At a Glance
Hours: Daily 24/7, year-round, but visit only on Sundays during deer and turkey hunting seasons.
Tips: Bring a scope. ◾ Trails may be wet or muddy. Wear sturdy waterproof hiking boots or shoes. ◾ You may want to use a compass or smartphone GPS app to navigate the trail system, which includes many side trails and loops. See out geolocator-enabled maps at links below. ◾ This is an active hunting area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. Visit only on Sundays during deer and turkey seasons. ◾ There is a popular public target shooting range within the WMA; if you are bothered by the sound of gunfire, plan to visit in the morning on Sunday or Monday – the shooting range opens at 1 PM on those days (exception: on Mondays that coincide with state holidays, the range opens at 9 AM). On other days, the shooting range is open from 9 AM to 5 PM (winter) or 6 PM (spring through fall). ◾ There are portable restrooms near the shooting range; none at the lake or other parking areas.
Best Seasons: The birds are great year-round, but visit only on Sundays during deer and turkey hunting seasons.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Port Tobacco CW (main tract and Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds Access); Port Tobacco CE (Pomfret Tract)
Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area
5625 Myrtle Grove Road, La Plata, MD 20646
[Note: Do not confuse this site, Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area in Charles County, with the similarly named Myrtle Point Park, which is in St. Mary’s County.]
Years ago, birders used to flock to Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area, in part because it was featured in Claudia Wilds’ influential 1992 book Finding Birds in the National Capital Area, but these days, birders from outside Southern Maryland seem to have forgotten about Myrtle Grove. It deserves more attention.
Myrtle Grove WMA contains 5,018 acres of prime bottomland and wetland habitat, with upland forests and successional habitat thrown in for good measure. The WMA is located just 20-some miles from the nation’s capital, and yet seems wild and remote.
Myrtle Grove WMA, along with the adjoining Mattawoman Natural Environmental Area, is the heart of the Audubon-designated Mattawoman Creek Important Bird Area. The description of the IBA states: “The floodplain forests which drain into Mattawoman Creek support one of the most diverse assemblages of Forest Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS) in Maryland’s Coastal Plain, with 20 out of 24 potentially occurring species regularly breeding in this IBA. Not only do these rich oak-hickory forests provide critical habitat for a highly diverse FIDS assemblage, but also this site supports significant populations of three bird species on the Audubon/American Bird Conservancy Watchlist (category Yellow): Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Wood Thrush.”
Mattawoman Creek arcs across the north end of the WMA; the creek is much threaded, and is fed by a complex system of tributary streams that permeate all sections of the WMA. In other words, there’s a lot of water and riparian habitat at Myrtle Grove. The woodlands at Myrtle Grove, so important for Forest Interior Dwelling Species, consist of oaks, hickories, maples, sycamores, poplars, and beech, with a few scattered conifers. Since the area is actively hunted for deer, there are good understory, shrub, and ground cover layers.
A brushy powerline cut runs roughly east-west across north part of the property, adding additional habitat variety. Approximately 15 acres of the WMA are kept in wildlife plantings and early succession vegetation to provide habitat and food for upland wildlife. The fields and forested areas are burned in rotation to perpetuate native vegetation and provide excellent turkey brood habitat.
The centerpiece of the WMA’s main tract is a 23-acre manmade lake, and there are also innumerable small ponds and green tree reservoirs – forested bottomlands that are seasonally flooded. The Myrtle Grove green tree reservoirs have water control structures that allow deliberate flooding in the fall and winter while the trees are dormant. The nuts and seeds dropped by the trees are used by migrating and wintering waterfowl, Wild Turkeys, Mourning Doves. The green tree reservoirs attract songbirds that are associated with wet habitats, such as Prothonotary Warbler.
The main tract of Myrtle Grove WMA is located north and east of MD Route 225/Hawthorne Road in northwest Charles County, just 17 miles as the crow flies from the DC Beltway. The main entrance road leads north into the heart of the WMA, with small parking areas interspersed along its length, and ending at a parking area at the shore of the lake. This parking area provides an expansive view of the lake surface, and is a good place to start your birding.
