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  A Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society


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Elk Neck State Park and Turkey Point
Description Elk Neck State Park is located on the the Elk Neck peninsula, bounded on the east by the Elk River and on the west by the Northeast River; both rivers empty into Chesapeake Bay at Turkey Point in the south part of the Park. The Park features rolling hills covered with deciduous forests as well as grassy meadows.   The main part of the Park includes a day use area on the North East River side, a camping area on the Elk River side, and a boat launch ramp at Rogue's Harbor on the Elk River.  There are walking trails at all of these areas, with good upland birding.  A conference center is also available to organized groups by advance reservation.

The Turkey Point section of the Park is at the extreme south end of Elk Neck, with magnificent clifftop views out over the water, especially from the lighthouse area at the tip of the Point.  There are a couple of small cattail marshes on the eastern side of the Point. 

Elk Neck State Park and Turkey Point offer good birding throughout the year.  The fall migration can be especially exciting, as the funnel shape of the peninsula concentrates south-bound birds that are reluctant to head out over the water.  Turkey Point has been the site of a fall hawk watch since 1994, with volunteer staffing by many Cecil Bird Club members and others.  Seventeen diurnal species of raptors have been seen during the hawk watch seasons (September 1 to Thanksgiving). 

In addition, migrating owls may be found at Turkey Point:  a banding project in fall of 1996 captured more than 300 Northern Saw-whet Owls.  Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owls, and Great Horned Owls are resident year-round.  The Cecil Bird Club traditionally sponsors an evening owl walk near Halloween.  Individuals who wish to look for owls need to get special permission, since the park is closed dusk to dawn. 
How to get there From the town of North East, take Rt. 272 south.  After about 10 miles, watch for signs indicating the Park's North East River Day Use Area (right turn), the camping area (left turn), and the Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch Ramp (left turn). Continue south on Rt. 272 and through the community of Chesapeake Isle to reach the Turkey Point section of the Park.  Rt. 272 ends at the gravel parking lot for Turkey Point. 
Map reference De Lorme MD State Atlas Book:  map page 77; grid D5
ADC Cecil County Map Book:  map page 19; grid F9 (Turkey Point parking area)
Google map - click here
What to do after arrival The North East River Day Use Area parking lot offers a good place to scan for gulls, terns, ducks, grebes, loons, and migrating raptors.  To the north of the parking lot is a small marsh that can be good.  A walking trail leads southeast from the picnic pavilion area to a nearby outdoor chapel.

The camping area on the Elk River side provides access to a marked nature trail leading through a fresh water marsh and some of the loop roads allow views of the Elk River.  Stop at the fee booth for the camping area to ask permission to bird, and for a campground map, and then explore.  The camping area is usually good in spring for warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and so on.

The Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch area is another good spot to scan the water, and provides access to a loop trail that circles yet another marsh.  To reach this trail, park in the first large lot and head all the way to the left (north).  The marsh can be good for ducks, rails, and herons.

From the Turkey Point car park, it is a 1.0 mile walk to the lighthouse at the Point.  Follow the gravel road visible beyond the gate, birding on the way.  Especially check out the trees on thecliffs to the west; many of the treetops will be at eye level, offering an excellent view of songbirds.  In the meadows on the way to the Point, look for birds along the edge of the woods. 

Once at the lighthouse, bear west (to the right when facing the water) toward the edge of the cliffs and pick up the trail along the cliff edge, at the junction of the woods and field.  This trail will loop back to the main lighthouse trail, and along the way passes through woods that are good for songbirds. 

Alternatively, from the Turkey Point parking lot there is a trail leading east into the woods (head directly away from the North East River).  This trail leads to a small marsh separating state land from the private community at Chesapeake Isles.  The marsh is good in winter for ducks and in fall and spring there may be migrating landbirds around the edge. Rails can also be found in the marsh, some year-round.

Migrating raptors may be observed from the second meadow on the way to the lighthouse, or at the lighthouse itself.  In winter, scan any visible water for ducks, loons, and grebes; in summer scan over the water for terns.

Birds to look for
  • Fall: Migrating hawks and other raptors and migrating songbirds, including warblers, flycatchers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, orioles, cuckoos, finches, swallows, and grosbeaks. Terns pass through. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, sparrows, kinglets, geese, ducks, loons, and grebes start to arrive and many will remain until spring. 
  • Winter: Sapsuckers, sparrows, kinglets, geese, ducks, loons, and grebes. 
  • Spring: Migration northward brings another wave of songbirds, essentially the same as fall. Many will stay to breed through the summer.
  • Summer: Notable breeding birds include Red-Headed and Pileated Woodpeckers; Cerulean, Black-and-white, Prairie, and Worm-eating Warblers; Wood Thrush; Red-eyed, White-eyed, Yellow-throated and Warbling Vireos; Yellow-billed Cuckoos; Terns;  Ospreys;  Bald Eagles.
  • Year-round residents: Bald Eagles, woodpeckers (including Red-headed and Pileated), goldfinches, cardinals, bluebirds, meadowlarks.
Hours/Fees/Amenities Park open to foot access daily during daylight hours every day of the year, except when deer hunting is in progress.  North East River Day Use Area and Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch closed to vehicles during winter.  Fee for camping and for North East River Day Uee Area and for Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch.  No fee for Turkey Point use.  There are restrooms at Rogue’s Harbor and North East River Day Use area, in the main part of the Park, but these are only open in summer.  The North East River Day Use area has picnic tables and pavilions.  Picnic tables are also available at the outdoor chapel area, reached by taking the entrance to the North East River Day Use area and bearing left at the fork by the fee booth (no fee for chapel area; no restrooms there).  Camping is available on the Elk River side, with both tent sites and trailer sites.  Pets are allowed at some sites.  Boat rentals are available in season.
What to bring A spotting scope can help in scanning the water, but binoculars are sufficient for most birding.  Trails are usually in good condition, even after rain.  Waterproof shoes may be needed to walk through the grass in early morning or evening.
Difficulty of walking Easy to moderate.  Most trails are somewhat hilly but not steep.  The first part of the main trail from the Turkey Point parking lot goes uphill, but after that, it is mostly level walking to the lighthouse on a wide gravel road. Limited birding and a view of the water is possible from the car at theTurkey Point parking lot.
Personal safety Turkey Point is open for deer hunting in some years, generally starting at Thanksgiving.  Call the Park office for dates.  Heavy public use during spring through fall keeps the area relatively safe, especially on weekends.
Nearby sites Charlestown Stone Wharf; Elk Neck State Forest;  North East Town Park
For more information Turkey Point Hawk Watch website, MD Division of Natural Resources website; Elk Neck State Park official website
Copyright 1998, 1999, 2007 Cecil Bird Club;  All rights reserved.  May be printed for personal use but may not be reproduced in any form for mass or commercial distribution without permission of the Executive Committee of the Cecil Bird Club.

 Contact Us last updated 10/25/07