At a Glance
- Funk’s Pond: sunrise to sunset.
- Conowingo Creek Boat Launch: One hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
- Old Conowingo Area driving tour: birding is from public roads, best visited in daylight hours for your own safety and privacy of residents.
Tips: Bring a scope in the winter and early spring for waterfowl and eagles on Conowingo Lake. Trails may be wet or muddy. Wear sturdy waterproof hiking boots or shoes. There may be hunting on private lands in this area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. Wear blaze orange during deer and turkey seasons. Much of the Old Conowingo Area driving tour passes through or by private property, including roadside homes. Please be respectful of private property and people’s privacy. Do not trespass and avoid disturbing the residents in any way. People may be suspicious of slow-moving cars; a friendly wave and the single word “birdwatching” may reassure them. No restrooms.
Best Seasons: Fall through early summer.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Conowingo Dam CE (Funk’s Pond); Conowingo Dam CW (Conowingo Creek Boat Launch and Bell Manor Road)
Local MOS Chapter: Cecil Bird Club
Funk’s Pond & Old Conowingo Area
Funk’s Pond Parking Area: just south of car dealership at 169 Conowingo Road, Conowingo, MD, 21919
GPS Coordinates: 39.672635, -76.168183
Funk’s Pond Recreation Area is located in Cecil County on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River, just above Conowingo Dam, where the body of water formed by the dam is known variously as Conowingo Lake, Conowingo Pond, and Conowingo Reservoir. Exelon, the power company that owns and operates Conowingo Dam, owns much of both shorelines of the Susquehanna north and south of the dam. Funk’s Pond is just one of several public recreation facilities provided by Exelon.
The 114-acre Funk’s Pond Recreation Area is known for the diversity of its plant life, being essentially undisturbed since Conowingo Dam was built in the 1920s. The Recreation Area features a small freshwater pond nestled in hardwood forest with a few scattered conifers and a good understory and ground cover. Near the pond, there are great views of the lake above the dam. Thus, the Recreation Area offers birders the opportunity for both water-oriented birds and for forest interior dwelling species.
In the Recreation Area, there is essentially only one trail with one short side-branch (see trail map at the link at left). The obvious foot-trail starts at a yellow metal gate at the southwest corner of the parking area. The trail leads in a westerly direction through the woods to Funk’s Pond, a one-way distance of about 0.6 miles. Soon after leaving the parking area, the trail goes down a hill and then through a brushy power line cut with a stream. This area is good for sparrows and other landbirds. The trail continues up a hill, bypassing the stone ruins of an old barn, and through more woods before coming to a fork. In winter, the area near the fork has been a traditional spot to find one or two Black-capped Chickadees, instead of the usual Carolinas, so you might want to linger here and check all the chickadees carefully.
At the fork, the trail on the right is a short side branch that dead-ends in the woods in about a half-mile further. The trail on the left is the main trail to the pond. Upon arriving at the pond, a faint trail follows the pond’s edge northward, but there is no loop trail around the pond as a whole. In winter, approach the pond slowly so that any resting waterfowl are not flushed.
At the south edge of the pond, you can cross a small ditch and climb up to the railway embankment to obtain a good view of the Conowingo Lake, with the best view in winter when leaves are off the trees. Scan the water just above the dam, seen by looking to the left, both shorelines, and the open water. This is a good spot at both dawn and dusk, as waterfowl and gulls fly along the river on their way to or from their feeding spots. Return to the parking area by retracing your steps.
Old Conowingo Area Driving Tour
If you’re in the mood for more exploring along the Susquehanna above the dam, there is an opportunity for an interesting driving route with several good birding stops – this route is good in both winter and the early summer breeding season. The route described comprises part of the Oakwood sector of the annual Rock Run Christmas Bird Count. The driving route is shown in red on the Old Conowingo Area map at the link at left (page 2 of the map set provided).
- From the parking area of Funk’s Pond, turn left to go north on US Route 1/Conowingo Road.
- At the first traffic light, turn left to go north on MD Route 222/Rock Springs Road. Go north on Rock Springs Road for 1.7 miles, then
- Turn left to go west on Old Conowingo Road (the road that goes east at this intersection is called Ragan Road).
- In 0.3 miles, at the intersection with Oakwood Road and Pilot Town Road, Old Conowingo Road turns left to go south, but instead continue straight ahead onto Pilot Town Road.
- In another 0.5 miles, Pilot Town Road will make a sharp right bend to go north, and a little further on, will cross Conowingo Creek. You can park your car on the wide shoulder at the bridge to bird from the bridge. This area is good for thrushes, including Hermit Thrush in winter, Wood Thrush in breeding season, and Swainson’s or Veery in migration. The moving waters of the creek also attract flycatchers, warblers, and small birds such as kinglets. There may even be a shorebird such as Yellowlegs or Spotted Sandpiper in migration. The forested land on either side of Pilot Town Road is privately owned, so stay on the public roadway. You’ll see that there is a Girl Scout Camp on the south side of the road; this is not open to the public. The north side of the road is occupied by the Nature Conservancy’s Pilot Serpentine Barrens, also not open to the public because of the sensitive nature of the soils and plants there. So please stay on the public roadway. The road has little traffic but the cars do move fast, so stay on the shoulder and be alert.
- Return to your car and continue driving west on Pilot Town Road to the village of Pilot, at the crossroads with Bell Manor Road. The village and the road are named for the pilots that used to make their living by operating a ferry that crossed the Susquehanna, in the days before a bridge or the Conowingo Dam was built. Almost all the homes in Pilot were built in the 1800s and are on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. A short distance away, a ford at Bald Friar was in use by the native Susquehannock people before the colonists came, and later, this ford was used by General Lafayette’s troops during the Revolutionary War. The Bald Friar ford now lies under the deep waters of Conowingo Lake.
- At Pilot, turn left to go south on Bell Manor Road. Both sides of the road have a mix of small homes and farms – watch for bluebirds and other species as you drive this section.
- Further south, Bell Manor Road enters a deeply wooded area with mature old trees; this land is part of the Girl Scout Camp (private, no entry). There are several places where you can pull over on the shoulder to check for warblers, flycatchers, vireos, tanagers and thrushes in breeding season, or for small woodland birds in winter.
- After passing a lane that leads into the Girl Scout Camp, on the right, Bell Manor Road hugs the top of a steep forested hill above the shore of Conowingo Lake. Watch for a place to park on the shoulder and in winter, you can scope the waters of Conowingo Lake for waterfowl, eagles, and gulls. In early spring, there may also be grebes on the lake.
- Continue south on Bell Manor Road, which shortly makes a sharp curve to the left and then skirts a ravine on the right that contains the mouth of Conowingo Creek. Just before the road makes a second sharp bend, this time to the right, there is a wide spot and place to park on the far shoulder; you can leave your car here and walk back (mind the traffic!) to bird the woodsy hills and top of the ravine along the road. This section of Bell Manor Road is very good for warblers in breeding season, including the coveted Kentucky Warbler.
- Return to the curve where you left your car, and looking to the right, you’ll see that Bell Manor Road goes over an old iron truss bridge across Conowingo Creek. The bridge was built in 1885 and is one of the oldest bridges still in use on Cecil County. You can walk out to the shoulder of the bridge to obtain a good view of the creek (again, mind the traffic). Depending on water levels and season of the year, there may be herons and egrets or waterfowl in or near the creek, on either side of the bridge. After heavy rains or snow melt, Conowingo Creek here may be flooded and running very high and wide. Downstream from the bridge, the creek widens into a broad basin, and the actual mouth of the creek is crossed by a multi-arched bridge that carries freight railroad tracks along the shore of the lake. You’ll notice that there is a boat launch area on the far side of the basin, and that’s your next stop.
- Get in your car and drive across the old iron bridge.
- At the T-intersection at the far end of the bridge, the road to the left is a section of Old Conowingo Road that is no longer open to through-traffic. Make a hard right onto the open section of Old Conowingo Road and in just 200 feet, you’ll see the entrance to Conowingo Creek Boat Launch; there is a second entrance in another 200 feet.
