Top Places For

Spying Winter Waterfowl

The Chesapeake’s celebrated annual waterfowl migration is a cherished symbol of the Bay’s bounty. At these beautiful spots across the region, you can watch for ducks, geese, and swans all winter long.

Each autumn, millions of waterfowl follow the Atlantic Flyway to the Chesapeake to spend winter feasting on the Bay’s rich abundance. Find these handsome birds at spots like Wye Island, Mason Neck, and Hughlett Point, where waterfowl flock to feed and rest through the long winter.

With miles of marshes and undisturbed waters, the Eastern Shore is the region’s hot spot for wintering waterfowl. But you can spy waterfowl rafting on frosty lakes, creeks, and rivers up and down the Bay’s shores, from the Susquehanna Flats all the way to Tidewater Virginia. Go near sunrise or sunset, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous golden view of birds on the water.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is the Chesapeake’s undisputed king of winter waterfowl viewing. A wildlife paradise nestled in the Bay’s vast marshes, Blackwater hosts thousands of migrating birds, including snow geese, teals, and pintails. Other waterfowl magnets on the Eastern Shore include Eastern Neck, Janes Island, and the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center.

The Bay’s western shore attracts a wide variety of winter waterfowl, too. Watch buffleheads and ruddy ducks dive at Hoffler Creek, while at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge look for black ducks wintering on the icy river. Along the Potomac River, find waterfowl gathering at Virginia state parks like Westmoreland, Caledon, and Mason Neck.

So grab your camera and a pair of binoculars, and discover the Chesapeake’s stunning cold-weather scenery at the top places for spying winter waterfowl.

Fog Covered Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

An Eastern Shore wildlife refuge attracting vast numbers of waterfowl to quintessential Bay tidal wetlands. While primarily a tidal marsh, the refuge also includes a mature pine forest.

Cambridge, MD

Main building at Caledon State Park

Caledon State Park

A designated National Natural Landmark, Caledon State Park provides visitors a unique opportunity to view bald eagles in their natural habitat.

King George, VA

Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center

Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center

Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is a 500 acre preserve located 15 minutes from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore. With a variety of habitats, the Center is an excellent place to see the Chesapeake's wintering assortment of waterfowl.

Grasonville, MD

Concord Point Lighthouse

Concord Point Lighthouse

Concord Point lighthouse, constructed in 1827, is the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in Maryland and looks out over scenic upper Chesapeake Bay.

Havre de Grace, MD

Bikers on Path on the Cross Island Trail

Cross Island Trail

A 15 mile trail across Kent Island, the largest of the Chesapeake islands, this flat paved biking and walking route takes travelers from the open Bay to the west past significant wetlands and other landmarks.

Kent Island, MD

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve

Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve

Forest and wetlands preserve (2,872 acres) offering habitat for eagles, fish and migrating birds.

Stafford, VA

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is a 2,285-acre island refuge at the confluence of the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's an important migration stopover and wintering area for thousands of waterfowl.

Rock Hall, MD

Mason Neck Marsh - Bill Wallen/USFWS

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

The 2,276-acre Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge was specifically created to protect essential bald eagle nesting, feeding, and roosting habitats along the Potomac River.

Lorton, VA

Hoffler Creek Wildife Preserve

Hoffler Creek Wildife Preserve

The Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve, a 142-acre sanctuary for urban wildlife, provides food and cover for an unusually diverse population of wildlife, including deer, foxes, river otters, crabs, oysters, and over 200 species of birds.

Portsmouth, VA

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve

Located on Virginia’s Northern Neck, Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve is situated on a small peninsula on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The preserve contains tidal and non-tidal wetlands, an exemplary undeveloped beach and low dunes, and upland forest communities.

Kilmarnock, VA

Kayaker at Janes Island State Park

Janes Island State Park

Janes Island State Park encompasses 2,900 acres of Chesapeake Bay marsh, beach, and highland. The park is dissected by many small waterways, with 30 miles of trails marked for canoes and kayaks.

Crisfield, MD

Marshy Point Park

Marshy Point Park

The shores of Dundee and Saltpeter Creeks, over three thousand acres, are the largest area of natural wetlands and forest available for public study and enjoyment in the Baltimore area.

Baltimore, MD

Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck State Park

Overlooking the Potomac River, the park is a haven for migrating bird species in spring and fall. It has hiking trails, 3 miles of paved multi-use trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch and a visitor center.

Lorton, VA

Patuxent Research Refuge

Patuxent Research Refuge

The Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation's only National Wildlife Refuge established to support wildlife research. Tour portions of 12,000 acres along the upper Patuxent River, and a visitor center on regional and national wildlife.

Laurel, MD

Patuxent River Park Jug Bay Natural Area

Patuxent River Park Jug Bay Natural Area

Jug Bay Natural Area offers many activities including walking through wetlands, guided boat tours, hiking and horseback riding over eight miles of trails, boating, fishing, camping, hunting, and visiting a museum.

Upper Marlboro, MD

Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1996 to conserve fish and wildlife habitat along this vital tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the refuge focuses primarily on protecting and managing tidal and inland wetlands, and adjacent uplands, to benefit wildlife.

, VA

Robinson Neck Preserve (Image courtesy: Dave Harp)

Robinson Neck Preserve

This Eastern Shore preserve is a delight for birders. where one finds undisturbed waterfowl habitat and a sanctuary for bald eagles.

Church Creek, MD

Biker at Terrapin Park

Terrapin Beach Park

Terrapin Park sits on 276 acres of Bay front land north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The park includes over 4,000 feet of shoreline and 73 acres of wetlands, making it a destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.

Stevensville, MD

Turner's Creek Park & Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area

Turner’s Creek Park & Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area

The Sassafras Natural Resource Management area consists of 991 acres of rolling woodland, farmlands, wetlands, and nearly three miles of shoreline along the Sassafras River and Turner's Creek. It is managed to conserve, protect, and enhance existing wildlife habitat, fisheries, and other natural resources and offers only low-impact recreational opportunities. The Turner's Creek Park and the nearby natural harbor of Turner's Creek was once the site of a thriving local shipping port, disbursing agricultural goods throughout the Bay region.

Kennedyville, MD

A sunset at Westmoreland State Park

Westmoreland State Park

The park extends about one and a half miles along the Potomac River and offers hiking, camping, cabins, fishing, boating and swimming. Visitors can enjoy the park's vacation cabins as well as spectacular views of the Potomac.

Montross, VA

Hunters at Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area

Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area

Located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay between the Wye River and the Wye East River, Wye Island offers 2,800 acres of habitat for wintering waterfowl populations and other native wildlife.

Queenstown, MD

December 22, 2016

Main image: An American black duck swimming in the marsh at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (Image courtesy: Chesapeake Bay Program)
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