Elliott Island Road / Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area (Eastern Section)
4498 Elliott Island Road, Vienna, MD 21869
There is no better opportunity to view the heart of the Chesapeake Bay tidal marshes than to drive the 19-mile road from Vienna south to the settlement on Elliott Island in southeastern Dorchester County. Elliott Island Road passes through agricultural land, pine forests, and eventually through spectacular salt marshes, affording views of some pristine landscapes and iconic Chesapeake Bay bird species. Much of the marsh and woods alongside Elliott Island Road are owned by the State of Maryland, mostly as part of the sprawling 29,000-acre Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, which extends all the way to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to the northwest.
Fishing Bay WMA is the state’s largest wildlife management area and largest parcel of publicly-owned tidal wetlands in Maryland. Large expanses of tidal marshes dominate eighty percent of this WMA. The property is dotted with small islands of lowland loblolly pines and mixed hardwoods. There are a few short foot-trails, mostly used by hunters, in some of the Fishing Bay WMA tracts along Elliott Island Road; see trail map at link at left for trail locations and parking. The map also shows boat ramp (BR) locations, for those interested in exploring by water; the boat ramps also provide good vantage points from which to scan the marsh.
Some roadside parcels along Elliott Island Road are part of the Chesapeake Forest Lands, also owned by the MD Department of Natural Resources and managed for public hunting, forestry, and passive recreation. The Chesapeake Forest Lands parcels are sizeable with a good trail network, and are worth exploring on foot if you have the time. The Hoernicke Oliphant Complex (Parcel D25) is 368 acres, and the Lewis Complex (Parcel D26) is a whopping 1,575 acres. See the two Chesapeake Forest Land trail maps at the links at left for trails in these parcels, and see the Directions section below for specifics on reaching the parking areas.
A good bit of the land along Elliott Island Road is privately owned, so please do not trespass on posted private property. Private property parcels are marked in gray on the Fishing Bay WMA trail map at link at left.
As you travel south along Elliott Island Road past Henry’s Crossroads (see map), the effects of rising sea level will be evident as Loblolly Pine forests are both stunted and dying out, beginning a succession to marshland and later, open water. As you drive along through the marsh, leaving the receding forests, the marsh will become increasingly saline and becomes dominated by saltmarsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora (now reclassifed as Sporobolus alterniflorus). Savannah Lake, east of Elliott Island Road, is a naturally occurring lake (not man-made), and is a prime a stopover for waterfowl. At the end of the road before reaching Elliott Island itself, where a tiny settlement is located, the road parallels Fishing Bay, affording great looks at diving ducks, grebes, loons, and an occasional Brown Pelican.
Though there is foot-trail access to some of the public lands along Elliott Island Road, driving the road is a jewel in itself and allows you to enjoy the pristine bird habitat without leaving the car. The pilgrimage to Elliott Island Road at dusk or before dawn to listen for rails is a cherished tradition among Maryland birders. Whether in the dead of winter with waterfowl dominating, or in prime breeding season with the songs of marsh dwellers dominating, there is always a surprise to be found somewhere along the road.
More than 240 species have been reported on eBird from Elliott Island Road. Note that there are multiple eBird hotspots covering Elliott Island Road, including
Some of the side roads and landings in the area also have their own eBird hotspots.
Significant breeding birds include: Common Gallinule; Clapper Rail; Virginia Rail; King Rail in the upper reaches; Sora; Black Rail (extremely rare now); Red-headed Woodpecker; Seaside Sparrow; Saltmarsh Sparrow; abundant Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats; Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; Willets; Black-necked Stilt.
Spring and fall will produce migrating shorebirds, egrets, other heron species, and numerous migrating ducks.
The road is also a treat during winter as waterfowl abound and Short-eared Owls can be found later in the day. Both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal can be found in the winter and spring along with Common Merganser (Savannah Lake), Willet, Greater Yellowleg, and Black-bellied Plover. Historically, Barn Owls nested here and there may be a few lingering individuals.
Pets allowed on a leash.
Since this is primarily a driving tour, it is a great opportunity for those who are mobility-impaired to bird from the car or nearby.
