At a Glance
Hours: May through September, 7 am to sunset; October through April, 8 am to sunset; closed on Christmas Day.
Tips: Bring a scope. ■ Wear sturdy hiking boots or shoes. ■ Do not walk in or through planted agricultural fields. Stay on trails along the edges of fields. ■ Maryland State Parks are “Trash Free.” Please take your trash with you when you leave. ■ Arrive early in warm weather: the beach starts filling with families by 9 am. ■ Portions of the park are used for hunting. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. There is no hunting on Sundays. Obey all posted signs regarding areas where hunting is taking place. ■ Portable restrooms are located at the parking area for the beach (south end of park).
Hazard Warning: Part of the park was used for munitions testing during World War II and unexploded ordinance was found in 2012. Although the park has been thoroughly swept for ordinance, there is the possibility that objects may be carried ashore from the water or might be uncovered by plowing of the fields. If you find any suspicious object, leave the area and call 911 to report the object.
Best Seasons: The birds are great year-round, but the beachgoers can be numerous during the summer, especially on weekends. Try to visit on weekdays in summer, and early in the morning.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: St. Clements Island NW (south end of park); Leonardtown SW (north end including Kayak Launch)
Newtowne Neck State Park
South End of MD Route 243, Compton, MD, 20627
Newtowne Neck State Park offers 794 acres with extensive water views, sandy beaches, rich woodlands, scattered wetlands, and large expanses of open fields. The place is great for four-season birding (although may be limited to Sundays during hunting season) and — unusual for a state park — it’s free, no entrance fee! It has the essential things a birder needs: parking areas, trails through varied habitats, spots with water access, portable restrooms, and, for those who like to paddle, a canoe/kayak launch site (no rentals, bring your own). But otherwise, Newtowne Neck has minimal visitor amenities, making it great for birding: there are no noisy playgrounds or ballfields or picnic pavilions or event facilities.
Newtowne Neck is located in south central St. Mary’s County, and occupies a long, skinny, southward-pointing peninsula, making it a perfect fall migrant trap. The peninsula is bounded by Breton Bay to the east, St. Clements Bay to the west, and the Potomac River to the south, and boasts seven miles of shoreline. Some of the shoreline is marshy and some areas have sandy beaches.
Newtowne Neck was originally occupied by the Piscataway Native American people. Then, it became the site of the second colonial settlement in Maryland, the first having been at nearby St. Mary’s City. Newtowne Neck has a long association with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), going back to the 1600s. The Jesuits operated a plantation on the peninsula, and as with most large plantations, relied on the labor of enslaved people. There is a historic Jesuit church, manor house, and cemetery on inholdings in the state park. The entire Newtowne Neck peninsula has been designated as a historic district and the church and manor house are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Archaeological digs have found evidence of the Piscataway, the early colonial settlements, and homes of the enslaved, dotted over the peninsula.
The state purchased the park land from the Jesuits in 2009. The park had to be closed for a couple of years after some unexploded military ordinance was found along the beach in 2012, and the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a sweep of the property to remove explosives. The ordinance dated back to World War II, when part of the property was used for testing newly developed munitions technology that became important in the war effort.
The state has developed a master plan that will expand the trail system and provide some minimal visitor amenities, such as picnic tables, fishing spots, a better kayak launch, and a nature center offering educational programs. The plan aims to minimize alterations to the property, so the present-day appearance of the landscape will be preserved. When fully implemented, the plan will protect archaeological finds, respect the history of the early inhabitants, and provide historical interpretation to park visitors. For now, until more trails and amenities are in place, the hunting area map or the park trail map (see links at left) will help you explore the park’s simple layout.
In addition to birding, hiking, and paddling, the park offers fishing and hunting. Horseback riding is allowed on the trails (bring your own horse), and biking is also permitted, although some of the trails (i.e., those along field edges, with mown grassy surfaces) are not suitable for bikes. Although there are no lifeguards and swimming is not encouraged at this time, the sandy beaches and shallow waters are popular for family outings, and the beach area fills quickly on sunny summer days.
For spring and summer birding, plan to start your visit at the beach area at the south end of the park in early morning, before the crowds appear. Then leave the beach and drive back north through the park, stopping at the two trailhead parking areas to sample the trails. Most of the trails are old farm roads and have a gravel and dirt surface. Other trails border the fields and are mown grass and dirt. You can stop at the kayak launch, both on arrival at the park and when leaving, to check the small cove at the mouth of St. Nicholas Creek for water birds. This plan will also work for winter birding, when you’re likely to meet only a couple of fishermen at the beach.
