At a Glance
Hours: Currently closed to drop-in birding.
Tips: Bring a scope. Sturdy waterproof footwear with closed toes are recommended. Sign-in and liability waiver at the office trailer are required on arrival. It is not permitted to walk out on the dikes surrounding the impoundments. The impoundments must be viewed from the spot near the flagpole outside the office trailer. It is permissable to walk the gravel road that runs south into the restored wetland. This site is not a public park. Access for birders has been carefully negotiated with the management. Please obey all rules and be on your best behavior so that we don’t lose access to this productive site. Restrooms are located in the office trailer.
Best Seasons: Year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Curtis Bay CE
Swan Creek Wetlands | Cox Creek Dredged Material Containment Facility
CLOSED FOR DROP-IN BIRDING AND BIRDING TOURS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
1000 Kembo Road, Curtis Bay, Maryland 21226
NOTE: Swan Creek Wetlands and Cox Creek Dredged Material Containment Facility (DMCF) is CLOSED FOR DROP-IN BIRDING AND BIRDING TOURS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. The facility is undergoing heavy construction and for safety reasons has been closed for drop-in birding. Also, organized birding tours were discontinued because of the COVID pandemic. As of 2021, the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) has resumed a limited number of birding tours. MES advertises such tours through a private email list. To request that you be added to the email list to receive notices of upcoming Swan Creek birding tours, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Add me to mailing list.” The same mailing list is used for notification of upcoming MES tours to Hart-Miller Island. Such trips will have a restricted number of participants and will require advance reservations. The trips fill quickly, often within minutes, so it is necessary to monitor your email and respond right away if you receive notice of a tour. There may also be a limited number of tours to Swan Creek/Cox Creek available through local bird clubs; check the calendar on the Maryland Ornithology Society website to see if any such trips are coming up.
Further note: As part of the construction project mentioned above, adjacent industrial buildings have been cleared to enable expansion of the dredged material impoundments. In addition, a new office facility has been built for the on-site staff; the old office trailer where birders used to check in has been removed, and the former viewing area by the flagpole is no longer in existence. The construction is greatly altering the topography and the birding features at the impounded area. In short, the description below is now outdated and will be updated when the facility re-opens for public birding. The trail map linked at left will also be replaced.
Swan Creek Wetlands and Cox Creek Dredged Material Containment Facility (DMCF) are located just south of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), on the Patapsco River near its junction with the Chesapeake Bay. The site is known as a magnet for shorebirds and waders and is one of four dredged material sites in Maryland that are open to birding, the others being Masonville Cove (Baltimore City), Hart-Miller Island State Park (Baltimore County) and Poplar Island (Talbot County). Visiting any of these facilities is always a great treat for birders because of their propensity to attract hard-to-find shorebirds and rarities. Cox Creek became famous in 2017 when it hosted a state first-record Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that dropped in for a couple of days during fall migration.
The facility at Swan Creek/Cox Creek is managed by the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), which sets the rules for birding visits.
Upon arrival at Swan Creek/Cox Creek, the first thing you will see are the Cox Creek dredged material containment cells, not accessible to the public but visible from the visitor area by the office trailer. Cox Creek was built to hold material dredged from the shipping channels that lead to the Baltimore Harbor. The resulting slurry of mud and water in the two large impoundments provides an attractive stopover for migrants, and rarities frequently occur, especially in the shorebird category. If you are visiting on your own, as opposed to being on a guided tour with a bird club or with MES, you are not permitted to walk the dikes around the containment cells (aka impoundments). Instead, you must view the impoundments from a spot near the flagpole outside the office trailer. A scope will absolutely be needed, as the impoundments are large and most of the interesting birds have the annoying habit of being on the far side. While scoping, spend sometime carefully examining the metal struts on top of and under the Key Bridge: sometimes a Peregrine Falcon or two can be found there.