- If the yellow gates at Conowingo Creek Boat Launch are open, drive in and park. The Boat Launch is owned by Exelon and is open to the public, but the gates may be closed if high waters are causing flooding. There is a picnic table or two located on the knoll above the parking lot. You can stop here for a leisurely opportunity to scope Conowingo Lake, viewable across the arched railroad bridge. Do not attempt to walk out on the railway bridge – it carries freight trains. Be sure to bird the edges of Conowingo Creek, especially in breeding season.
- While here, take a moment to try to imagine this area before Conowingo Dam was built. You’re standing near the original site of the village of Conowingo (i.e., Old Conowingo), which now lies beneath the waters of the lake. It was a bustling small town with a population of about 350 people and its own post office, lodging houses, merchants and small tradesmen, and several mills. And on January 18, 1928, it all disappeared under the rising waters of the Susquehanna River, when Conowingo Dam became operational.
- When ready to move on, turn right out of the parking area at the boat launch and proceed around a bend to a fork in the road. At the fork, the road to the right, Mt. Zoar Road, will take you directly back to Route 222 in just 1.5 miles, but has little opportunity for further birding.
- If you would like a couple more birding stops, take the fork to the left, which is Conowingo Lake Road. The road initially passes northeast through dense forest. If you can find a spot on the shoulder, you can stop and bird from the road for woodland birds. Continuing on, the unused portion of Old Conowingo Road will join Conowingo Lake Road from the left, and at this point, the name of the road you are on changes to Old Conowingo Road.
- Just prior to the intersection with Pilot Town Road and Oakwood Road, at the village of Oakwood, the historic Oakwood Mennonite Church (previously a Presbyterian Church, built circa 1877-1900) sits on the left. You can park here (out of respect, do not stop here on Sundays) and bird the little woodlot behind and to the right of the church, where there are ruins of an even earlier log structure. You can also check the farm field to the west of the church; depending on whether the field is fallow or planted with crops, there may be sparrows or other field birds here.
- When done birding, turn left out of the church parking lot and then at the Oakwood intersection, turn right onto Old Conowingo Road, which will take you back to Route 222. Turn right to go south on Route 222, and then another right onto US Route 1 will take you back to the vicinity of Funk’s Pond and Conowingo Dam. This is the end of the driving tour.
There are separate eBird hotspots for the following locations:
- Exelon Conowingo Recreation Area–Funk’s Pond – 132+ species
- Conowingo Lake–Mt.Zoar – 118+ species (this hotspot pin is at the Conowingo Creek Boat Launch and can be used for land birds in the vicinity)
- Conowingo Lake (Cecil County) – 93+ species (this hotspot pin is near the upstream side of the dam at the shoreline on the Cecil County side)
It’s fair to say that there have been dramatic changes in birdlife in the Conowingo area in recent decades. Around the mid 2000s, birders first started noticing that the number of gulls and waterfowl present in the winter dropped precipitously, and no one knows why. Some species of land birds that used to be present, but scarce, seem to have entirely disappeared, not having been reported for years; these include Northern Bobwhite, Ring-necked Pheasant, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and American Tree Sparrow. The number of wintering and nesting Bald Eagles, on the other hand, has grown. So, a disclaimer: the lists given below mention species that historically have been present, but some may be difficult to find now.
Winter: You can expect a variety of waterfowl on Conowingo Lake – 20 species have been reported – plus grebes (Pied-billed, Horned, and Red-necked) and loons (Common and Red-throated), as well as American Coot. A Pacific Loon was a rare find off Bald Friar in November of 1999. Winter gulls could include the usual four or five species (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, Bonaparte’s, and maybe late lingering Laughing Gulls) as well as rarer species such as Franklin’s, California, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed. Don’t be surprised to see Great Blue Herons in winter – a few stick around all year. Watch for Peregrine Falcons near the dam; they like to perch on the metal framework above the dam buildings at the far end (Harford side) of the dam, and will fly out over the lake on hunting forays. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers occupy all the wooded areas. Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers are common winter visitors in the wooded areas. Winter Wrens like the shores of Funk’s Pond as well as the streams within the Funk’s Pond Recreation Area and Conowingo Creek. Yellow-rumped Warblers are easy to find in the woods and shrubby areas, and there may be Purple Finches and Pine Siskins in woods or brush; try along the edges of the Girl Scout camp on Pilot Town and Bell Manor Roads. White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos are everywhere. In the “you never know what you might find” category, a Red Phalarope was spotted on the lake just above the dam in November of 2012.
Breeding season: A lot of birders think of the Conowingo area primarily in terms of wintering waterfowl and gulls, but there is much to look at during the late spring and early summer breeding season, when birds show up from their wintering grounds. Yellow-billed Cuckoos will be in the woods, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds like the many blooming plants throughout Funk’s Pond Recreation Area and along the lake shore. Ospreys will be everywhere, competing with Bald Eagles for nest sites. Watch for swallows near or over the water (Purple Martins, Tree, and Barn). Forest species include flycatchers (Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested); vireos (White-eyed, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated); House Wren; Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher (check the power line cut at Funk’s Pond); Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Veery and Wood Thrush; Orchard and Baltimore Orioles; Chipping Sparrow; warblers (Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded (scarce), Cerulean (declining, known from only a few spots near the river), Northern Parula); Scarlet Tanager; Blue Grosbeak; and Indigo Bunting. Additional breeding species are present year-round (see below).
Spring and/or fall migration: A wide variety of birds migrate through the Susquehanna River Valley, which constitutes a main north–south flight path. Look for terns (Caspian, Common, Forster’s, and maybe even Black Skimmer), Great Egret, Green Heron, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Bank Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Swainson’s Thrush, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and warblers (Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Tennessee, American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Canada).
Year-round: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Ring-billed Gull (scarce in summer), Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Turkey and Black Vultures, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Belted Kingfisher, woodpeckers (Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, Northern Flicker), corvids (Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow), Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Song SparrowCommon Grackle, Northern Cardinal.
The foot-trail at Funk’s Pond is not wheelchair-accessible. However, the driving tour of the Old Conowingo Area presents excellent opportunities to bird from or near the car, as the car will be on paved surfaces at all times.
Pets are allowed on leash; pick up after your pet.
Funk’s Pond Recreation Area and most of the Old Conowingo Area driving tour lie within the Susquehanna River Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society.
The State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources has classified most of the area as a Sensitive Species Project Review Area, meaning that any development project or disturbance receives extra scrutiny to ensure that rare, threatened, or endangered species would not be imperiled by the project.
Pilot Serpentine Barrens, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is on the north side of Pilot Town Road, across from the Girl Scout Camp. The preserve is not open to the public and permission to enter is granted only for scientific study, since the soils and plants are quite fragile. Pilot Serpentine Barrens is part of what used to be an extensive string of serpentine barrens along the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line. If you wish to visit habitat similar to that of Pilot, we recommend Soldier’s Delight in Baltimore County or any of four preserves a short distance away in Pennsylvania:
- Chrome Serpentine Barrens; see eBird hotspot.
- Rock Springs Serpentine Barrens (aka Rock Springs Nature Preserve); see eBird hotspot.
- Nottingham Park; see eBird hotspot.
- Goat Hill Serpentine Barrens; see eBird hotspot.
Bicycling is permitted on the trail at Funk’s Pond. ■ Both Funk’s Pond and the Conowingo Creek Boat Launch have picnic tables. ■ Shoreline fishing is available at both Funk’s Pond and the Conowingo Creek Boat Launch. Fishing from boats on Conowingo Lake is permitted. ■ There is no fee for boat launching at Conowingo Creek Boat Launch; the ramp can accommodate small motorized boats as well as canoes and kayaks. Note that getting out of the Conowingo Creek basin onto Conowingo Lake requires passing under the arches of the railway bridge; large boats won’t fit. Be aware of the boating regulations.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Cecil Bird Club, offering field trips and other events, all free and open to the public.
- Funk’s Pond Recreation Area has a small paved lot on the north side of US 1/Conowingo Road, adjacent to a car dealership.
- Conowingo Creek Boat Launch (part of the Old Conowingo Area driving tour) also has a paved parking area.
- The remainder of the Old Conowingo Area driving tour has road shoulder parking as noted in the description.
Funk’s Pond Recreation Area and the Old Conowingo Area are located in the northwestern corner of Cecil County, on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Lake, above Conowingo Dam.
The street address for Funk’s Pond is: Just south of the car dealership at 169 Conowingo Road, Conowingo, MD, 21919.
GPS Coordinates: 39.672635, -76.168183.
From Elkton: Get on I-95 at MD Route 279. Take I-95 west toward Perryville. Take Exit 93 for MD Route 222 north, and then follow directions below for the Baltimore or Washington, DC areas.
From points south on the Eastern Shore: Use US Route 50 and then MD Route 213 to reach Elkton. From Route 213, turn right to go north on MD Route 279. Elkton-Newark Road. At the interchange for I-95, follow signs to get on I-95 westbound toward Perryville. Take Exit 93 for MD Route 222 north, and then follow directions below for the Baltimore or Washington, DC areas.
From the Baltimore or Washington, DC areas (including Prince George’s County): Travel north on I-95, crossing the Susquehanna River at the high bridge just past the exit for Havre De Grace. Take Exit 93, which is the first exit after the bridge. From Exit 93 off I-95, follow Route 222 north, and at the traffic light where Route 222 turns left onto Bainbridge Road, do not turn, but instead continue straight ahead onto MD Route 275/Perrylawn Drive. In another 2.2 miles, Route 275 will come to a T-intersection with Route 276/Jacob Tome Highway. Turn right onto Route 276, and follow it east and then north for 5 miles. At the traffic circle at the intersection with MD Route 275, go ¾ of the way around the circle and exit the circle onto Route 273 westbound. In just a half-mile, turn right (watch for sign) onto a short connector road that will take you to US Route 1. At US Route 1, turn left to go west toward Conowingo. In 4 miles you will reach the small town of Conowingo at the intersection of US Route 1 and MD Route 222. Go straight here, but not too fast. The parking area for Funk’s Pond Recreation Area will be on your right in just a half-mile after Route 222, immediately after a car dealership. If you go too fast, you will sail by it and end driving over the Conowingo Dam. Warning: traffic moves exceedingly fast in the stretch of Route 1 between Route 222 and Conowingo Dam, which is all the more hair-raising because of steep hill and a curve that obscures vision. Be alert.
- If you have time and would prefer to bird along the way to Funk’s Pond, consider following the Port Deposit & Susquehanna River Road Driving Tour described in this Birder’s Guide. The Driving Tour will take you on an alternate route from I-95 to Funk’s Pond, with 12 birding stops along the way.
From Annapolis and points south (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s Counties): From points south of Annapolis, use MD Routes 2 or 4 to reach US Route 50 west of Annapolis. From Route 50, take Exit 21 to I-97 and follow I-97 north to reach the Baltimore Beltway (I-695). Follow the Outer Loop of the Beltway east to reach Exit 33 for I-95 North. Follow I-95 north to Exit 93 and then use directions above for the Baltimore or Washington, DC areas.
Cecil County: Elk River Park & Elkton Marsh ■ Elkton – Meadow Park, Eder Park, Hatchery Park, & Howard’s Pond ■ Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area ■ North East Community Park ■ Octoraro Creek Trail at Conowingo Park ■ Perryville Community Park ■ Port Deposit & Susquehanna River Road Driving Tour ■ Woodlawn Wildlife Area / New Beginnings
Harford County: Anita C. Leight Estuary Center – Otter Point Creek ■ Bradenbaugh Flats & Upper Deer Creek Valley ■ Conowingo Dam / Fisherman’s Park (Harford County Side) ■ Havre De Grace Marina | Tydings Memorial Park ■ Susquehanna State Park ■ Swan Harbor Farm & Tydings Park (Oakington)
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaWater ViewWheelchair Accessible Features
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasDriving Tour (Roadside Birding)Ponds, Lakes, and ReservoirsPrivate Sanctuaries and PreservesThe Rivers of the Eastern Shore