There is an extensive trail system at Myrtle Grove (see trail maps at links at left). Many of the trails are wide, two-track gravel and dirt roads that are easy to follow, but there are also some narrow natural surface trails. None of the trails are signed or blazed – you have to navigate using a printed map, or better yet, load our geolocator map (see link at left) into a smartphone app (such as the free Avenza app) and the geolocator map will enable you to track your exact location and movements on your smartphone screen.
A mown trail follows the dike of the lake around its western and north edges, but there is no loop trail on the lake shore – when you reach the end of the trail at the northeast corner of the lake, you have to retrace your steps around the lake, or pick up one of the many other trails.
There are productive trails that lie in the forest west of the lake; these trails take you past the green tree reservoirs and through rich habitat. One trail that is north of the lake runs east-west along the brushy powerline cut. There is also a network of trails that lie south of the lake, and the trailheads for these are accessed from the small parking spots along the entrance road. Examination of the trail map will show that it’s possible to choose a trail loop or out-and-back route of any length to suit your interest.
In addition to the main entrance, there are other, subsidiary entrances and parking areas located along Route 225, including one at the northwest corner of the main tract of the WMA in an area called Millard’s Mill or the Seven Ponds Area. The Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds section is noteworthy because its trail winds past seven small ponds that are attractive to birds. And for diversity, the Millard’s Mill trail will take you to a powerline cut, a walk of just 0.4 miles from the parking area.
Halfway between the main entrance and the Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds parking, there is another parking area on the east side of Route 225 – just a roadside pull-off with a DNR sign. Here, an old road blocked by a yellow gate leads to a powerline cut, but this road is not regularly maintained and may have high vegetation during the summer.
Another main tract parking area is intended for handicapped hunter and fishing access, and is located on Route 225 just east of the Ripley Road intersection (see main tract trail map at link at left). From the parking area, a gravel road/trail runs straight and almost due north to reach a 10-acre pond in just under a mile.
Apart from the main tract, there is another large (almost 700 acres), disjunct section of Myrtle Grove WMA known as the Pomfret Tract; this seldom-birded area lies east of the main tract and is accessed from Bumpy Oak Road. The trail here takes you through rich, wet woods, with many streams; a large open field is near the north end. Consult the Pomfret Tract trail map at the link at left but remember to confine your visits to non-hunting seasons or Sundays during hunting season.
In addition to birding and hiking, popular visitor activities at Myrtle Grove include fishing and shooting at the public target range located along the entrance road. As mentioned in the At a Glance section at left, if you are bothered by the sound of gunfire, plan to visit in the morning on Sunday or Monday – the shooting range opens at 1 PM on those days (exception: on Mondays that coincide with state holidays, the range opens at 9 AM). On other days, the shooting range is open from 9 AM to 5 PM (winter) or 6 PM (spring through fall).
There are 178+ species reported on the eBIrd hotspot for the main tract at Myrtle Grove. A separate eBird hotspot for the Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds access point has 43+ species but only 2 checklists. There is no public eBird hotspot for the Pomfret Tract. There is a nearby hotspot for the adjacent Bumpy Oak Swamp (it’s technically not part of Myrtle Grove WMA), which can be accessed from Bumpy Oak Road or from the Indian Head Rail Trail; the Bumpy Oak Swamp hotspot has 112+ species.
About 20 species of waterfowl frequent the lake and small ponds and green tree reservoirs at Myrtle Grove. These include species more commonly associated with large bodies of open water, such as Canvasback, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, and Common Merganser, as well as the more expected Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser. Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese breed here and can be found year-round. Other waterbirds include three grebes (Pied-billed, Horned and Red-necked); the Pied-billeds are present almost all year and probably breed here; while the other two species drop in during spring migration.
Northern Bobwhite used to be found here, and although the DNR website still mentions them, bobwhite have not occurred regularly since the 1980s. Wild Turkeys, on the other hand, still inhabit the vast forest. Rock Pigeons (not always found in rural areas) are occasionally seen, and Mourning Doves are plentiful year-round. Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed here and can be found from May through September. Chimney Swifts can be seen over the lake, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be found feeding at flowering plants; both species occur from spring through early fall.
American Coots are the only reported species of rail, although the habitat looks good for other species. A short list of shorebirds can be found, including Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, American Woodcock, Spotted Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper, but some of these are quite sporadic.