If entering breeding codes for the Maryland Breeding Bird Atlas, be aware that the park spans two atlas blocks. The north end of the park, including the kayak launch, is in the Leonardtown SW block, and you should use the kayak launch eBird hotspot for reports from that end of the park. The south end is in the St. Clements Island NW block, and reports from there should be entered on the main hotspot. The boundary line between the two blocks is at the south end of the old farm complex, now the ranger residence, on the east side of Newtowne Neck Road.
Winter brings waterfowl to the waters surrounding the park, with about 15 species of swans, geese, and ducks reported, including Cackling Goose, Tundra Swan, both Greater and Lesser Scaup, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead (plenty), Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. February is be an optimal time waterfowl diversity. Other waterbirds present in winter or early spring include Horned Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, and Common Loon.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos are common in the woodlands from May through September, and Chimney Swifts fly overhead during the same time span. Check the blooms of the plentiful mimosa trees and trumpet creeper vines for feeding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
Killdeer breed in the farm fields; Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, and Greater Yellowlegs occasionally turn up along the beaches or marshy areas.
Gulls include Bonaparte’s (fall and spring), Ring-billed (year-round), Herring (year-round), and Great-black Backed (sporadic but more likely in December). Northern Gannets sometimes appear in November and December and then again in March and April. Caspian Terns (spring and fall), Forster’s Terns (spring through fall), and Royal Terns (late summer and fall) can also be seen offshore. Check the pound nets for these birds as well as for Double-crested Cormorants and an occasional Brown Pelican. (Pound nets are fishing nets strung below water onto long poles that stick up high out of the water). Wading birds include Great Blue Heron (almost year-round), Great Egret, and Green Heron.
Both Black and Turkey Vultures are common and can often be found sunning on snags on the edge of the woodlands. Ospreys and Bald Eagles nest in the area and are numerous; the eagles are present year-round. Northern Harriers can be seen during fall and spring migration; Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are fall migrants; Red-shouldered Hawks are present in the first half of the year; and Red-tailed Hawks are seen year-round and breed locally. Great Horned and Barred Owls are both present but rarely found. American Kestrels are easy to see from October through April, but disappear in the warm months. Peregrine Falcons and Merlins appear during migration.
Belted Kingfishers are easy to see from October through April. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers settle in starting in November and stay through February. Year-round woodpeckers include Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy (less common), Pileated, and Northern Flicker. Five species of swallows are expected during the spring and summer: Northern Rough-winged, Purple Martin, Tree, Bank, and Barn.
Flycatchers include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Eastern Phoebe (a few present even in winter), Great Crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. Vireos are represented by White-eyed and Red-eyed (both breeding) and by Blue-headed (singles have shown up in winter). Blue Jays and American Crows are conspicuous year-round, and Fish Crows are found in spring and summer. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice are numerous year-round.
Wintering woodland birds include both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatch. White-breasted Nuthatches are present year-round and Brown-headed Nuthatches pop up from time to time, mostly in spring or summer. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are common from spring through early fall.
Carolina Wrens are abundant year-round; House Wrens occur occasionally; Winter Wrens are present in winter; and Sedge and Marsh Wrens are rare drop-ins. Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, and Northern Mockingbirds can all be found almost year-round, although the catbirds may take some hunting in winter.
For thrushes, there are Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins year-round; Wood Thrushes in spring and summer; and Hermit Thrushes in winter. Swainson’s Thrush and Veery might be found during spring migration. Cedar Waxwings are present year-round and in winter, can often be found in association with bluebirds, robins, and Hermit Thrushes on or near berry-laden tress and shrubs.
House Sparrows are local breeders but appear to be absent in winter. American Goldfinches are abundant year-round, and House Finches are also present, but not quite as common. In the sparrow department, there are breeding populations of Grasshopper (becoming scarce), Chipping, Field, Song, and Eastern Towhee. In winter one might find Fox, White-throated, Savannah, Swamp, or Dark-eyed Junco.
This is a good place to look for Horned Larks in the fields from December through May and for American Pipits from November through January. Other field birds include European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and Eastern Meadowlarks. Look in wet woods for Rusty Blackbirds in winter. Orchard Orioles are plentiful breeders. Yellow-breasted Chats may occur in shrubby areas but are not commonly reported.
Newtowne Neck is pretty good for warblers, with nineteen species reported. Breeders that are easy to find include Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated, and Prairie (look in shrubby field edges). Yellow Warblers may also breed in the park but are less common. Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter; Palm Warblers come through during fall and spring migration but might linger into winter. Newtowne Neck has a history of hosting winter warblers, including the likely Yellow-rumpeds, Palm, and Pine, but also, unusually, Nashville and Yellow. Check sheltered corners with berry-laden shrubs for these out-of-season birds. Additional warbler species may be found during spring and fall migration.
