At a Glance

Hours: Sunrise to sunset.

Cost: Free.

Tips: No restrooms. Nearest restrooms are at Mount Zion Park, about a mile away at 5130 Brookeville Road. ◾ A scope is recommended. ◾ Waterproof boots are recommended when it has been raining.

Best Seasons: Spring and fall.

Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Sandy Spring CW

Local MOS Chapter: Montgomery Bird Club

Blue Mash Nature Trail

Nature Trail Parking – 20600 Zion Road, Laytonsville, MD 20833
Mixed-use Trail Parking – 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road, Laytonsville, MD 20882
(301) 495-4500

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 (see trail map at link at left). The trails are maintained by the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation with assistance from local volunteers.

Northern Harriers and occasionally Short-eared Owls have been seen hunting over the former landfill from the Blue Mash Nature Trail. One of the two large ponds is actually on landfill property, not accessible to the public, but is usually visible through a chain link fence in the southwest corner of the Nature Trail area, except when trees and shrubs are fully leafed out.  In dry years (such as 2007), this landfill pond is attractive to shorebirds, and when well-watered, both ponds host several species of ducks and waders. Grasses on the pond edges have sheltered nesting Wood Ducks and Green Herons. A wet grassy swale through the center of the area has produced American Bittern and frequently, Swamp Sparrow. There are many junipers (Eastern Red Cedar) dotted throughout the nature trail area, and a Long-eared Owl was once flushed from one of these.  Many bird houses attract Eastern Bluebird and (particularly) Tree Swallows.

Birdlife:

Over 220 species of birds have been reported on eBird for the Blue Mash Nature Trail. Regularly seen are Green-winged Teal; Bufflehead; Hooded Merganser; Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, and Cooper’s Hawks; Northern Harrier; Barred Owl; both vultures; Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; Solitary Sandpiper; Spotted Sandpiper; Killdeer; Great Blue Heron; Green Heron; Pileated Woodpecker; and Northern Flicker.

In spring and early summer, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Indigo Bunting and both orioles are usually resident, along with more common birds like the three mimids, Eastern Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, and other small woodland species. Nesting species include Wood Duck; Great Horned Owl; Willow Flycatcher; Yellow-breasted Chat; Ovenbird; Yellow Warbler; Orchard Oriole; Baltimore Oriole; Scarlet Tanager; Indigo Bunting; and  Blue Grosbeak

In migration one might see many eastern warblers and vireos, Broad-winged Hawk, American Bittern, and Wilson’s Snipe. In fall or winter, a good variety of sparrows is possible, including Fox (regular in March and November), White-crowned, White-throated, American Tree, Savannah, and Lincoln’s, in addition to resident Song, Field, and Chipping Sparrows.

In the wooded northern part of the park, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, and Great Horned Owl usually nest, and Barred Owl is common in the woods on the south side of the Nature Trail area.

Special Features:

The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Montgomery Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public. ◾ The Montgomery Bird Club has published A Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland; this comprehensive, detailed printed book covers 17 major birding sites plus 18 “little treasures” in the county. To order, see https://mdbirds.org/join/merchandise/a-birders-guide-to-montgomery-county/. ◾ Montgomery Parks has an interactive map available at https://mcatlas.org/parks/. As you zoom in on a county park, detailed features such as trails, parking, picnic areas, trailheads, and restrooms will be displayed.

Parking:

Unpaved lots off of Zion Road (preferred for Nature Trail) and Route 108 (for mixed-use trail). The Zion Road parking lot will hold about 12 cars, and a few more can park on the gravel entry road.

Directions:

From I-495/DC Beltway: Take Exit 31 for MD Route 97/Georgia Avenue Northbound. Follow MD Route 97 north for about 10 miles, to the town of Olney. Turn left to go northwest on MD Route 108/Olney Laytonsville Road. After 2.5 miles, turn right to go north on MD Route 582/Zion Road*. The entrance to the parking area for the Blue Mash Nature Trail will be ahead on the left (west) side of the road in about 1.1 miles.

*If you prefer to use the parking area for the mixed-use trail, instead of turning north on Zion Road, stay on Route 108 and go another 1.4 miles. The entrance to the parking area for the Mixed-Use Trail will be on the right (north) side of the road, at Fieldcrest Road. Turn right onto Fieldcrest and then left into the parking area.

Nearby Sites:

Montgomery County: Black Hill Regional Park, C&O Canal – Pennyfield, Violette’s & Riley’s Locks, Little Bennett Regional Park, Lois Y. Green Conservation Park, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow), Rock Creek Regional Park – Lake Needwood, Rock Creek Regional Park – Meadowside Nature Center & Lake Frank, Seneca Creek State Park, Wheaton Regional Park – Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Pine Lake Area

Habitats:

HedgerowsUpland Deciduous Reclaimed Industrial SiteSuburban Neighborhood Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Pond, Lake, or Reservoir

Features:

BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Free - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedWater ViewYoung People / Families

Type:

Community and Urban Parks