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.
Best Seasons: Year round. This is an active public hunting area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. Currently (February 2020) there is no hunting on Sundays. ◾ Be aware that it can be very crowded with photographers and others during the sunflower blooming season (usually July).
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Sterling NE, Sterling CE, Seneca CW
McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow)
Hunting Quarter Road, Poolesville, MD 20837
Located near the Potomac River in western Montgomery County, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a 2,000-acre state-owned hunting area featuring a mixture of woodlands, fields, wooded bottomlands, and managed wetland impoundments. The area known as Hughes Hollow is the section of the WMA adjacent to the largest impoundment; it lies near the junction of Hughes Road with 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 the 1,200-acre Seneca Creek State Park to the east. McKee-Beshers is known among Maryland birders as an extraordinarily productive birding location, and in fact is the #2 eBird hotspot in Montgomery County, second only to the nearby Violette’s Lock area at the C&O Canal. With such a strategic location and excellent management of its resources, McKee-Beshers provides habitat for a great diversity of wildlife species and birds. Biologists deliberately flood forest areas during the fall and winter to create “green-tree reservoirs” that attract colorful Wood Ducks as well as other waterfowl that migrate through or spend the winter here.
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 for about a mile and a half. Hunting Quarter Road has a dirt, gravel and cinder surface and is used primarily by hunters. 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. The rough section is shown well on the MD DNR dove hunting map. However, Hunting Quarter Road can be walked productively, and provides excellent birding. 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, and 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.
Over 245 species of birds have been reported on eBird from McKee-Beshers WMA (note that the eBird hotspot is called Hughes Hollow – McKee-Beshers WMA). 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 Teal, Wood Duck. and Hooded Merganser. There is good habitat near the dikes for House Wren 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.
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. ◾ McKee-Beshers and other lands within Montgomery County are part of the Lower C&O Canal Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ 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; this comprehensive, detailed printed book covers 17 major birding sites plus 18 “little treasures” in the county. To order, see https://mdbirds.org/join/merchandise/a-birders-guide-to-montgomery-county/.
Unpaved lots at several locations; see trail map and sunflower fields map.
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, 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