Patuxent Research Refuge – North Tract
230 Bald Eagle Drive, Laurel, Maryland 20724
North Tract is one of the special birding gems of Anne Arundel County. It is part of the Patuxent Research Refuge, a facility of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Established in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation’s only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. Containing over 12,800 acres, Patuxent Research Refuge is a unique oasis of natural habitat in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. It has been referred to as the “green lungs” of the region.
North Tract is one of three tracts at Patuxent Research Refuge: the other two are South Tract in Prince George’s County and Central Tract, which has portions in both Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties. Both North and South Tracts are open to the public. Note that there is no direct access between North and South Tracts – one has to drive on public roads to go between the two areas.
Central Tract, which houses the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, is closed to the public. (Birds that you see reported on eBird from within Central Tract have usually been observed by the Research Center’s employees.) The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s purpose is to conduct research to form the biological foundation for effective conservation and management of the country’s biological resources. Two of the notable programs within the Research Center are the Bird Banding Laboratory and the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Read more about the science programs at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
The 8,100 acres of land at North Tract were acquired from the U.S. Army’s Fort Meade in 1991 and 1992. North Tract contains upland hardwood forests and upland meadows, riparian habitat near the Patuxent and Little Patuxent Rivers, and constructed wetlands. Eight miles of paved roads make up the drive-able Wildlife Loop that winds through North Tract. The Wildlife Viewing Area at Merganser Pond on the Wildlife Loop provides visitors the opportunity to see waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds. Several natural-surface hiking and biking trails enable birders to explore in-depth the varied habitats of North Tract (see trail map at link at left). An extensive power line cut, visible from the Wildlife Loop Drive, contains excellent scrub-shrub early successional habitat. There are pollinator gardens at the Visitor Contact Station and at the Merganser Pond Wildlife Viewing Area. There is also a bird feeders at the Visitor Contact Station, near the building’s east side and behind the pollinator garden across the road from the building.
Sign-in at the Visitor Contact Station is required upon arrival, and it is also necessary to sign-out when you are ready to leave.
The official checklist for Patuxent Research Refuge as a whole includes 270 species. Over 220 species have been reported on eBird from North Tract. There are multiple eBird hotspots within North Tract:
North Tract has become famous for hosting a pair (and occasionally more) of Trumpeter Swans that started showing up in 2018 at Merganser Pond. They have been present almost year-round since then and there is speculation that they may eventually breed.
Winter: Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Winter Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco
Spring: Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, American Woodcock, Veery, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler
Summer: Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Osprey, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Whip-poor-will, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole
Fall: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Year-round: Canada Goose, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch
Pets are allowed on leash.
At North Tract, there is excellent birding available from or near the car; hence this is a great place for those who are mobility-impaired. However, the foot-trails are natural surface and are not wheelchair-accessible. There are wheelchair-accessible restrooms near the Merganser Pond Wildlife Viewing Area and in the Visitor Contact Station.
The entire Patuxent Research Refuge has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
The non-profit organization Friends of Patuxent works to support the Patuxent Research Refuge and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. ◾ The refuge offers a wide range of public programs at both North and South Tracts. Patuxent public programs are small-group interpretive activities conducted by staff and volunteers. The programs are designed for individuals and/or families. Some programs are for all ages; some are intended for specific age ranges including groups as young as 18 months. Typically, pre-registration is required. Programs are free. Check monthly schedules. ◾ Fishing and bicycling are popular activities at North Tract. A special Refuge fishing permit (free) is required in addition to the State-issued freshwater fishing license.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Anne Arundel Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
Gravel lot at the Visitor Contact Station and at designated points along the Wildlife Loop.
From Washington, DC: Take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD Route 295) north and exit on to MD Route 198 East toward Fort Meade. Travel almost 2 miles. Then turn right on to Bald Eagle Drive (at the ball fields), drive past the Refuge’s Hunter Contact Station on the right, and continue to the North Tract Visitor Contact Station on the left. It is about 1 mile from Route 198 to the Visitor Contact Station.
From Baltimore: Take Baltimore/Washington Parkway (MD Route 295) South and take the MD Route 198 exit toward Fort Meade/Laurel. Then turn left on to Route 198 heading East and travel about 2 miles. Then turn right on to Bald Eagle Drive (at the ball fields), drive past the Refuge’s Hunter Contact Station on the right, and continue to the North Tract Visitor Contact Station on the left. It is about 1 mile from Route 198 to the Visitor Contact Station.
From Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: From MD Route 50 west of Annapolis, take Interstate Route 97 North. Then take MD Route 32 West (toward Columbia) for about 8 miles. Then take the MD Route 198 exit toward Laurel/Ft. Meade. Travel around the circle following the signs to Odenton/Laurel to MD Route 198 West. In less than 1 mile turn left on to Bald Eagle Drive (at the ball fields), drive past the Refuge’s Hunter Contact Station on the right, and continue to the North Tract Visitor Contact Station on the left. It is about 1 mile from Route 198 to the Visitor Contact Station.
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park ◾ Greenbury Point ◾ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary ◾ Kinder Farm Park ◾ Lake Waterford Park ◾ Oxbow Natural Area ◾ Piney Orchard Nature Preserve ◾ Quiet Waters Park
Prince George’s County: Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access) ◾ Fran Uhler Natural Area ◾ Governor Bridge Natural Area ◾ Greenbelt (National) Park ◾ Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park) ◾ Lake Artemesia Natural Area ◾ Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center) ◾ ◾ Rosaryville State Park ◾ Schoolhouse Pond
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Bird Feeding StationBirding By CarFishingFree - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Audubon Important Bird AreasDriving Tours (Birding By Car)Hiker-Biker Trails (Paved)National Wildlife RefugesNature CentersThe Rivers of the Western Shore