At a Glance
Hours: 8 am to dusk.
Cost: Hiking trails are free. Reservations and rental fee required for use of the beach area and pavilion.
Tips: Bring a scope for waterfowl in winter and for field birds all year long. ◾ The trails are not well-groomed; closed-toe hiking shoes or boots recommended. A compass or GPS as well as a printout of the trail map at link below would be useful.◾ No restrooms at the trailhead. There are restrooms in the beach area, but these restrooms may not always be open.
Best Seasons: Year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Langford Creek NE, Centreville NW
Local MOS Chapters: Kent County Bird Club, Caroline County Bird Club, Talbot Bird Club
Conquest Beach Road, Centreville, MD 21617
(410) 758-0835, ext. 2531
Conquest Preserve is poised to become one of the outstanding birding destinations on the Eastern Shore. This relatively new public preserve was acquired by Queen Anne’s County between 1998 and 2003 and protects important bird habitat, including grassland and wetland areas. The 758-acre waterfront preserve is northwest of Centreville and is situated on the Spaniard Neck peninsula, with five miles of shoreline on the Chester and Corsica Rivers. The Preserve is open to the public for passive recreation such as hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, and nature study.
The majority of the property had been farmed up until 2017, but now the former agricultural lands are in the process of being converted into wildlife habitat and open space for passive recreation. The preserve has a mix of tidal wetlands, large expanses of unmowed grassland (about 500 acres), scrubby edges along field edges, wooded areas, and some freshwater wetlands that may dry out seasonally. The mix of these habitats creates a multitude of good birding options. There are eight restored freshwater wetlands: two are visible near the road and the others can be seen by walking the trails through the meadows (see trail map at link at left).
A network of walking and horseback riding trails runs throughout Conquest Preserve (see trail map at link at left), although the trails are not yet clearly marked, so be prepared to explore. The trail map linked at left shows the various meadows and wetland areas, labelled and numbered for easy reference; for example, you can use the meadow and wetland areas when giving others directions to find a specific bird. Note that the trails in the southwest sector of the Preserve are not directly joined to the trails in the other parts of the park, so if you want to explore that area, you’ll have to walk along the side of Conquest Road to reach them; be alert for traffic and exercise caution. There are good birding opportunities from the car along Conquest Road and Conquest Beach Road, with several spots along Conquest Road where it is possible to pull over onto the road shoulder. Be careful not to block driveways and always be respectful of private homes along the road and within the park.
Also note that the Corsica River Yacht Club is located at Ship Point, at the southeast corner of the preserve grounds. This is a private club, open to members only, and not accessible by car unless you’re a member. It is OK to walk the driveway and bird the grounds on foot; there is good habitat as well as a view of the Corsica River.
The grasslands are an amazing feature of the Preserve, considering how rare this type of habitat is becoming across the country. The fields are currently dominated by loosely spaced native broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), creating perfect habitat for breeding and wintering grassland birds. And the habitat is about to get even better.
The MD Department of Natural Resources has provided a grant to allow Washington College’s Natural Lands Project and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife to work with Queen Anne’s County to improve wildlife habitat at the Preserve. Restoration plans are targeting 125 acres of grasslands, 38 acres of wetlands, and 38 acres of forest – about 200 acres total. As of October 2020, the freshwater wetlands have been restored with native vegetation. The project will include broad meadows planted in native warm-season grasses and flowers to support pollinator and bird populations, as well as areas of native trees and shrubs. Public walking trails are being incorporated throughout. Kestrel and Barn Owl boxes are being installed at likely spots. The project will provide critical habitat for pollinators and bird species including a variety of waterfowl, grassland species such as Northern Bobwhite, and potentially Black Rail and other marshland breeders. The project is also expected to improve water quality in the Corsica and Chester Rivers through the buffering and filtering capacity of the restored habitat.
Dan Small, a field ecologist and coordinator of Washington College’s Natural Lands Project, is managing the work at Conquest Preserve. The project at Conquest Preserve complements Washington College’s other habitat restoration efforts in the region. Read more about Washington College’s River and Field Campus. The Center for Environment and Society at the College welcomes donations to support its work in avian biology and habitat restoration.
At Conquest, there is a sandy beach along the Chester River that includes a pavilion and recreation area available for private events on a rental basis; public access to the beach is not otherwise available. The beach was restored in 2016 as a living shoreline project (see the video link in the Multimedia section below). The project is one of the first living shoreline projects in the country to incorporate sea level rise projections into its design from the outset, in an attempt to mitigate some of the damaging effects of climate change in a cost-effective and natural way. The Conquest Preserve project is the first in the country to use a “shingle beach” design, consisting of pebbles or small- to medium-sized cobbles, rather than the typical fine sand. The lightweight cobbles will move slightly with the tide, allowing the shoreline to shift and respond to wave action and rising sea-levels into the future. The living shoreline stabilizes the public beach by reducing erosion and increasing marsh grass habitat for wildlife. Small dunes are incorporated into approximately one-third of the shoreline to create a small freshwater wetland, providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. An open field near the beach has been designated as an afforestation area and has been planted with native trees to create additional buffering for the river.
Additional plans for the Preserve include construction of gardens, a working farm, museum, and a nursery for the County, as well as a conference facility. There is currently no hunting allowed on the property.
MOS is encouraging more people to bird at Conquest, as it would show the county that creating and maintaining grassland habitat is not only beneficial for wildlife, but also has broad community support and interest. Be sure to post your sightings on eBird, as more documentation is needed of the birdlife at the Preserve.
As of October 2021, over 180 species have been reported at the eBird hotspot for Conquest Preserve, which is impressive considering that the Preserve has only been open to the public for a short time, and the majority of the eBird checklists have been posted since the spring of 2019. The tally of bird species has been accumulating rapidly. When reporting rarities on eBird, it would be helpful if your eBird description could pinpoint the bird’s location by referring to the numbered wetlands and meadows as shown on the trail map at the link at left.
As of October 2021, the list of birds includes 22 species of waterfowl, a smattering of shorebirds (check the eight wetlands, shown and numbered on the trail map), and 15 species of sparrows. Notable birds include a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in spring 2019, a LeConte’s Sparrow in November 2019, and a Clay-colored Sparrow in October 2021.
Breeding (or presumed breeding) species include Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Bluebird (abundant), Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, and Dickcissel.
Wintering species include Northern Harrier, Hermit Thrush, Pine Siskin, Savannah Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.
The trails at Conquest are not wheelchair accessible. However, there are good birding opportunities from the car along Conquest Road and Conquest Beach Road, and at the parking area. There are many spots along Conquest Road where it is possible to pull over onto the wide, mown road shoulder. Be careful not to block driveways and be respectful of private homes along the road.
Pets are permitted on a leash. Do not allow dogs to run through the fields and flush birds. Pick up after your pet.
Conquest Beach and its pavilion and recreational facilities are available by advance reservation for rental for private events. ◾ The trails at Conquest Preserve are extremely popular for horseback riding. ◾ The Corsica River Conservancy works to promote the health of the river and its surrounding lands. ◾ The Chester Riverkeeper works as part of ShoreRivers, a conservation organization that focuses on the Chester, Choptank, Sassafras, Miles, and Wye Rivers, Eastern Bay, and the bayside creeks. ◾ The Corsica River Water Trail Map is available as a free download from MD DNR. ◾ There is no chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society in Queen Anne’s County, but many birders participate in MOS through the Kent County Bird Club, the Talbot Bird Club, or the Caroline County Bird Club; all of these MOS chapters offer field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
- Dan Small provides a quick video introduction to the habitats and birds at Conquest Preserve in a video from Washington College’s YouTube channel.
- Dan Small takes another look at Conquest Preserve, focusing on the native plants that are taking root. See if you can identify the birds singing and calling in the background!
- Queen Anne’s County Parks has provided a brief video about the living shoreline project at Conquest Beach.
- A Voice for the Rivers is a special episode of Outdoors Maryland from Maryland Public Television that focuses on the work of the riverkeepers in safeguarding and working to improve the health of the major rivers of the Upper Eastern Shore: the Sassafras, the Wye, the Miles, the Chester, and the Choptank. There is beautiful footage of the open waters, marshlands, and shoreline forests, as well as discussion of the challenges of pollution and sea level rise.
There is a small trailhead parking area at the east end of the Preserve, on the north side of Conquest Road, marked with a sign and kiosk. See trail map at link at left. It is also permissible to park along Conquest Road; the shoulders are mowed and wide and you can park your car along the road and walk in from there. Conquest Road has little traffic. There is also a parking area at the beach on the Chester River; however this parking is only accessible at times when the beach gate is open.
From Western Shore via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: After crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, continue east and north using US Route 50/US Route 301. Near Queenstown, US Route 50 and US Route 301 will split; bear left here to follow US 301 north. In 5.3 miles after the split, take the exit from Route 301 to go north on MD Route 213. Route 213 will bring you into Centreville in about 1.8 miles. Follow the signs to stay on Route 213 northbound through Centreville. Continue on Route 213 for another 1.9 miles, then make a left turn at the traffic light to go west and north on Spaniard Neck Road. (Spaniard Neck Road will be about 3.7 miles after leaving Route 213). In 3.0 miles, bear right to continue on Spaniard Neck Road in a northerly direction for another half-mile, then make a left (look for a green Conquest Preserve sign) to continue westerly on Spaniard Neck Road for an additional half-mile. You’ll come to a sharp left curve where Spaniard Neck Road merges onto Conquest Road, with a private farm lane straight ahead. Go around the curve and past a couple of farms to the parking area for the Preserve trailhead on the right (north) side of the road in about 0.7 miles.
From points south on the Eastern Shore: Use US Route 50 to reach the Wye Mills area. Near Wye Mills, turn right to go north on MD Route 213/Centreville Road. Route 213 will bring you into Centreville in about 1.8 miles. Follow the signs to stay on Route 213 northbound through Centreville. Continue on Route 213 for another 1.9 miles, then make a left turn at the traffic light to go west and north on Spaniard Neck Road. (Spaniard Neck Road will be about 3.7 miles after leaving Route 213). In 3.0 miles, bear right to continue on Spaniard Neck Road in a northerly direction for another half-mile, then make a left (look for a green Conquest Preserve sign) to continue westerly on Spaniard Neck Road for an additional half-mile. You’ll come to a sharp left curve where Spaniard Neck Road merges onto Conquest Road, with a private farm lane straight ahead. Go around the curve and past a couple of farms to the parking area for the Preserve trailhead on the right (north) side of the road in about 0.7 miles.
From points north on the Eastern Shore: Use MD Route 301 southbound. From Route 301, take MD Route 300/Sudlersville Road west to Church Hill. In 3.9 miles, Route 300 will end at MD Route 213 in Church Hill. Turn left to go south on Route 213. In 7.6 miles, turn right at the traffic light to go west and north on Spaniard Neck Road. In 3.0 miles, bear right to continue on Spaniard Neck Road in a northerly direction for another half-mile, then make a left (look for a green Conquest Preserve sign) to continue westerly on Spaniard Neck Road for an additional half-mile. You’ll come to a sharp left curve where Spaniard Neck Road merges onto Conquest Road, with a private farm lane straight ahead. Go around the curve and past a couple of farms to the parking area for the Preserve trailhead on the right (north) side of the road in about 0.7 miles.
Queen Anne’s County: Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center – Horsehead ◾ Ferry Point Park ◾ Matapeake Clubhouse & Beach / Matapeake Fishing Pier & Boat Ramp ◾ Terrapin Nature Park ◾ Tuckahoe State Park (Queen Anne’s County) ◾ Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area
Kent County: Buckingham Public Landing & Morgnec Road Public Landing ◾ Chesapeake Farms & St. Paul’s Millpond ◾ Chestertown: Wilmer Park, Wayne Gilchrest Trail, & Chestertown WWTP ◾ Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge ◾ Millington Wildlife Management Area ◾ Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area & Turner’s Creek Park
Caroline County: Adkins Arboretum ◾ Choptank Marina ◾ Daniel Crouse Memorial Park ◾ Idylwild Wildlife Management Area ◾Martinak State Park ◾ Pelot MOS Sanctuary ◾ Skeleton Creek Road & Bethlehem Road ◾ Tuckahoe State Park (Caroline County)
Talbot County: Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park (Talbot County Side) ◾ Black Walnut Point Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Claiborne Landing ◾ Marengo Woods MOS Sanctuary ◾ Mill Creek MOS Sanctuary◾Pickering Creek Audubon Center ◾ Poplar Island
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerows Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby MeadowsSandy Beach or Dunes Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Free - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedWater View
Type:County ParksThe Rivers of the Eastern ShoreWater Trails