The heart of the Fishing Bay marshes have been designated as a State Natural Area; the Natural Areas initiative seeks to identify the best remaining natural areas found within our state. Designation as a Natural Area carries a commitment to sustainable management to conserve the area’s natural features. Read more about what makes Fishing Bay special at https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/NaturalAreas/Eastern/Fishing-Bay-Marshes.aspx. ◾ A large area that includes Blackwater NWR and Fishing Bay WMA as well as other state and private properties has been designated as the Southern Dorchester County Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
Check out the “Birding in the Heart of Chesapeake Country” brochure produced by the Dorchester County Tourism Office and MD DNR . You can also pick up a printed copy at the Sailwinds Park and Visitor Center in Cambridge. The brochure outlines five birding/driving tours through Dorchester County (including Elliott Island Road), and also has an overview of birds and habitats in the county. ◾ There is no local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society centered in Dorchester County, so many local birders are members of the Talbot Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative presentations, all free and open to the public.
Highly recommended: Watch the film, “High Tide in Dorchester,” produced by the Bay Journal. The film documents the ongoing sea level increase and its already noticeable effects in Dorchester County.
See the trail maps at link at left for parking and boat ramp locations. Pull-over parking is limited and difficult for large groups. Exercise caution in pulling over since the road shoulders are often soft/wet, and the road itself may be partially under water during high tides. See Directions below for some specific parking area locations.
Elliott Island Road (County Route 192) heads south from the town of Vienna, easily accessible from US Route 50.
From US Route 50 near Vienna, MD: Take the exit for MD Route 331 and head south toward Vienna. In 0.6 miles, turn left onto eastbound Race Street. In one block, turn right onto southbound Market Street. Market Street becomes Elliott Island Road as you leave the town of Vienna. Stay on Elliott Island Road all the way to its end in 19 miles at the settlement on Elliott Island, stopping wherever a pull-off or hunting area parking is available. See some specific under “Parking” above. You can also explore some of the side roads and landings along the way.
To reach the parking areas for Chesapeake Forest Lands (see trail maps at links at left):
- Parking for the Hoernicke Oliphant (Parcel D25) of the Chesapeake Forest Lands is on the right (west) side of Elliott Island Road, about 0.7 miles south of the intersection with Steele Neck Road. Park in the designated area between the two gates.
- Two parking areas for the Lewis Complex (Parcel D26) of the Chesapeake Forest Lands are located on Henrys Cross Road and Griffith Neck Road. From Vienna, take Elliott Island Road south to Henrys Cross Road and turn right to go west about 1.5 miles and park on the south side of the road. To reach another parking area for Parcel D26, continue on Henrys Cross Road, then turn left onto Griffith Neck Road and go about ¼ mile. Park on the left by the gate in the designated parking area.
Dorchester County: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge ◾ Cambridge – Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park (Dorchester County Side) ◾ Cambridge – Great Marsh Park ◾ Cambridge – Oakley Street ◾ Cambridge – Sailwinds Park & Visitor Center ◾ Chesapeake Forest – North Tara Road ◾ Hooper’s Island ◾ Taylor’s Island
Caroline County: Adkins Arboretum ◾ Choptank Marina ◾ Daniel Crouse Memorial Park ◾ Idylwild Wildlife Management Area ◾ Martinak State Park ◾ Skeleton Creek Road & Bethlehem Road ◾ Tuckahoe State Park (Caroline County)
Somerset County: Deal Island Wildlife Management Area ◾ Fairmount Wildlife Management Area ◾ Irish Grove MOS Sanctuary ◾ Janes Island State Park ◾ Rumbley Boat Ramp ◾ Smith Island
Talbot County: Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park (Talbot County Side) ◾ Black Walnut Point Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Claiborne Landing ◾ Mill Creek MOS Sanctuary ◾ Pickering Creek Audubon Center ◾ Poplar Island
Wicomico County: Cedar Hill Marina & Park ◾ Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area ◾ Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area – Nutter’s Neck ◾ Pemberton Historical Park ◾ Roaring Point & Nanticoke Harbor ◾ Tyaskin Park & Wetipquin Park ◾ Ward Museum & Schumaker Pond
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerows Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsHay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampRivers & StreamsSalt or Brackish Marsh
Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingParkingPets AllowedWater View
Audubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Eastern ShoreDriving Tours (Birding By Car)Hunting AreasState Natural Areas & WildlandsThe Rivers of the Eastern ShoreWater Trails