Pocomoke River State Park – Shad Landing & Milburn Landing
Shad Landing: 3461 Worcester Highway, Snow Hill, MD 21863
Milburn Landing: 3036 Nassawango Road, Pocomoke City, MD 21851
Sometimes when we’re birding in the mountains of Western Maryland or the Piedmont of the Central Region, it’s easy to forget that Maryland is a southern state, lying south of the Mason-Dixon Line. For a reminder of Maryland’s essential southern identity, visit Pocomoke River State Park. The park lies in the midst of the Pocomoke Swamp, a continuation of the Great Cypress Swamp that starts above the Delaware border. The headwaters of the Pocomoke River are within the Great Cypress Swamp, and upon entering Maryland, the river winds southward for another 45 miles through dense Bald Cypress and White Cedar swamps to enter Pocomoke Sound, which connects to the Chesapeake Bay. The Pocomoke River is the easternmost of the Chesapeake Bay tributary rivers. Pocomoke Swamp and the Great Cypress Swamp constitute the northernmost intact Bald Cypress swamp in the United States. (Battle Creek Cypress Swamp in Calvert County is farther north but is now just a small remnant of its former extent). The Pocomoke River area contains the largest remaining forest block on the Delmarva peninsula, and is Delmarva’s premier site for forest-interior birds.
Pocomoke River State Park provides excellent public access to the river and its swamp and forests. The State Park has two separate areas: Shad Landing (about 544 acres) on the east side of the river, and Milburn Landing (about 372 acres) on the river’s west side and a little south of Shad Landing. Both park sections are located a short distance from the town of Snow Hill.
Both Milburn Landing and Shad Landing are mostly forested and have low-lying areas of cypress swamp as well as upland forests. Trees present in the bottomlands are the aforementioned Bald Cypress, Swamp Tupelo, Atlantic White Cedar, Red Maple, and Green Ash, while the upland areas are characterized by White Oak, Southern Red Oak, Sweet Gum, and Hickory. There is a good diversity of shrubs, with Winterberry, American Holly, Sweet Pepperbush, Swamp Azalea, and Highbush Blueberry in the swampy areas and Wax Myrtle, Mountain Laurel, Viburnum, Common Greenbrier, and Flowering Dogwood in the upland areas.
The signature tree of the Pocomoke Swamp is the Bald Cypress. Bald Cypress trees are deciduous, with needle-like leaves. They can grow up to 120 feet tall and live up to 600 years. Bald Cypress are easily recognized by their “knees” (knobby growths that rise above the water surrounding the base of the tree) and wide-based, buttressed trunks. It is believed that the knees serve as an oxygen supply to the submerged root system and provide stability on the muddy river bottom.
The waters of the Pocomoke River and its swamps are dark reddish-brown as a result of tannins leached from cypress needles and the decaying leaves of other trees and plants, and in fact the name “Pocomoke” comes from a Native American word that means “black water.” Despite the dark color, the water is not dirty – and in fact, it offers a thriving habitat for insects, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals.
Shad Landing and Milburn Landing provide excellent opportunities to explore these unique ecosystems. Bald Eagles, Osprey, and other birds of prey nest in the tops of the Bald Cypress trees. The park comes alive during spring migration when warblers and other songbirds pass through or return to nest. The forests of the Pocomoke area host at least 21 breeding species of forest-interior dwelling birds. Prothonotary Warbler is probably more abundant here than anywhere else in Maryland. Other specialty species of the Pocomoke River area include Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Prairie Warbler, Northern Bobwhite, Chuck-will’s Widow, and Whip-poor-will. The large number of nesting warblers – at least thirteen species – makes this a great place to visit if you have not gotten your fill of warblers during spring migration.
Shad Landing has a nature loop trail, the Trail of Change, just 0.7 miles long, located in the north end of the park and featuring a short walk through swampy habitat. Other short trails criss-cross the camping areas. You’ll also want to check out the river view from the marina area or from the two named picnic pavilions (Manokin and Algonquin). A small fishing pond across from the marina is another good spot to check for birds; a foot-trail partially encircles it. The park’s Nature Center, located near the eastern edge of the main camping area, has exhibits and hosts education programs and special events. An unnamed trail (shown in brown on the Shad Landing Trail Map at the link at left) goes west from the Nature Center to end at a little cove on Corker’s Creek, a tributary of the Pocomoke River; the one-way distance is only a half-mile, and takes you through good habitat. Additional trails are available in adjoining tracts of the Pocomoke State Forest. Another option is to kayak or canoe the Corker’s Creek Water Trail, a circuit of under two miles. Canoe trail maps are available at the park.
Trails at Milburn Landing include the Bald Cypress Nature Trail, a loop of about 0.7 miles, part of which passes through a swampy area associated with Cottingham Mill Run, which forms the western boundary of the park. There is also an unnamed logging road that runs almost due north-south from the river to Nassawango Road, cutting across the Nature Trail; the logging road is 1.2 miles one-way. On the north side of Nassawango Road, near the Milburn Landing entrance, is a short horseshoe-shaped trail that is wheelchair-accessible. Adjoining tracts of Pocomoke State Forest offer many more miles of hiking trails. Views of the river are available at two points at Milburn Landing: at the southwest corner of the park near the Mattaponi picnic pavilion, and at the southeast corner of the park near the Nassawango picnic pavilion.
Both Shad Landing and Milburn Landing offer boat launches and fishing piers, camping (tents, RVs, and cabins), picnic areas, restrooms, and more. The Shad Landing Area also offers canoe and kayak rentals through a concessioner, and has a public swimming pool and a nature center.
There are additional state-owned access points to the river and the Cypress Swamp through the Pocomoke State Forest, Pocomoke River Wildlife Management Area, the Chesapeake Forest Lands, and the Nature Conservancy’s Nassawango Preserve. Altogether, the state-owned lands cover over 19,000 acres and their acquisition as public land, safe from development, constitutes a considerable conservation victory. The Pocomoke lands are a birder’s playground and every birder should visit to sample this unique habitat.
There are separate eBird hotspots for the two park sections plus one for Corker’s Creek at Shad Landing:
The aggregate total from these three hotspots is 179+ species as of Fall 2020.
There is a short list of waterfowl, with the regularly seen species being Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, and Hooded Merganser. Pied-billed Grebes are present during the winter and spring, and a Common Loon might turn up in spring as well.
Northern Bobwhite and Wild Turkey can be found in May and June. Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves are common most of the year. Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed here. Chuck-will’s Widows and Eastern Whip-poor-wills can be heard from late April through June – a good reason to camp at the park. Chimney Swifts and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are present from April through September.
There is a short list of shorebirds (not much shorebird habitat here): Killdeer, American Woodcock, Red-necked Phalarope (fall migration), and Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. The expected gulls are Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring. Terns are not common but occasionally there is a Forster’s. Double-crested Cormorants are found in spring and fall, and there is the possibility of a Great Cormorant in spring. Waders include Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret (uncommon), Little Blue Heron (uncommon), Green Heron, and Glossy Ibis. White Ibis is showing up occasionally, as this species is undergoing a northward range expansion.
Both Turkey and Black Vultures are commonly seen, although the Blacks tend to be seasonal (spring, fall, and mid-winter). Ospreys and Bald Eagles are easy to find. Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks are present for most of the year, while Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned are mostly seen in fall and winter. Broad-winged Hawks pass overhead during spring migration. Eastern Screech-Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owls are all present. American Kestrels and Merlins might be found in fall or winter.
Belted Kingfishers are easy to find in early spring or early fall. The expected swallows are Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree, and Purple Martins. Pocomoke River State Park is a great place for woodpeckers: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (winter), Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flickers; all but the sapsuckers nest here, and in good numbers.
Pocomoke River State Park really shines when it comes to forest birds. Five species of flycatchers are abundant: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Eastern Phoebe, and Great Crested Flycatcher. Breeding vireos are White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed; Blue-headed and Philadelphia can be found during migration. Blue Jays, American Crows, Fish Crows, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice are all numerous year-round residents. Wintering birds include Golden-crowned and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers. White-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatches nest here and are present year-round.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are abundant during spring and summer. House Wrens occur in moderate numbers; Winter Wrens are present from fall through spring; Marsh Wrens migrate through in fall (no breeding here); and Carolina Wrens are present year-round and sing vociferously from every possible nook and cranny. Gray Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, and Brown Thrashers are commonly found from spring through fall. Among thrushes, the breeders are Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Wood Thrush. Hermit Thrushes overwinter in relatively large numbers. Veery is a regular spring and fall migrant. Cedar Waxwings are abundant and may be found in feeding flocks with bluebirds and robins.
House Sparrows are found, but only in late spring and early summer. Irruption years may bring Evening Grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills, and Pine Siskins. House Finches are found sporadically throughout the year and American Goldfinches are year-round residents. Breeding sparrows include Chipping, Song, and Eastern Towhee. Field Sparrows breed in these Atlas blocks. Wintering sparrows are Fox, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated, and Swamp.
European Starlings are abundant year-round. A Yellow-breasted Chat might pop up in scrubby areas in the spring. Migrant blackbirds include Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks; some meadowlarks might also be found in winter, as well as Rusty Blackbirds. Breeders include Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Common Grackle.
Twenty-five species of warblers have been reported. There is a notable set of 13 species of breeding warblers, including Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated, and Prairie. Common migrants include Magnolia, Blackburnian, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Palm, and Black-throated Green. Yellow-rumped Warblers over-winter in abundance.
Both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers breed here, along with Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeaks. Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a common spring and fall migrant.
Pets are allowed on leash; be prepared to pick up after your pet.
There is a wheelchair-accessible trail through State Forest land on the north side of Nassawango Road adjacent to the entrance to Milburn Landing. Other trails are not wheelchair-accessible. However, the long roadways through both park sections and around the camping areas offer the opportunity to bird from or near the car. The parking lots at the boat launch areas in both park sections are paved and have reserved handicapped parking, offering additional birding access for mobility-impaired birders. The fishing and boarding piers are not ADA-accessible.
The Milburn Landing and Shad Landing area of Pocomoke River State Park lie within the Pocomoke-Nassawango Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society.
The Pocomoke-Nassawango IBA, 180,000 acres in size, includes the valleys of the Pocomoke River and its tributary, the Nassawango Creek, from US Route 50 south to the Virginia border, along with extensive areas of adjacent upland forests, making up the largest block of contiguous forest on the Delmarva Peninsula. The Pocomoke-Nassawango IBA is the premier site for Forest-Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS) on the Delmarva peninsula, and it hosts significant populations of 12 at-risk bird species because of its large size and varied habitats. Of the 24 species of FIDS found on Maryland’s coastal plain, 21 or more breed regularly within this IBA. The extensive forested wetlands provide prime habitat for four at-risk birds ─ Prothonotary Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, and the rare Swainson’s Warbler (which unfortunately is no longer regularly found). This site is also important for migrant landbirds.
The Pocomoke River is one of only nine rivers in the state of Maryland designated as a Scenic River. A Scenic River is a “free-flowing river whose shoreline and related land are predominantly forested, agricultural, grassland, marshland, or swampland with a minimum of development for at least 2 miles of the river length.”
Over 3,000 acres within Pocomoke River State Park and Pocomoke State Forest are classified through an act of the Maryland General Assembly as State Wildlands. Maryland Wildlands are areas of state-owned land or water that have retained their wilderness character or contain rare or vanishing species of plant or animal life or similar features worthy of preservation. State-designated Wildlands are managed for passive recreation only, including hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding and nature interpretation. Wildlands provide for protection of threatened and endangered species, as well as watershed and water quality; allow for wilderness research and primitive recreation; and preserve unique ecological communities and rare habitats.
Of the two areas, Shad Landing offers a greater selection of visitor amenities, including a swimming pool, playground, amphitheatre, canoe/kayak rentals, a marina with public boat launch, fishing piers and a fishing pond, camping (RVs, tents and mini-cabins), group camping areas, picnic tables and picnic pavilions for rent, a nature center, camp store, and educational programs and special events. There are multiple restrooms and shower facilities. The Pocomoke River Canoe Company offers kayak and canoe rentals at Shad Landing and can also provide other launch sites as well as guided river tours.
Milburn Landing has a marina with public boat launch, fishing piers, camping (RVs, tents and mini-cabins), group camping areas, picnic tables and picnic pavilions for rent, restrooms and a shower facility.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Tri-County Bird Club, serving Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties, and offering field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
Paved or gravel parking lots located at several locations in both Milburn Landing and Shad Landing. See trail maps at links at left.