Both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers breed at Newtowne Neck. Northern Cardinals are adundant year-round residents, and both Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings are easy to see and hear from late April through August.
The beach area is not wheelchair-accessible, as the path to the beach is rough gravel and then sand, with one short steep section. The trails on the old gravel farm roads are generally flat and level and might be negotiated in a wheelchair, but it would be a bumpy ride and there may be muddy sections. The trails around the field edges cannot be managed in a wheelchair. There is reasonably good birding from or near the car driving through the park on Newtowne Neck Road, with views of the farm fields and a good section that goes through woods. There is also good birding at the parking areas, including an open view of the water from the parking area at the kayak launch. The parking areas are gravel-surfaced.
Pets are allowed on leash; be prepared to pick up after your pet.
The Macintosh Run Water Trail lies on the other side of Breton Bay, with access points at Abell’s Wharf and at points in Leonardtown. Eventually, the trail will be extended to Newtowne Neck when the kayak launch there is improved.
There is no chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society in St. Mary’s County, but many birders 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.
- “Sustaining Beauty” is Episode 2204, Part 3 of the Maryland Public Television series Outdoors Maryland. This episode is about the conservation value of several thousand acres of land that MD DNR acquired from the Jesuits, including Newtowne Neck. The episode explains how DNR is continuing the unbroken chain of stewardship undertaken by the Jesuits in the 1600s. It also covers how DNR evaluates the conservation value of land proposed for acquisition, and how such acquisitions help to fulfill the mission of DNR in providing open space for public use and for wildlife conservation. An outstanding episode, available on YouTube.
- A brief video from a private production company shows an overhead view of the south end of Newtowne Neck State Park, and will give you a good feel for the habitat.
- A video from WBAL-TV focuses on recent archaeological discoveries of the homes of enslaved people who worked on the Newtowne Neck plantation. The video features commentary from a direct descendant of one of the enslaved families.
Gravel lots at the beach, the kayak launch, and at two trail heads.
Newtowne Neck State Park is located in south central St. Mary’s County near Leonardtown, and is easily accessed via MD Route 5 and MD Route 243.
From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Take US Route 50 west to Exit 23 and then take MD Route 2 south for about 25 miles to its junction with MD Route 4. Continue south on the combined MD Route 4/2 for another 37 miles. On the way, you will cross the high bridge over the Patuxent River at the border of St. Mary’s County. From the bridge, continue south on Route 4 for 9.0 miles to the intersection with MD Route 5, and turn left to go north on Route 5/Point Lookout Road. After 2.5 miles, turn left to go south on MD Route 243/Newtowne Neck Road. Route 243 will take you directly into the park in 4.0 miles. At the northern boundary of the park, marked by a sign on the left, stay straight to continue south on Newtowne Neck Road. You’ll pass the historic cemetery on the left and will reach the kayak launch, also on the left in another 0.3 miles. The beach parking area is another 2 miles south of the kayak launch.
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 another 24 miles and then turn left onto MD Route 5/Mattawoman-Beantown Road to go southeast. Stay on MD Route 5 south for 3.2 miles then make a left turn to continue on MD Route 5, now Leonardtown Road. In 18.0 miles, turn right to follow MD Route 5 south on Point Lookout Road. In 10 miles, turn right to go south on MD Route 243/ Newtowne Neck Road. Route 243 will take you directly into the park in 4.0 miles. At the northern boundary of the park, marked by a sign on the left, stay straight to continue south on Newtowne Neck Road. You’ll pass the historic cemetery on the left and will reach the kayak launch, also on the left in another 0.3 miles. The beach parking area is another 2 miles south of the kayak launch.
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 10 miles to Brandywine, MD, where Route 5 joins US Route 301. Continue south on the combined Routes 301/5 for another 2.3 miles. Turn left to continue on MD Route 5, which splits from US Route 301 to go southeast as Mattawoman-Beantown Road. Stay on MD Route 5 south for another 3.2 miles. Make a sharp left turn to continue on MD Route 5, now Leonardtown Road. In 18.0 miles, turn right to follow MD Route 5 south on Point Lookout Road. In 10 miles, turn right to go south on MD Route 243/Newtowne Neck Road. Route 243 will take you directly into the park in 4.0 miles. At the northern boundary of the park, marked by a sign on the left, stay straight to continue south on Newtowne Neck Road. You’ll pass the historic cemetery on the left and will reach the kayak launch, also on the left in another 0.3 miles. The beach parking area is another 2 miles south of the kayak launch.
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.
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby MeadowsSandy Beach or Dunes Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuaryRivers & StreamsSalt or Brackish Marsh
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 FeaturesHorseback RidingHuntingParkingPets AllowedRestroomsWater ViewYoung People / Families
Type:State ParksThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails