At a Glance
Hours: Open 24 hours a day, year-round.
Tips: No restrooms. ■ Waterproof boots recommended. ■ Be prepared for mosquitoes and ticks. ■ A spotting scope is useful at the impoundments. ■ This is an active public hunting area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. At this time (January 2023), Sunday hunting is not allowed. ■ Be aware that it can be very crowded with photographers and others during the sunflower blooming season (usually July).
Best Seasons: Year round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Sterling NE, Sterling CE, Seneca CW
McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow)
Hunting Quarter Road, Poolesville, MD 20837
Located along the Potomac River in western Montgomery County, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a 1,970-acre state-owned hunting area featuring a mixture of woodlands, fields, wooded bottomlands, and managed wetland impoundments.The WMA provides habitat for upland and forest wildlife species including white-tailed deer, Wild Turkeys, squirrels, songbirds, and waterfowl.
The area known as Hughes Hollow is a section of the WMA adjacent to the largest impoundment; it lies near the junction of Hughes Road and Hunting Quarter Road (see trail map at link at left). The WMA adjoins the C&O Canal National Historical Park, along the Potomac shoreline to the south, and borders Seneca Creek State Park to the east.
McKee-Beshers is known among Maryland birders as an extraordinarily productive birding location, and in fact consistently holds the #2 eBird hotspot rank in Montgomery County, second only to the nearby Violette’s Lock area on the C&O Canal. McKee-Beshers is extremely popular among birders and the main eBird hotspot has gathered almost 12,000 checklists as of January 2023 – one of the highest checklist totals for Maryland hotspots.
With a strategic location and excellent management of its natural resources, McKee-Beshers provides habitat for a great diversity of birds and other wildlife species. One of the most prominent management techniques at McKee-Beshers is the deliberate flooding of forest areas during the fall and winter to create “green-tree reservoirs” that attract Wood Ducks and other waterfowl that migrate through or spend the winter here.These reservoirs may flood up to approximately 80 acres of forest if rain conditions are favorable. Additionally, many Wood Duck boxes are installed and maintained on the property through the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative.
Numerous fields at McKee-Beshers are managed as wildlife food plots, fallow with periodic mowing, or in warm or cool season grasses. Food plots include variety of crops such as millet, sorghum, buckwheat, sunflower, winter wheat, or clover. Approximately 175 acres are in an agricultural lease.
Eighteen acres are included in an ongoing Woodcock Habitat Restoration Project. This is a joint project with the Potomac Valley Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society that includes tree plantings of alders and dogwoods as well as hedgerow clearing.
Foot-trails meander through the forested bottomlands for miles (see trail map at link at left). There are several parking areas that facilitate access to all areas of the WMA. Be aware that the roads and trails may be under water during any time of the year, and particularly after heavy rains or snowmelt. The unpaved Hunting Quarter Road parallels River Road (the main east-west public roadway in this area) for about a mile and a half. Hunting Quarter Road has a dirt, gravel, and cinder surface, and the section near the large impoundment at McKee-Beshers is extremely rough and birders driving conventional passenger cars should not attempt to drive it – park and walk that section. This will not be a waste of time: Hunting Quarter Road can be walked productively, and provides excellent birding. The rough section is shown well on the MD DNR dove hunting map. In the first several hundred yards, you can get close-up views of the north side of the large impoundment at McKee-Beshers.
Acres of sunflowers are planted each year at McKee-Beshers WMA to attract game birds. The sunflowers are also attractive to native bees and other pollinators, and of course the seeds are consumed by many birds in addition to game birds. Every July, these spectacular fields in full bloom also draw photographers, garden enthusiasts, families, and general tourists. An excellent map of the sunflower fields and the roads within McKee-Beshers is available through a link on DNR’s sunflower fields webpage; this map changes annually because the sunflower plantings are rotated.
Additional management practices include installation of bat boxes, hedgerow maintenance, tree plantings, and invasive species removal.
Over 250 species of birds have been reported on the main eBird hotspot at Hughes Hollow – McKee-Beshers WMA. As of January 2023, there is a second eBird hotspot covering the Hughes Hollow – McKee Beshers WMA–sunflower area and eastern fields; only a few checklists totaling about 80 species have been submitted as yet, but this hotspot will fill out with more data over time.