Pocomoke River State Park is located southwest of the town of Snow Hill in Worcester County, MD. Access to the Shad Landing Area is from US Route 113 and access to the Milburn Landing Area is via Nassawango Road. Directions below are to Shad Landing followed directions to Milburn Landing from Shad Landing.
From the south end of Ocean City (such as the Ocean City Inlet area): Take US Route 50/Ocean Gateway west out of town. In approximately 7 miles, at the interchange with US Route 113, follow signs to get on Route 113 southbound. The entrance to the Shad Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the right in approximately 21.5 miles.
From the north end of Ocean City: If you’re coming from anywhere above 50th Street in Ocean City and not planning to bird the Inlet area, it’s quickest to take MD Route 90/Ocean City Expressway west onto the mainland. About 7.6 miles west of Ocean City, at the interchange with US Route 113, follow signs to get on Route 113 southbound. The entrance to the Shad Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the right in approximately 24.0 miles.
From points north, such as Delaware: Use US Route 113 southbound toward Berlin and Ocean City. After passing the interchange with US Route 50, the entrance to the Shad Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the right in approximately 21.5 miles.
From points south, such as Pocomoke City, MD or the Eastern Shore of Virginia: Use US Route 13/113 northbound toward Berlin and Ocean City. The entrance to the Shad Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the left side of the highway approximately 6.9 miles north of Pocomoke City.
From points west and north such as Salisbury, Easton, or the Western Shore: Use US Route 50/Ocean Gateway eastbound toward Ocean City. Upon reaching Salisbury, follow signs to take the Salisbury Bypass around the east edge of Salisbury. From the Bypass, take the exit for MD Route 12/Snow Hill road to head southeast toward Snow Hill. In 15 miles, in the town of Snow Hill, turn right onto West Market Street, a couple of blocks after crossing the bridge over the Pocomoke River. You’ll pass Byrd Park on the right, after which West Market bends to the south and becomes Market Street (signed as Business Route 113). Continue south on Market Street for 2.3 miles, then merge onto US Route 113/Worcester Highway southbound. The entrance to the Shad Landing area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the right in 1.2 miles.
- To reach the Milburn Landing Area from the Shad Landing Area: At the exit from Shad Landing onto US Route 113, turn left to go north on US Route 113/Worcester Highway. Use extreme caution in turning left across the wide median of the divided highway. Go north on Route 113 for 1.4 miles, then turn left onto Business Route 113/Market Street toward downtown Snow Hill. In about 2.3 miles, Market Street will bend to the right and become West Market Street. Continue on West Market Street for 5 more blocks, then turn left to go north on MD Route 12/North Washington Street. In 1.2 miles, turn left to go west on Nassawango Road. The entrance to the Milburn Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park will be on the left in 6.8 miles, requiring a sharp left turn onto the entrance road (River Road).
Worcester County: Assateague Island National Seashore & Assateague Island State Park ◾ Castaways RV Resort & Campgrounds ◾ E.A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area ◾ Heron Park (formerly Berlin Falls Park) ◾ Isle of Wight Park & Wildlife Management Area ◾ Ocean City Inlet & Sunset Park ◾ Ocean City: Skimmer Island (4th Street Mudflats) ◾ Pocomoke State Forest – Hickory Point Cypress Swamp Natural Area ◾ South Point ◾ Truitts Landing & Other Bayside Landings ◾ West Ocean City Park-n-Ride & Homer Gudelsky Park ◾ West Ocean City Pond
Somerset County: Deal Island Wildlife Management Area ◾ Fairmount Wildlife Management Area ◾ Irish Grove MOS Sanctuary ◾ Janes Island State Park ◾ Rumbley Boat Ramp ◾ Smith Island
Wicomico County: Cedar Hill Marina & Park ◾ Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area ◾ Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area – Nutter’s Neck ◾ Pemberton Historical Park ◾ Roaring Point & Nanticoke Harbor ◾ Tyaskin Park & Wetipquin Park ◾ Ward Museum & Schumaker Pond
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarBoardwalkBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsCampingFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsNature Education ProgramsOvernight Lodging or CabinsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsSwimmingWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Audubon Important Bird AreasNature CentersState Natural Areas & WildlandsState ParksThe Rivers of the Eastern ShoreWater Trails