springtime surveys marking sightings of more than 77 bird species. So pack your field guide, notepad, pencil and binoculars—it’s time to see a show! 

Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, Laurel
Scarlet Tanager at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge

This site takes the thrill of nature and turns it into a learning experience. Established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, the research refuge has grown from its original 2,670 acres to its present size of 12,841 acres, and continues to attract its rare and beautiful native birds like the special Scarlet Tanager, a medium-sized song bird whose distinctive plumage is unforgettable. 

Audrey Carroll Audubon Sanctuary
Buttlerfly at Audrey Carroll Audubon Sanctuary

In the summer, you’ll see as many as 1,000 butterflies at this 129-acre sanctuary west of Mount Airy, including 38 unique species. They’re backed by a supporting cast of characters that includes turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and more than 170 species of birds.

Meadowside Nature Center
Rock Creek Regional Park

Head to this nature center in Rock Creek Regional Park for hiking along eight miles of nature trails, fishing and bird-watching at Lake Frank, and don’t forget to snap pictures of the migratory birds, colorful wildflowers and butterflies. For a special encounter with dozens of birds of prey, the Raptor Aviary, which rehabilitates injured animals, is a must-see.

Papermill Flats, Loch Raven Reservoir
The Great Egret is seen often at Papermill Flats at Loch Raven Reservoir
Waxwing EcoTourism

For an unforgettable encounter with great flocks of Maryland shorebirds, this Baltimore County site cannot be missed. Begin your travels with a short walking trail, and end with a lookout bridge that offers panoramic views from the water to land.

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Lothian
A Frog at the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

This 1,700 acre sanctuary is home to varied habitats including open water, tidal marshes, forested wetlands, riparian and upland forests, creeks meadows and pine and sand barrens. Beginning in 1985, staff naturalists, volunteers, students and researchers confirmed high species diversity and abundance unlike any other. Paddle carefully, as the frogs and fauna here are meant to be photographed.

Flag Ponds Nature Center, Lusby
Flag Ponds Nature Park

Bring a picnic lunch to the beach at this Center and experience a day of bird-watching, fishing and fossil hunting. Flag Ponds’ 500-acres of primeval beauty is home to varied wildlife and migratory birds. 

Bumpy Oak Swamp
Barred Owl at Bumpy Oak Swamp

Skip the hike and simply step out of your car to spot barred owls, resident amphibians, and reptiles at this large roadside swamp near La Plata. The Southern Maryland Audubon Society lists local bird watching locations, including Bumpy Oak Swamp.

Point Lookout State Park
Point Lookout State Park

The tidal marshes and forests of St. Mary’s County are home to more than 120 species of birds, so get your binoculars ready. With the Chesapeake Bay to its east and Potomac River to its south, Point Lookout State Park serves as a staging point for migrants, particularly in the autumn, although you can glimpse all types of birds year-round. 

Pocomoke Sound Wildlife Area
A Glossy Ibis at Pocomoke Sound Wildlife Area

Accessible only by boat, it’s worth the effort to spend a day at this Somerset County haven. In between watching glossy ibis probe the shores for muddy worms, herons and egrets scan the shallow waters for a dive, while mucky marshes play host to small fish. Ducks do double-backs while paddling furiously for forage, and osprey nests hang high on Bay channel markers. Now, isn’t this better than being at the office? 

Wicomico River
Pemberton Historical Park

Literally, the sky is the limit on the Wicomico River where birds are easy to spot and identify thanks to large areas of open space. Walk along the trails of Pemberton Park and set up watch over the open fields, or head to Twilleys Bridge Road to visit with songbirds and migratory species best seen foraging along tree-line edges. Wherever you land, keep an eye open for native mammals and reptiles, but watch out for venomous Copperheads. 

Adkins Arboretum
Baltimore Oriole
Hanna McBrearty USFWS - wikimedia

If you hear “Drink your teeeee…” while you’re here, it doesn’t mean Earl Grey—it’s the sound of the Rufous-sided Towhee, one of the many species in residence at this birdwatcher’s paradise tucked away near the small town of Ridgely. Birders flock to its 400 acres and five miles of woodland and meadow paths off of Tuckahoe Creek to see the towhee, along with the Baltimore Oriole, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting, and the declining Northern Bobtail Quail, among others.