Elk Neck State Park – Turkey Point
4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, MD 21901
Turkey Point at Elk Neck State Park is located on a peninsula between the North East and Elk Rivers, at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. The Elk Neck peninsula acts as a migrant trap, and is best-known as a hawk watch spot during fall migration. The rich habitat and strategic location combine to make Turkey Point the #1 eBird hotspot in Cecil County, with over 215 species reported.
From 1994 through 2016, volunteers from the Cecil Bird Club staffed the Turkey Point Hawk Watch, and their data can be viewed in the database of the Hawk Migration Association of North America. Although the Turkey Point hawk watch site no longer has official counters, it is still a good place to watch migrating hawks. In addition, Turkey Point is a great place for migrating passerines in both spring and fall and for waterfowl in winter. The Turkey Point area consists primarily of hardwood forest and open meadows.
The Turkey Point area of Elk Neck State Park (about 278 acres) is separated from the rest of the 2,369-acre state park by a private residential community, known as Chesapeake Isle. Note that it is not permitted to park on the private roads within Chesapeake Isle to walk into the park.
The parking lot for Turkey Point, at the southern terminus of MD Route 272, is small, and on weekends fills quickly. Rangers will turn excess cars away, so be sure to arrive early. It is about a one-mile walk to the Point and its historic lighthouse, with good birding all the way. Most of the walk is on a gravel lane on level ground, although the first part is a short uphill section with spectacular views of the water from the top of the cliffs.
After parking, walk past the gate onto the gravel lane, which heads south with cliffs overlooking the Northeast River on your right. The treetops on the cliffs can be filled with migrant songbirds during migration. Continue south on this lane, which will soon veer inland, passing through two meadows. The wood edges on both sides of the lane are prime places to look for migrating warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, and more. Especially good is the corner where the lane makes a sharp left as it veers inland. The trees in this corner are festooned with vines where songbirds like to hunt for insects and berries. The ground underneath has a lot of downed wood, which attracts migrant thrushes and Winter Wrens.
To reach the hawk watch site, continue on the gravel lane through the first meadow and then through a small strip of trees, emerging in the second meadow. The hawk watch site is near a picnic bench and a kiosk installed by the Cecil Bird Club that displays paintings of the common hawks that fly over in the fall.
Be sure to continue past the hawk watch site to the lighthouse area and the Point itself. The gravel lane will take you through a small woodlot to emerge at the historic lighthouse (no longer operational). As you emerge into the clearing by the lighthouse, check the vines and shrubs on both sides of the lane, as well as the tall red cedar trees, for migrant songbirds. Also be sure to check the vegetation at the top of the cliffs past the lighthouse, and on the cliffs, for more migrants. Palm Warblers especially like the cliffs in fall. From the lighthouse, the trail continues to the west (your right as you face the water), skirting the cliffs to go downhill to the site of the old boat landing used by the long-gone lighthouse keepers. At this point, the trail turns inland through the woods, going up a slope to re-emerge in the meadow near the hawk watch site.
Camping, a boat launch, and a day-use picnic and swimming area are available nearby in the main part of the state park, along with more trails. For a description of other trails at Elk Neck State Park, consult the trail map at link at left and see https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Documents/ElkNeck_TrailDescriptions.pdf. Also see the Birdlife section below for other eBird hotspots in the park.
Over 215 species have been reported to eBird from the Turkey Point section of Elk Neck State Park. There is a set of six eBird hotspots covering the park:
Late summer and early fall brings good flights of migrating hawks, as well as swallows, swifts, flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, tanagers and orioles, loons, and waterfowl. On a good day in the fall, the skies and the woods are just full of migrating birds. Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches and Pine Siskins may also be seen in fall and winter. Spring migration brings flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, tanagers and orioles moving north. Breeding birds include Bald Eagle, Osprey, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Prairie Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. The Point is a roosting and hunting spot for owls, with Barred, Great-horned, and Eastern Screech-Owl present all year. In the 1990s, a banding study conducted by MD DNR trapped and banded over 350 Northern Saw-Whet Owls in one season.
There is a small unpaved parking lot at the trail-head to Turkey Point. Parking space is limited; cars will be ticketed for parking in prohibited areas. Do not park on the residential streets in nearby Chesapeake Isle. There is ample parking in paved lots at the day-use, camping areas, and boat launch areas north of Turkey Point.
The trail at Turkey Point is not wheelchair accessible, but the day-use area on the Northeast River (north of Turkey Point) offers a spectacular view of the water from the parking area and is a good spot for birders who are mobility-impaired, as is the boat launch area at Rogue’s Harbor. The woods edges on the way to, and near, the Rogues Harbor Boat Launch offer good birding.◾ Camping (including cabins, tent camping, and RV hook-ups), camp store, swimming, boat launch, and picnic areas are all available at the main part of Elk Neck State Park. Canoes and kayaks can be launched at the North East River Day Use Area as well as at the Rogue’s Harbor Boat Launch. ◾ There is a seasonally open Nature Center that offers displays and programs about the natural and cultural history of Elk Neck; the center has live animals, local history displays, and hands-on activities for all ages. Naturalists offer programs during the spring, summer and fall including Canoe Adventures, Campfire Programs, Reptile Shows, and Guided Hikes. ◾ Elk Neck State Park is one of the focal points of the Elk Neck Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. The IBA encompasses most of the Elk Neck peninsula. ◾ Elk Neck State Park is a part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of the National Park Service. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Cecil Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
From I-95 north of Perryville: Take Exit 100 for MD Route 272 southbound for approximately 14 miles to where Route 272 ends at the parking lot for Turkey Point.
Elk Neck State Forest; North East Community Park; Elkton Marsh/Elk River Park; and Elkton – Meadow Park, Eder Park, Hatchery Park & Howard’s Pond.
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuaryRivers & Streams
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsCampingFishingFree - No Entry FeeHawk WatchHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingHuntingOvernight Lodging or CabinsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsSwimmingWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
#1 Hotspot in County or CityAudubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Eastern ShoreChesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkNature CentersState ParksThe Rivers of the Eastern Shore