14100 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Schoolhouse Pond is a gem of a birding spot; in fact, it boasts the highest eBird species list in Prince George’s County. The pond is located in the town of Upper Marlboro, directly across the street from the Prince George’s County Administration Building, and is managed as a conservation area by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Interestingly, no one really knows how and when the pond originated. It is not shown on older maps of the town. Some say it was built as a mill pond, but that’s just speculation. The pond occupies about 12 acres of a 30-acre parkland and is stocked with fish. Amenities include a fishing pier, photo blind, 3/4-mile boardwalk, picnic area, and nature trail through the adjoining woods. There are no restrooms.
The trail plus the boardwalk makes a complete circuit of the pond, passing through wet woods and along the Federal Springs Branch behind the pond. An observation platform on the back edge of the pond provides a good view of a marshy area favored by Wilson’s Snipe. Usually the water in the pond remains at least partly open, even in freezing weather, thanks to influx from tributary streams. Some of the pond is covered by emergent vegetation, while other sections are exposed mud and some is deeper water. The pond hosts a good winter selection of waterfowl and shorebirds in migration. Proximity to the county landfill attracts gulls in large numbers. The wooded areas are good for warblers and other passerines.
The aforementioned Federal Springs Branch runs along the north edge of the park surrounding the pond; the Federal Springs Branch flows into the Western Branch, a major tributary of the Patuxent River, which is not far away. Note that this part of Upper Marlboro is essentially a basin and during wet weather, is subject to flash flooding. Check before visiting after major storms, and while there, be alert to possibly rising waters. The water can rise rapidly, submerging cars and cutting off exit routes from town.
With it’s location in the Patuxent River watershed, Schoolhouse Pond is a good jumping off point for birding the river. See the overview map of Jug Bay area parks at the link at left for a look at places to visit.
Schoolhouse Pond holds the #1 spot in Prince George’s County for number of species reported. As of Spring 2020, the species list on eBird stands at 236. The length of the species list is due almost entirely to the daily walks conducted by Fred Shaffer, former President of the Patuxent Bird Club, now retired from a job in the county building across the street. Fred has compiled a seasonal checklist of birds at Schoolhouse Pond.
Waterfowl sighted at the pond include most of the dabbling ducks that occur in the county. Blue-winged Teal may be present almost any time of year. Wintering gulls sometimes include rarities such as Franklin’s, Black-headed, and Little Gulls.
Wilson’s Snipe and American Coot are regular in season. Virginia Rails may be heard in spring and Sora in the fall. Shorebirds use the pond’s mudflats during migration. The trail behind the pond offers good passerine birding during spring and fall migration, and even in winter there may be surprises.
Breeding birds include Black-crowned Night-Heron and Barred Owl.
There is on-street metered parking along Governor Oden Bowie Drive on the south side of the pond; the rate is $2.50 per hour Monday through Saturday. The meters take coins and credit/debit cards and are strictly monitored.
The boardwalk at either side of the front of Schoolhouse Pond is wheelchair-accessible, but the natural-surface trail in the woods on the far side of the pond are usually muddy and would not navigable by a wheelchair. ◾ 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.
From US Route 301 near Upper Marlboro: Turn onto westbound MD Route 725/Marlboro Pike toward the heart of historic Upper Marlboro. Go 0.8 miles on Route 725, staying straight at the light at the intersection of MD Route 202, and then turning right at the next light to go west on Governor Oden Bowie Drive. You will pass a historic home (Darnall’s Chance) on the right. Schoolhouse Pond is immediately after Darnall’s Chance, and is also on the right. Look for parking at a meter on the street. Parking is usually plentiful in the early mornings or evenings, and on weekends, but the spaces may be full during weekday working hours. Don’t forget to feed the parking meter if visiting any day but Sunday, when parking is free.
From the Washington, DC Beltway (I-495): Take Exit 11 for MD Route 4/Pennsylvania Avenue south/east toward Upper Marlboro. In 7.3 miles, take the exit for MD Route 717/Water Street, heading north into town. In o.3 miles, turn right to go east on MD Route 725/Main Street. Go 1/4 miles east on Main Street, then turn left onto Governor Oden Bowie Drive. A historic home (Darnall’s Chance) will be on the corner, on the right as you turn onto Governor Oden Bowie Drive. Schoolhouse Pond is immediately after Darnall’s Chance, and is also on the right. Look for parking at a meter on the street. Parking is usually plentiful in the early mornings or evenings, and on weekends, but the spaces may be full during weekday working hours. Don’t forget to feed the parking meter if visiting any day but Sunday, when parking is free.
Prince George’s County: Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access) ◾ Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Colmar Manor Community Park & Anacostia River Trail ◾ 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 MOS Sanctuary ◾ Piscataway (National) Park: National Colonial Farm, Boardwalk, Wharf Road/Farmington Landing & Marshall Hall ◾ Rosaryville State Park
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park ◾ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary ◾ Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Calvert County: Chesapeake Beach ◾ Kings Landing Park & Huntingtown Natural Resources Management Area ◾ North Beach
Bottomland Deciduous Urban or Small Town Landscape 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)BoardwalkFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
#1 Hotspot in County or CityCommunity and Urban ParksPonds, Lakes, and Reservoirs