The adjoining Swan Creek Wetlands cannot be seen from the area near the office trailer; the wetlands are just to the south, on the other side of a little wooded strip. To reach the wetlands, walk south (to the right as you enter the facility) on the rock-rubble road that leads away from the office trailer. The trail to the wetland doubles as a heavy-equipment road and has minor slopes, and can be challenging because of mud, rock rubble, and water flowing over one section, so wear sturdy, closed-toe waterproof footwear. Here, over 100 acres have been permanently preserved for wildlife habitat, and 11 acres of tidal wetlands have been enhanced and restored. Habitats include open water, low marsh with non-vegetated tidal flats, saltbush assemblages, woodlands, and a beach/sand bar area. A viewing platform overlooks part of the wetland. Don’t forget to bird the woods on the way to the wetland; this small woodlot often attracts flycatchers, vireos, warblers, and orioles in season. Also be sure to scan the water from the beach area, looking for loons, grebes, and waterfowl in winter, terns in summer, and gulls all year long. The industrial facility on the shoreline to the south of Swan Creek has a long pier that attracts roosting gulls. Far off-shore, historic Fort Carroll, a Civil War-era fortification, can be seen on a small island just south of the Key Bridge, and the Fort also attracts gulls.
Occasionally, special field trips at Swan Creek/Cox Creek are scheduled through local bird clubs or directly through MES and these trips are given special permission to walk the dikes around the containment facility cells, affording great views of birds in the impoundments. Such field trips have limited capacity and always require advance registration. Check the calendar on the Maryland Ornithology Society website to see if any such trips are coming up. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Add me to mailing list” to receive direct notification of upcoming MES-sponsored birding tours at Swan Creek.
When the facility is operating normally and is open to drop-in birding, birders are required to complete a Release Form (one time) and sign the Registration Book (each visit) in the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) office trailer (to the left of the flagpole as you enter the site). Please be sure to leave promptly by the posted closing time. Visitors on the property after hours may be arrested or fined. Worse, if birders do not follow the rules, we could all lose access to this premier birding location, so please be on your best behavior and follow the rules.
Over 280 species have been reported on eBird from the Swan Creek Wetland–Cox Creek DMCF hotspot.
Winter: American Black Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Virginia Rail, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco
Spring: Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, American Coot, Dunlin, Wilson’s Snipe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Savannah Sparrow
Summer: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Barn Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole
Fall: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Sora, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Caspian Tern, Eastern Phoebe, American Pipit, Yellow-rumped Warbler
Year-round: Canada Goose, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Great Black-backed Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch
For birders who are mobility-impaired, Swan Creek offers good views of the impoundments from the area near the flagpole next to the administration office/trailer. Parking is located just a short distance away and the area between the parking and the flagpole is paved or gravel. The dikes and the trail to the restored wetland are not wheelchair-accessible.
Swan Creek/Cox Creek DMCF often hosts visiting school groups for environmental education activities. 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.
Currently closed to drop-in birding. See note above.
From the southern portion of the Baltimore Beltway/I-695: Take exit 1 (exit is immediately west of the Key Bridge). From the exit, head south on MD Route 173 South/Fort Smallwood Road. Drive two miles, passing the Under Armour complex on the left, and turn left to go east on Kembo Road. Follow Kembo Road to near its end and park along the chain link fence on the right, outside of the gate. Walk through the gate and sign in at the office (metal trailer near the flagpole). Also complete a release form if you have not already done so.
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park Downs Memorial Park Fort Smallwood Park Greenbury Point Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary Kinder Farm Park Lake Waterford Park Mandares Creek MOS Sanctuary Oxbow Natural Area Patuxent Research Refuge – North Tract Piney Orchard Nature Preserve Quiet Waters Park Sandy Point State Park Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Baltimore City: Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center Fort McHenry National Monument
Baltimore County: Hart-Miller Island State Park Fort Howard Park North Point State Park
Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Dredged Material Containment Facility Old Fields, Shrubby MeadowsSandy Beach or Dunes Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuaryRivers & StreamsSalt or Brackish Marsh
Features:Free - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsParkingRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible Features
Type:Chesapeake Bay Western ShoreThe Rivers of the Western Shore