Ring-billed Gulls are found in spring and fall, and a Laughing Gull might show up in summer. Double-crested Cormorants occur in spring and fall. The regularly occurring waders are Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Green Heron; Black-crowned Night-Heron is a rarity.
Expected raptors include Turkey and Black Vultures (year-round); Osprey (breeding species, March through September); Bald Eagle (breeding species, present most of the year); Sharp-shinned Hawk (spring and fall migration); Cooper’s Hawk (summer); Red-shouldered Hawk (breeding species, present year-round); Broad-winged Hawk (fall migration); Red-tailed Hawk (breeding species, present year-round). In addition, there are Eastern Screech-Owls, Great Horned, and Barred Owls. Oddly, no falcons have been reported on eBird, but they probably come through during fall migration.
Belted Kingfishers occur here most of the year. All seven locally occurring woodpeckers can be found: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (winter into early spring); and Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flicker. All but the sapsuckers are breeders and year-round residents.
Breeding flycatchers include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested, and Eastern Kingbird, and several more species may show up during fall migration. The vireo triumvirate of Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated breeds at Myrtle Grove, in numbers. Blue-headed and Warbling migrate through. Swallows include Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Bank, Barn, and Purple Martins.
Both Fish Crows and American Crows use the WMA, with Fish Crows slightly less frequently observed. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice are common year-round. They are joined in winter by Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and by Brown Creepers. White-breasted Nuthatches are common year-round. Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are present from April through early fall.
Carolina Wrens are noisy and obvious and often spend the winter, and there may be a few House Wrens during summer. Winter Wrens come in late fall and leave in early spring. Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, and Northern Mockingbirds are all present in numbers, the mockingbirds year-round.
Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins are numerous throughout the year. Wood Thrushes are present from April through September; Hermit Thrushes from November through April. Swainson’s Thrushes reliably show up during spring and fall migration; Veeries and Gray-cheeked Thrushes also come through, and seem to be more likely during fall migration. Cedar Waxwings are easy to find all year.
House Sparrows occur in summer but are not numerous. House Finches are present from May through October. Purple Finches and Pine Siskins may come through during spring and fall migration, and may linger into winter during irruption years. American Goldfinches are common all year.
Breeding sparrows include Chipping, Field, Song, and Eastern Towhee. In winter or during migration, add Fox, White-throated, and Swamp Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.
Yellow-breasted Chats can be found in the brushy successional areas. Both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles breed here. Brown-headed Cowbirds are present during the warm months. Winter is a good time to look for Rusty Blackbirds – they like wet woods, and so can be pretty much anywhere at Myrtle Grove. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are numerous and breed on the property. European Starlings are also present and can be found hanging out near the DNR office and maintenance area.
Myrtle Grove really shines when it comes to warblers, with 31 species reported – remember its designation as an Important Bird Area for Forest Interior Dwelling Species. This may be the best warbler spot in all of Southern Maryland. There are 12 to 14 species of warblers that breed at Myrtle Grove, including Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Northern Parula, maybe Yellow, Pine, Yellow-throated, and maybe Prairie. The remaining warbler species come through on migration (Yellow-rumpeds overwinter), and most are quite reliable and occur in good numbers.
Both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers breed here and are found in good numbers. Northern Cardinals are numerous year-round. Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings are prevalent breeders. This is a good spot to look for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks during both spring and fall migration.
The trails at Myrtle Grove WMA are not wheelchair-accessible. There is reasonably good birding from the entrance road and its many parking spots and pullovers, as well as from the subsidiary parking areas along Route 225 and at the Pomfret Tract. It may be possible to take a wheelchair in through the handicapped hunting/fishing access area at the parking area on Route 225 east of Ripley Road.
Pets are allowed on leash; be prepared to pick up after your pet.
Myrtle Grove WMA is a keystone area within the Mattawoman Creek Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society.
As mentioned, Myrtle Grove has a popular public shooting range. A permit is required. See the DNR website for shooting regulations. ◾ Fishing is another popular activity at Myrtle Grove; a freshwater fishing license is required. ◾ There is a launch for canoes, kayaks, and johnboats on the south shore of the lake at Myrtle Grove, and it is also possible to put in a canoe or kayak at the small ponds in the Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds area.
DNR previously maintained an office at Myrtle Grove, located along the main entrance road just south of the lake, but although the building is still there, at this time (summer 2021), the office is not providing services to the public.
There is no chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society in Charles County, but birders can participate in MOS through the Anne Arundel Bird Club or the Patuxent Bird Club; both of these MOS chapters offer field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public. ◾ In addition, the Southern Maryland Audubon Society serves birders in Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s, and Prince George’s Counties.
A private citizen has posted a short YouTube video featuring his kayaking excursion on the ponds in the Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds area of the WMA. Although the focus is on fishing, the video will give you an excellent feel for the habitat in the Millard’s Mill/Seven Ponds section.
Gravel parking areas are located at several points:
- Main entrance: 5625 Myrtle Grove Rd, La Plata, MD 20646, several parking areas along the entrance road and a larger lot at the lake shore
- Millard’s Mill Access/Seven Ponds Parking Area: 5416 Hawthorne Road, La Plata, MD 20646
- Handicapped hunting/fishing access: approx. 6994 Hawthorne Rd, La Plata, MD 20646, just east of Ollies Bar and Grill
- “Halfway” parking lot: roadside parking on east side of road just north of house at 6090 Hawthorne Road, La Plata, MD 20646; look for small green MD DNR WMA sign
- Pomfret Tract: approx. 7502 Bumpy Oak Road, La Plata, MD 20646, a few feet south and across the road from the entrance to US Naval Research Laboratory Pomonkey Facility
Myrtle Grove WMA is located in northwest Charles County northwest of La Plata, and is easily accessed via US Route 301 and MD Route 225.
From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Take US Route 50/301 west to Exit 13, where Route 50 and 301 split. Take Exit 13 for Route 301 south and follow Route 301 for 34.7 miles to its junction with MD Route 225/Hawthorne Road. Turn right to go west on Hawthorne Road for 5.7 miles. The main entrance to Myrtle Grove will be on the right, just past the junction with Ripley Road. The entrance is marked by a large green DNR sign. Consult the maps linked at left for the exact locations of parking areas.
From the Baltimore area: Use I-97 southbound and take Exit 7 for MD Route 3 southbound. In 9.7 miles, Route 3/Crain Highway will pass under US Route 50 and at that point, the route number changes to US Route 301 (still Crain Highway). Continue south on Route 301 for 34.7 miles to its junction with MD Route 225/Hawthorne Road. Turn right to go west on Hawthorne Road for 5.7 miles. The main entrance to Myrtle Grove will be on the right, just past the junction with Ripley Road. The entrance is marked by a large green DNR sign. Consult the maps linked at left for the exact locations of parking areas.
From the Washington, DC area: From the DC Beltway, take Exit 7 for MD Route 5 south toward Waldorf, MD. Stay on Route 5 for 11.7 miles to Brandywine, MD, where Route 5 joins US Route 301. Follow Route 301 southbound. (In 2.3 miles, Route 5 will split off to the left but ignore that). Stay on Route 301 South for 10.9 miles to its junction with MD Route 225/Hawthorne Road. Turn right to go west on Hawthorne Road for 5.7 miles. The main entrance to Myrtle Grove will be on the right, just past the junction with Ripley Road. The entrance is marked by a large green DNR sign. Consult the maps linked at left for the exact locations of parking areas..
From Western MD: Travel east on US Route 70 and at Frederick, follow signs to take I-270 southeast to Washington DC. Follow signs to merge onto the DC Beltway toward Silver Spring and follow the Beltway, heading clockwise on the inner loop. Then follow directions as above from Washington, DC.
Charles County: Allen’s Fresh Natural Area / Zekiah Swamp Natural Environmental Area ◾ Chapman State Park & Chapman Residual Wildlife Management Area ◾ Indian Creek Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Indian Head Rail Trail ◾ Mattawoman Natural Environmental Area ◾ Maxwell Hall Park ◾ Smallwood State Park
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous 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 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 TrailsHorseback RidingHuntingParkingPets AllowedRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible Features
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasHunting Areas