Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, MD 21037-0028
Note: As of October 2020, some of the trails at SERC are closed for construction. See the updated trail map. Also see SERC’s COVID-19 Visitor Guide.
The 2,650-acre campus of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), situated on the Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel County, welcomes birders and other visitors to explore its varied habitats, which include forests, cropland, pastures, freshwater wetlands, tidal marshes, and estuaries, with 15 miles of protected shoreline. The SERC campus is located along the Rhode River, a sub-estuary of the Chesapeake Bay, in southern Anne Arundel County. A well-developed trail system takes you through most of the campus, but exploring the whole of this exceptional site will take more than one visit, given its size.
It is a privilege to have access to bird at SERC, which is the applied research arm of the nation’s venerable Smithsonian Institution. SERC’s research is centered on meeting the environmental challenges of the 21st century, with a specific focus on coastal ecosystems. The site serves as a natural laboratory for long-term and cutting-edge ecological research.
Upon arrival, please sign in at the Reed Education Center. There are three main trails to explore (see trail map at link at left; printed trail maps are available at the trailhead kiosk for the Contee Watershed Trail and at the Reed Education Center). The Contee Watershed Trail (1.6 miles, white blazes) traverses varying terrain through upland forest, cypress swamp, and marshland, and offers a scenic shoreline view of Sellman Creek. There are medium to difficult changes in elevation along the trail. It’s much easier to begin DOWNHILL through the steep field on the south loop of the trail. A second option is to take the Java History Trail (1.3 mile, blue blazes), starting from the Reed Education Center and passing through field, forest, and marsh. The Java History Trail is easy with little elevation change. The third option, the Discovery Trail (1.4 mile, pink blazes), passes through mature forests and over a long marsh boardwalk out to Hog Island. The Discovery Trail is another easy trail with minor elevation changes. The dock and launch area at the end of Dock Road is another good birding spot; you can check here for gulls, terns, and waterfowl in season.
Those who have their own canoes or kayaks can use the soft launch and SERC’s water trail map to closely explore the marshes and waterways. SERC also offers public canoe days, when they supply canoes and guided tours (fee applies).
Over 220 species have been reported on eBird from SERC.
Breeding Season Species: Wood Duck, Osprey, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Woodcock, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Marsh Wren, Wood Thrush, Grasshopper Sparrow, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, orioles, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting.
Winter: 26 species of waterfowl, including Trumpeter Swans (rare in MD – previously present only some years, but becoming more reliable); gulls; Common Loon; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, White-winged and Red Crossbills (some years), Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Rusty Blackbird.
Spring and/or Fall Migration: King Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Red-throated Loon, Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Northern Harrier, accipiters, buteos, and falcons, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, 33 species of warblers.
Summer: Osprey, Laughing Gull, egrets and herons, swallows, Seaside Sparrow.
Year-round: Wild Turkey, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Double-crested Cormorant, Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch.
Small gravel lot next to historic ruins at Contee Watershed trailhead. For Java History Trail and Discovery Trail, park at Reed Education Center. See trail maps at links at left. DO not park along roadways.
The SERC campus offers a rich environment to explore. In addition to its outstanding natural habitats, there are extensive historical features at the site, including formal archaeological excavations. See https://serc.si.edu/research/projects to explore the many cutting-edge environmental and historical research projects at SERC. ◾ SERC offers a full calendar of public tours, events, and programs, including science seminars. ◾ There are numerous volunteer opportunities. ◾ SERC is the only site within this Birder’s Guide to Maryland and DC with its own robot! Pepper is a humanoid robot that is friendly and fun. Pepper can pose for selfies, tell you about SERC programs, answer programmed questions, and even dance! The Smithsonian received 12 Pepper robots in February 2018 from SoftBank Robotics to be tested in museums, research centers, and educational spaces. SERC received two of those robots, which are continuously being programmed by staff and students to engage the public about environmental topics related to SERC research. One project involved students from nearby South River High School. ◾ SERC is a part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of the National Park Service. ◾ 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.
From the DC area, the Annapolis area, or from the Eastern Shore after crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Take US Route 50 to Exit 16 for MD Route 424/Davidsonville Road southbound. Drive south on Davidsonville Road for 3.2 miles, then turn left (east) onto MD Route 214/Central Avenue. Go east on Central Avenue for 4.7 miles, then turn right (south) onto MD Route 468/Muddy Creek Road. Follow Muddy Creek Road south for 1.0 mile and turn left (east) onto Contees Wharf Road, which will bring you into the SERC campus. See below for “Upon arrival at SERC.”
From the Baltimore area: Take the Baltimore Beltway to Exit 4 for I-97 South. Stay on I-97 for 18 miles and then take the exit for US Route 50 eastbound. On US Route 50, stay in the right lane to take Exit 22 for MD Route 665/Aris T. Allen Boulevard southbound, which will be less than a mile after entering US Route 50. On Aris Allen Boulevard, go 1.4 miles and take Exit for MD Route 2/Solomons Island Road southbound. After turning right (south) onto Solomons Island Road, go 3.3 miles and turn left (east) onto MD Route 214/Central Avenue. GO east on Central Avenue for 1.4 miles, then turn right (south) onto MD Route 468/Muddy Creek Road. Follow Muddy Creek Road south for 1.0 mile and turn left (east) onto Contees Wharf Road, which will bring you into the SERC campus. See below for “Upon arrival at SERC.”
From Southern Maryland: Take MD Route 2/4 north to Sunderland. Where Routes 2 and 4 split,stay right to continue north on MD Route 2/Solomons Island Road for about 11.7 miles. At Mount Zion, there will be a traffic circle where MD Route 2 will intersect with MD Route 408; go into the traffic circle and take the first exit to turn right to stay on MD Route 2. In 1.3 miles, turn right (east) onto MD Route 255/Owensville Road. Go 3.1 miles and turn left (north) onto MD Route 468/Muddy Creek Road. In 4.0 miles, turn right (east) onto Contees Wharf Road, which will bring you into the SERC campus. See below for “Upon arrival at SERC.”
Upon arrival at SERC: Upon entering the SERC grounds, you will pass a green Security kiosk. After about 3/4 of a mile, the road will fork. Stay left to go to the Reed Education Center, the blue building near the water, for Visitor Sign-In. The trailheads for the Discovery Trail and the Java History Trail area are near the Reed Education Center (see trail map at the link at left). To reach the Contee Watershed Trailhead: Before entering the SERC main grounds, and after turning from Muddy Creek Road onto Contees Wharf Road, drive 0.8 mile and turn left on Contees Wharf Lane. Drive to top of the hill to a gravel parking area at the kiosk. Or from the Reed Education Center, return to Contees Wharf Road and turn right onto Contees Wharf Lane to go up the hill to the parking area and trailhead kiosk.
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park, Greenbury Point, Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Piney Orchard Nature Preserve, Quiet Waters Park, Sandy Point State Park
Calvert County: Chesapeake Beach, Kings Landing Park & Huntingtown Natural Resources Management Area, North Beach
Prince George’s County: Governor Bridge Natural Area, Merkle Natural Resources Management Area, Patuxent River Park – Jug Bay Natural Area, Patuxent River Park – Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park, Schoolhouse Pond
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsHay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuaryRivers & StreamsSalt or Brackish Marsh
BeginnersBoardwalkBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFree - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewYoung People / Families
Chesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkChesapeake Bay Western ShoreNature CentersThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails