At a Glance
Hours: Daily, daylight hours.
Cost: Free. Donations to the MOS Sanctuary Fund are always appreciated and will help to defray maintenance costs..
Tips: The adjoining Gardner Road Park is an active hunting area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. ■ No restrooms. There are portable restrooms at Accokeek East Community Park on Accokeek Road, west of Gardner Road.
Best Seasons: Spring and fall migration; early summer breeding season.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Piscataway CW (Click on Atlas Block name for list of breeding birds from 1st and 2nd Atlases). Read about the MD & DC Breeding Bird Atlases.
Local MOS Chapter: Patuxent Bird Club
Piscataway MOS Sanctuary
14302 Hardy Tavern Road, Accokeek, MD 21031
GPS Coordinates: 38.693750, -76.949573
Contact: MOS Sanctuary Chair firstname.lastname@example.org
Piscataway MOS Sanctuary, consisting of 82 acres, is located in southwestern Prince George’s County. The land was donated to the Maryland Ornithological Society in 2008 by Mid-Atlantic Builders and is protected by an easement under Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act.
[Note: Do not confuse Piscataway MOS Sanctuary with Piscataway Park, a National Park Service property located on the Potomac River, about 6 miles to the west of the sanctuary, as the crow flies.]
Piscataway Sanctuary lies in the watershed of Piscataway Creek, a major tributary of the Potomac River. Several unnamed tributaries of Piscataway Creek run through the sanctuary; the largest of these streams runs from east to west through the north part of the sanctuary. The land is wooded, with beech, oak, tulip poplar, and sweet gum predominating. A good understory of dogwood, sassafras, American holly, and other small trees is present, with shrubs including spicebush and viburnums. Ferns and spring ephemeral wildflowers form a groundcover. A full assessment of the habitat and vegetation has yet to be conducted.
The main access to Piscataway MOS Sanctuary is from the north, at the end of Hardy Tavern Road in the adjoining residential development, called the Preserve at Piscataway. One can park a car on the cul-de-sac just outside the gate or in the gravel MOS parking lot near MOS’s covered pavilion; the gate to the gravel lot is closed but not locked. There is one out-and-back trail accessible from the parking area; the one-way distance is about 0.7 miles, or 1.4 miles round-trip.
[Note: the route described here is on a new trail that was carved out by mountain bikers. Earlier versions of this description referred to a trail through the stream valley, but we are abandoning the stream valley trail because of a difficult stream crossing and because of widespread wetland conditions along the trail.]
From the MOS pavilion, take the obvious double-track grassy trail down a hill, and as you near the bottom of the slope, watch for a one-track dirt trail that enters the woods to the right (west). The trail will take you along a wooded ridge, roughly parallel to a stream at the base of the ridge; if you look downhill to your left as you move west, you’ll catch glimpses of the stream. Looking through the trees to your right, you’ll catch sight of the homes in the residential community, visible across the valley of a second stream. The trail will follow the ridge line between the two streams, going up and down some gentle slopes. After about 0.4 miles, the trail will descend near the junction of the two streams, and will make a sharp left, taking you to crossing over the main stream. There is no bridge here, but the banks of the stream are low, and the water flows over a level gravel bed and is usually shallow, making for an easy crossing. However, after heavy rain or snow melt, it may be more difficult to cross. If the water is deep and flowing swiftly, in the interest of caution, do not attempt to cross and instead turn around.
After crossing the stream, the trail goes up a slope and continues to the west, until arriving at the western boundary of the sanctuary. The trail ends at the junction of two streams that cannot be crossed on foot because of the width and swift current. Then turn around here and retrace your steps to return to your car.
As you return eastward to your car, note that to your left, there are some large and well-vegetated stormwater ponds adjacent to the development to the north; the stormwater ponds lie in a depression between the homes and the ridge on which the trail is located. If you can get a view of any of the ponds through the trees (easier in winter), you might want to linger a while to watch for flying waterfowl and/or waders.
A second access point to Piscataway Sanctuary is through the 120-acre, county-owned Gardner Road Park to the south. A parking area is located at the north end of Gardner Road; leave your car here and walk northwest into the woods following the obvious double-track old dirt road, which eventually narrows to a single track. The initial half-mile will be on Gardner Road Park property, and then the trail continues into Piscataway Sanctuary, with an MOS sign on a tree to the left of the trail. The mostly flat Gardner Park Road Trail takes you through open moist deciduous woodland of oak, beech, and tulip poplar, with several small stands of pine and small streams to both east and west. The trail heads northwest and nears, but does not currently connect with, the trail through the north section of Piscataway Sanctuary as described above. The Gardner Road Park Trail peters out just before the slope that leads down to the stream valley. Turn around here and retrace your steps to the Gardner Road parking area.
Be aware that Gardner Road Park, though county-owned, is managed as a cooperative hunting area by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and you should not enter during hunting season, especially deer seasons (archery, muzzleloader, shotgun, and primitive weapons).
The MOS Sanctuary Committee hopes to create a connector trail that will link the trail from Hardy Tavern Road at the north end of the sanctuary with the trail that comes in from Gardner Road Park, enabling easier exploration of the entire sanctuary.
Another area that you might want to check out when in the vicinity is along the northern edge of the “Preserve at Piscataway” community. There is a large wetland near the intersection of Floral Park Road and Saint Mary’s View Road (see Google Map at left) that may contain good birds. There are no trails into the wetland but good views can be obtained from or near the road.
The Piscataway MOS Sanctuary is part of a larger conservation landscape that protects the streams and shorelines in the Piscataway Creek/Potomac River watershed. We’ve already discussed the county-owned Gardner Road Park to the south of the sanctuary. Another county-owned property, Danville Estates Park (25 acres), is located nearby to the east, along with sizable Homeowners Association tracts – both Danville Estates Park and the Homeowners Association lands are under a Forest Conservation easement. Even more land is protected just a short distance away: the county owns a string of parks on the northside of Floral Park Road that protects over 6 linear miles of the Piscataway Creek stream valley all the way to the Potomac River. With nearby Piscataway Park and other National Park Service lands, over 8,000 acres are under permanent protection, a remarkable achievement in this densely populated area on the doorstep of Washington, DC.
There is one eBird hotspot covering both the north and south sides of Piscataway MOS Sanctuary, with 100 species reported as of Fall 2021. We are still discovering the birdlife using Piscataway, and we invite your contributions to eBird using the hotspot at http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L5941724.
Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, and Killdeer use the stormwater ponds in the neighboring residential community and these birds are common flyovers at the sanctuary. The longer list of waterfowl included in the eBird bar charts for Piscataway Sanctuary date to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the neighboring development did not yet exist and waterfowl were using natural wetlands in the vicinity. You might still find assorted waterfowl in the wetlands visible from Floral Park Road near the intersection with St. Mary’s View Road, at the entrance to the “Preserve at Piscataway” neighborhood.
The woods of Piscataway Sanctuary offer year-round habitat for small woodland birds such as Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatch. Pileated Woodpeckers are found here, along with Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Northern Flickers, and, in winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Other year-round residents include Blue Jays, American and Fish Crow, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Eastern Towhee, and Northern Cardinal. Overhead, watch for Turkey and Black Vultures, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and assorted flyover waterfowl, gulls, and terns – remember that the Potomac River is only about 5 miles away, to the west. Red-shouldered Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks likely breed in the vicinity.
Warm season birds include Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. You might find Great Blue Heron or Green Heron on one of the streams or flying up out of one of the nearby stormwater ponds. Other summer residents include White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Chipping Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting.
Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins are present year-round. Wood Thrushes breed here in the summer; Hermit Thrushes overwinter; and Veery have been found during migration.
Ovenbirds are so prolific here that one birder who visited in 2009 nicknamed the sanctuary “MOS Ovenbird Alley.” Pine Warblers are present in the small conifer patches in the adjoining Gardner Road Park and on the ridge line on the south side of the sanctuary’s stream valley. Other warblers that have been found here include Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Green.
Wintering birds include both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creeper, Field Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, and Song Sparrow.
When entering the sanctuary from the Gardner Road side, be alert for possible Northern Bobwhite in the grassy fields near the intersection of Gardner Road and Accokeek Road. This area was one of the last strongholds for bobwhite in Prince George’s County; the last report was in spring of 2017.
The trails in the sanctuary are not wheelchair-accessible.
Pets are allowed but must be leashed at all times. Please pick up after your pet.
Special Designations and Conservation Value:
The Piscataway Sanctuary is protected by an easement under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act.
- 5 stars out of 5 for providing “Habitat Connectivity.”
- 4 stars out of 5 for providing “Rare Species and Wildlife Habitat.”
- 4 stars out of 5 for “Support of Aquatic Life.”
- 4 stars out of 5 for “Forests Important for Water Quality Protection.”
- 4 stars out of 5 for “Proximity to Other Protected Lands.”
The name “Piscataway” comes from the local Native American Piscataway people. “Accokeek,” the name of a nearby road, is the name of another, related Native American tribe. Members of these groups still live in the area today. The present-day Piscataway Conoy Tribe has become involved in environmental protection activities throughout Southern Maryland.
Local MOS Chapter:
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Patuxent Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
Small gravel lot at the sanctuary’s north (main) entrance at 14302 Hardy Tavern Road (GPS Coordinates: 38.693750, -76.949573). The gate to the lot is kept closed but not locked.
At the south side, there is a partly paved, partly gravel lot at Gardner Road Park, at the north end of Gardner Road. GPS Coordinates: 38.688063, -76.947917. The nearest house is at 14700 Gardner Road.
Piscataway MOS Sanctuary is located in southwestern Prince George’s County, near the community of Accokeek.
To reach the north (main) entrance to the sanctuary at 14320 Hardy Tavern Drive:
- From the Washington DC area: Near the southeast corner of the Beltway, take Exit 7 onto MD Route 5/Branch Avenue south toward Waldorf. In 4.2 miles, exit onto MD Route 223/Woodyard Road west toward Clinton and Melwood. Note that Route 223/Woodyard Road will become Piscataway Road as you travel west. In 6.8 miles, turn left (east) onto Floral Park Road. In 0.2 miles, turn right (south) into The Preserve at Piscataway community on Saint Mary’s View Road. At the traffic circle, take the second right to continue south on Saint Mary’s View Road. From Saint Mary’s View Road, turn right (south) onto Hardy Tavern Road and continue to its end at a cul-de-sac with a metal gate across a gravel drive into the MOS parking area. The gate is kept closed but not locked. You can either park outside the gate on the cul-de-sac or feel free to open the gate and park inside.
- From the Baltimore area: From the Baltimore Beltway/I-695, take Exit 4 for I-97 southbound. In 9.8 miles, take Exit 7 for MD Route 3 southbound toward Bowie. In 9.5 miles, Route 3 will cross under US Route 50, and at that point, US Route 301 southbound will merge with the road you are on, known as Robert Crain Highway. Continue south on Route 301 for another 21 miles, passing the outskirts of the town of Upper Marlboro. Turn west onto MD Route 381/Brandywine Road. In 0.4 miles, use the ramp to merge onto MD Route 5/Branch Avenue heading north, but stay in the right lane. Following signs for Route 373 westbound, use an overpass-crossover (“Spine Road”) to make a U-turn and head south on an access road that parallels Route 5 south. Again, stay in the right lane and DO NOT merge left into the main lane of travel for Route 5 southbound. Turn right at the second intersection to go west on MD Route 373/Accokeek Road. In 2.8 miles, turn right (north) onto Danville Road. Be careful not to turn onto Springfield Road, which also goes north from Accokeek Road and cuts across Danville Road; stay straight on Danville Road. In 1.5 miles, turn left (west) to enter the “Preserve at Piscataway” community on Herbin House Road. In one short block, make a right to go west on St. Mary’s View Road; then take the second left to go south on Hardy Tavern Road. Continue to the end of Hardy Tavern Road at a cul-de-sac with a metal gate across a gravel drive into the MOS parking area. The gate is kept closed but not locked. You can either park outside the gate on the cul-de-sac or feel free to open the gate and park inside.
- From the Eastern Shore via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Use US Route 50/US Route 301 to cross the Chesapeake Bay and continue on Route 50/301 past Annapolis. Take Exit 13 and follow signs for US Route 301/Robert Crain Highway southbound. Continue south on Route 301 for another 21 miles, passing the outskirts of the town of Upper Marlboro. Turn west onto MD Route 381/Brandywine Road. In 0.4 miles, use the ramp to continue north on Brandywine Road, which has become an entrance ramp for MD Route 5/Branch Avenue heading north, but stay in the right lane on this ramp. Following signs for Route 373 westbound, use an overpass-crossover (“Spine Road”) to make a U-turn and head south on an access road that parallels Route 5 south. Again, stay in the right lane and DO NOT merge left into the main lane of travel for Route 5 southbound. Turn right at the second intersection to go west on MD Route 373/Accokeek Road. In 2.8 miles, turn right (north) onto Danville Road. Be careful not to turn onto Springfield Road, which also goes north from Accokeek Road and cuts across Danville Road; stay straight on Danville Road. In 1.5 miles, turn left (west) to enter the “Preserve at Piscataway” community on Herbin House Road. In one short block, make a right to go west on St. Mary’s View Road; then take the second left to go south on Hardy Tavern Road. Continue to the end of Hardy Tavern Road at a cul-de-sac with a metal gate across a gravel drive into the MOS parking area. The gate is kept closed but not locked. You can either park outside the gate on the cul-de-sac or feel free to open the gate and park inside.
- From the Annapolis area: Follow US Route 50/301 westbound and use directions as above for people coming from the Eastern Shore.
- From points south, such as Waldorf: Use US Route 301 northbound and head toward Upper Marlboro. At the split between Route 301 and MD Route 5, bear left to continue north on Route 5, but stay in the right lane as you will be taking the next exit for Brandywine Road. At the bottom of the exit ramp, turn left to go north on Brandywine Road, which at this point is merely a ramp that parallels the main travel lanes for Route 5 northbound. Following signs for Route 373 westbound, use an overpass-crossover (“Spine Road”) to make a U-turn and head south on an access road that parallels Route 5 south. Again, stay in the right lane and DO NOT merge left into the main lane of travel for Route 5 southbound. Turn right at the second intersection to go west on MD Route 373/Accokeek Road. In 2.8 miles, turn right (north) onto Danville Road. Be careful not to turn onto Springfield Road, which also goes north from Accokeek Road and cuts across Danville Road; stay straight on Danville Road. In 1.5 miles, turn left (west) to enter the “Preserve at Piscataway” community on Herbin House Road. In one short block, make a right to go west on St. Mary’s View Road; then take the second left to go south on Hardy Tavern Road. Continue to the end of Hardy Tavern Road at a cul-de-sac with a metal gate across a gravel drive into the MOS parking area. The gate is kept closed but not locked. You can either park outside the gate on the cul-de-sac or feel free to open the gate and park inside.
To reach the southside entrance to Piscataway Sanctuary through Gardner Road Park from the MOS parking lot at the northside of Piscataway Sanctuary:
- From the MOS parking lot: Go north on Hardy Tavern Drive to Saint Mary’s View Road. Turn right (east) on Saint Mary’s View Road. In two blocks, St. Mary’s View Road will come to a T-intersection; turn left onto Herbin House Rd. Go one block and exit the development by turning right to go south on Danville Road. In 1.5 miles, turn right (west) onto MD Route 373/ Accokeek Road. In 1.1 miles, turn right (north) onto Gardner Road. Continue north on Gardner Road for 0.9 miles to its end at a parking area. Park and walk north on the obvious double-track dirt road into Gardner Road Park; this dirt road will become a single-track trail and will reach the south border of Piscataway Sanctuary in about 0.5 miles; there is a green and white MOS Sanctuary sign on a tree to the left of the trail. The trail dead-ends near a slope down into the stream valley of Piscataway Sanctuary, but does not currently connect to the trail in the north part of the Sanctuary. Turn around where the trail ends to retrace your steps to the Gardner Road Park parking area.
Prince George’s County: Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access) ■ Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Colmar Manor Community Park & Anacostia River Trail ■ Cedarville State Forest ■ Fort Foote Park ■ Fort Washington (National) Park ■ Fran Uhler Natural Area ■ Governor Bridge Natural Area ■ Greenbelt (National) Park ■ Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park) ■ Lake Artemesia Natural Area ■ Merkle Natural Resources Management Area ■ Milltown Landing Natural Resources Management Area ■ Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm ■ Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center) ■ Patuxent River Park – Jug Bay Natural Area ■ Patuxent River Park – Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park ■Piscataway (National) Park: National Colonial Farm, Boardwalk, Wharf Road/Farmington Landing & Marshall Hall ■ Rocky Gorge Reservoir – Supplee Lane Recreation Area & Duckett Dam ■ Rosaryville State Park ■ Schoolhouse Pond
Charles County: Allen’s Fresh Natural Area / Zekiah Swamp Natural Environmental Area ■ Cedarville State Forest ■ 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 ■ Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area ■ Smallwood State Park
Washington, DC: Anacostia Park ■ Constitution Gardens ■ East Potomac Park (Hains Point) & the Tidal Basin ■ Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens ■ National Arboretum ■ National Zoo ■ Rock Creek Park
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Stormwater Retention PondSuburban Neighborhood Forested SwampRivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:BeginnersFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingParkingPets Allowed