The dikes around the impoundments in the Hughes Hollow area are good spots for viewing a variety of water and land birds.
During early spring, scan the water for Pied-billed Grebes, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Wood Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers. There is good habitat near the dikes for House Wrens and warblers in migration. In late spring, Sora and Common Gallinule are regular and Virginia Rail is occasional.
Least Bittern, Warbling Vireo, Yellow and Prothonotary Warblers, and both orioles are annual nesters. Red-shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls also breed and are year-round residents.
Look for Red-headed Woodpeckers in the fall and winter months.
If time permits, walking southeast beyond the dikes leads to a mix of woods, hedgerows, and open field areas that can be productive during spring and fall migration for a variety of land birds, and is highly recommended.
There is excellent birding at the parking area and along Hunting Quarter Road (high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle recommended). The main area for birding is at the impoundments at the west end of Hunting Quarter Road, and the parking area there recently (fall 2023) was provided with a wheelchair bypass at the gate from the parking area to the trail. This parking area is the westernmost of the parking areas located along Hunting Quarter Road, at the end near Hughes Road. The GPS coordinates for this parking area are 39.083611, -77.405270. Many thanks to the Montgomery Bird Club for reaching out to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and to DNR for improving the wheelchair access.
Some of the trails at McKee-Beshers, such as the one at the impoundments, follow old roads with a gravel surface and can be navigated in a wheelchair, but others are too muddy or rutted to provide a good surface. None of the small foot-trails at McKee-Beshers are wheelchair-accessible.
Pets are allowed on leash; pick up after your pet and take the pet waste with you when you leave.
McKee-Beshers WMA and other nearby lands are part of the Lower C&O Canal Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society.
McKee-Beshers WMA has become famous for its spectacular mid-summer displays of blooming sunflowers. The sunflowers are planted in fields that are managed for dove hunting. For information on the location of the fields, including a map, and bloom times, see http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/publiclands/central/sunflowers.aspx.
Local MOS Chapter:
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 (2008); this comprehensive, detailed book covers 17 major birding sites plus 18 “little treasures” in the county. The book is now out of print but is available as a free downloadable PDF, courtesy of the Montgomery Bird Club.
Unpaved lots at several locations; see trail map and sunflower fields map (the latter gives GPS coordinates for the parking areas)..
The main area for birding is at the impoundments at the west end of Hunting Quarter Road, and the parking area there (the westernmost of the parking areas located along Hunting Quarter Road), at the end near Hughes Road. The GPS coordinates for this parking area are 39.083611, -77.405270.
From I-495/DC Beltway: Take Exit 39 for MD Route 190/ River Road west toward the town of Potomac. Drive for about 11.4 miles to a T-intersection where River Road meets MD Route 112/Seneca Road. Turn left to continue on River Road for 4.5 miles to Hughes Road. Turn left on Hughes Road. Hughes Road will shortly (in less than 0.1 miles) make a left turn onto Hunting Quarter Road, drive approximately another 0.1 miles and park in the lot on your right. This is the parking area most convenient for exploring the productive Hughes Hollow area; there are additional parking areas throughout McKee-Beshers. See the trail map at link at left or the dove hunting map at http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Documents/McKee-Dove-Field-Map.pdf to locate other parking areas, but avoid the rough section of Hunting Quarter Road immediately east of Hughes Hollow (shown on the dove hunting map).
Montgomery County: Black Hill Regional Park ■ Blue Mash Nature Trail ■ C&O Canal – Pennyfield, Violette’s & Riley’s Locks ■ Little Bennett Regional Park ■ Lois Y. Green Conservation Park ■ Rock Creek Regional Park – Lake Needwood ■ Rock Creek Regional Park – Meadowside Nature Center & Lake Frank ■ Seneca Creek State Park ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam) ■ Wheaton Regional Park – Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Pine Lake Area
Bottomland DeciduousHedgerows Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features:FishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedWater View
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasC&O Canal AccessHunting AreasThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails