If you didn’t know that a brackish marsh was sandwiched between two large forest fragments, you might think the trail went on forever. However, at the end of the wooded tunnel is a tidal freshwater/brackish wetland. The urge to rush through the prelude to the marsh is strong and excitement builds the closer I get, but I always hold back because the stillness is intoxicating. If you’re interested in snakes, this is a great place to see a northern watersnake. Another reptile to keep an eye out for is diamondback terrapin, the state reptile of Maryland.
In the summertime, when I’ve reached the opening to the marsh, I’m greeted by bushes of marsh mallow — white hibiscus flowers, centers dabbed with magenta. Shortly thereafter, Little Blue Herons in their stormy blues, cloudy whites, and combination molts come into view — stars in the Black Marsh. In winter, when the flowers have died back and the showy herons are long gone, American Bittern and Virginia Rail are my targets along the trail. Then it’s off to Crystal Pier for waterfowl and a possible Snow Bunting, with so much more to explore in between.
At a Glance
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Grasslands, wetlands, marine.
Flat trail, muddy, not wheelchair-accessible. Grassland species can be observed from a car but not herons or other waterbirds.
More than 200 species. Summer: Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Osprey, Orchard Oriole, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, King and Virginia Rails, Caspian Tern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Least Bittern, Eastern Bluebird. Winter: Scaup, Bufflehead, Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Brown Creeper, Rusty Blackbird, Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, Pied-billed Grebe, Tundra Swan, American Black and Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintail. Rarities: Snow Bunting, American Bittern.
When to go
Year-round. Weekdays during business hours for a quiet birding experience.
Picnic tables. Bicycling allowed except in the Black Marsh Wildlands. Visitor center has nature and history-themed exhibits, a science classroom, and public restrooms; center open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, 9-5 daily. Bowhunting and waterfowl hunting, so be aware of the presence of hunters.
State park. Entrance fee $3. Parking available. Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset (closed December 25). Park is known to fill to capacity on summer weekends and holidays, and visitors will be turned away when it’s at capacity.
Bring binoculars, scope, and photography equipment. Expect very hot and humid weather during summer months and prepare for biting bugs. Watch for ice during winter.
For more info
North Point State Park, (410) 592-2897.
Baltimore Bird Club
Maryland Ornithological Society
Inside the park and a short car ride from Black Marsh Trail parking lot. Wonderful for views of wintering waterfowl. Occasionally, Snow Bunting can be found foraging in and around the stones that border walkway.
Fort Smallwood Park
Across the Patapsco River from North Point State Park. Excellent for warblers during migration and home to a spring hawk watch.