Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access)
Beltsville, MD 20705
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), located in Prince George’s County near College Park, is not open to the public, and that includes birders. We are including BARC in this Birder’s Guide only because many birders see eBird reports from BARC and want to know how to get access. BARC is a research facility of the US Department of Agriculture and does not grant access to the public. The former Visitor Center (Log Lodge) has been permanently closed.
The eBird reports from BARC come mostly from employees at the facility, or from people engaged in authorized research studies there. There is one public eBird hotspot that covers the property, and some of the reports at that hotspot come from people passing through BARC on public roadways. There are six principal public roads that pass through BARC, offering limited opportunities for viewing birds in BARC’s fields. These are Edmonston Road, Soil Conservation Road, Springfield Road, Powder Mill Road, Beaver Dam Road, and Research Road.
There are several hazards to be aware of if trying to bird from the public roads. Parts of BARC are open to the public and to employees for deer and waterfowl hunting; be aware of hunting seasons and plan accordingly. Another issue, at all times, is that BARC is located in an area just outside Washington DC that is prone to heavy commuter traffic, and traffic typically travels faster than the posted speed limit. This makes pulling into and out of traffic a risky venture. When traveling roads through BARC and pulling in and out of traffic, be on particular lookout for bicycles, as this is a popular area for cycling. In fact, a bicycle may be a good way to bird BARC, as it offers more opportunity to see and hear birds.
Edmonston, Soil Conservation, and Springfield Roads all run roughly north-south through BARC. On all three roads, there is heavy commuter traffic that travels extremely fast, and there are very limited opportunities to pull over to observe birds.
Powder Mill Road, which runs roughly east-west, has one or two places just east of Edmonston Road where the shoulder is wide enough that a car can pull over to allow scanning of nearby fields. However, traffic moves at a very high speed along Powder Mill Road, so pulling over and then getting back into the travel lane is extremely risky and must be done with extreme caution and awareness of the curves in the road. There are also local buses that make stops along Powder Mill Road, and so be aware of buses pulling in and out of traffic and do not block a bus stop (they are marked with small rectangular red-and-white Metrobus signs).
Beaver Dam Road, which lies just south of Powder Mill Road and parallel to it, has an even worse situation for birding. It is a two-lane road that has no shoulders and very few good lines of sight. The best you can hope for is hearing some woodland birds in a section of Beaver Dam Road just east of Research Road.
Research Road is a fairly short road that runs north-south from Powder Mill Road to the community of Greenbelt. There is a gate that closes off Research Road at Beaver Dam Road and another at the Greenbelt community. The gate on Research Road at Beaver Dam Road is usually open during business hours on weekdays and may or may not be open on the weekends. Despite the gate, Research Road is open to foot and bicycle traffic 24 hours a day. Since there is no public parking outside the gate, this access applies mostly to people from the Greenbelt community. When the gate is open, it is acceptable to drive along Research Road; there are spots near the bridge over Beaverdam Creek where it is possible to park a car on the shoulder and then walk along the roadside. When parking, do not block any side roads or dirt lanes – these are used by BARC farming equipment.
Please note that it is absolutely forbidden to enter any of BARC’s fields or woods on foot, or to drive a car or bicycle or walk on any of the internal BARC roads and lanes that are signed as off-limits. The property is patrolled by security guards and has a video surveillance system. If you are caught trespassing, you will be escorted off the property and you may be fined.
There are two or three annual opportunities when special permission is given to bird in the restricted areas at BARC: these are the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and the Maryland Ornithological Society’s Spring Count and Fall Count.
BARC is within the Bowie CBC Circle for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and the Bowie CBC compiler will assign volunteers to a territory that they can cover on foot and/or by car. The Bowie CBC is usually held on January 1, but that date can vary from year to year. The BARC property is highly prized within the Bowie CBC Circle, and if you want to try for a spot at BARC, you should volunteer early. For more information on the Bowie CBC, check the Audubon CBC Circle Map and navigate to the Bowie CBC Circle, where a pop-up window will provide the date and the compiler’s contact information. You can also check the November-December edition of the Patuxent Bird Club newsletter for details.
The annual MOS Spring and Fall Counts provide another special opportunity to bird within BARC. The Spring Count is held each year on the second Saturday in May and the Fall Count is usually the third Sunday in September. The Spring and Fall Count coordinators for Prince George’s County assign volunteers to cover territories within the county. Again, BARC is a highly desirable territory, and it may not be possible to accommodate all requests to bird there, so get your request in early. The March-April edition of the Patuxent Bird Club newsletter will have the details and the contact information for the Spring Count, and the information for the Fall Count will be in the September-October newsletter.
For ordinary everyday birding, instead of taking a risk on the busy public roads at BARC, we recommend birding at the nearby Patuxent Research Refuge, where the bird life is similar to that at BARC. Patuxent’s South Tract and the National Wildlife Visitor Center abut the eastern edge of BARC and Patuxent’s North Tract is just a short distance away.
Over 230 species have been reported on eBird from Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, but again, most of these have been observed by people engaged in research at BARC. Given the limited public birding opportunities, we are not providing a narrative description of the birdlife at BARC.
Local MOS Chapter:
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Patuxent Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
No designated parking areas. Observe extreme caution if parking on a road shoulder. Do not enter any fields or woods on foot. Do not drive, bike, or walk on any restricted farm lanes or internal roads. Do not climb over any closed gates.
BARC is located north of the town of College Park. Consult the maps at left for general location.
Prince George’s County: Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Colmar Manor Community Park & Anacostia River Trail ◾ Fort Foote Park ◾ Fort Washington (National) Park ◾ Fran Uhler Natural Area ◾ Governor Bridge Natural Area ◾ Greenbelt (National) Park ◾ Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park) ◾ Lake Artemesia Natural Area ◾ Merkle Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Milltown Landing Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm ◾ Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center) ◾ Patuxent River Park – Jug Bay Natural Area ◾ Patuxent River Park – Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park ◾ Piscataway MOS Sanctuary ◾ Piscataway (National) Park: National Colonial Farm, Boardwalk, Wharf Road/Farmington Landing & Marshall Hall ◾ Rosaryville State Park ◾ Schoolhouse Pond
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park ◾ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary ◾ Oxbow Natural Area ◾ Patuxent Research Refuge – North Tract ◾ Piney Orchard Nature Preserve
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous FarmyardStormwater Retention Pond Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsHay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:
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