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  A Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society


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Cecil Birding Hotspots
Courthouse Point Managed Hunting Area
Description Courthouse Point MHA is one of the most productive birding sites in Cecil County, boasting a long list of regular and accidental species from both dry and wet habitats.  Courthouse Point is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and managed for hunting by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  The 350 acre site contains a large diked impoundment holding dredge spoils from the nearby C&D Canal, as well as a smaller pond, partly diked and partly natural.  Water levels in the impoundment and pond are controlled by the managers and vary from season to season.  The impoundment and pond are heavily grown with phragmites.  There are two small deciduous woodlots and extensive hedgerows and scrub.  Gravel roads at the base and on top of the dike circle the large impoundment, and there is a view of the Elk River its west end.
How to get there From Chesapeake City, take Rt. 213 south and turn right (west) onto Courthouse Point Road.  Continue for about 2.3 miles to the signposted entrance and parking area on the left.

From Cecilton, take Rt. 213 north and turn left (west) onto Courthouse Point Rd.  Proceed as above.

Map references
What to do after arrival Park at the entrance sign, or, if the yellow gate is open (as it often is during hunting season), you may drive in.  Mileages that follow are measured from the parking area.  Follow the gravel entrance lane straight ahead 0.1 miles to the base of the dike and turn left (east) to reach the most productive birding;  if on foot, you may choose to walk at the base of the dyke or on top of it, but if driving, stay on the lower road as the dike top may be impassable in spots.  The bushes and small trees along the dike are often filled with small landbirds, and the phragmites in the impoundment also shelter sparrows and finches, so, even if driving, stop often to check for small birds.

Where the dike makes a sharp bend to the right (0.5 miles, roughly the northeast corner of the large impoundment), check the floor of the impoundment to see if there is any water in the corner;  if so, look for waterfowl, waders, rails, and shorebirds here.  The wet woods to the left (outside the impoundment) often host Wood Ducks.

At 0.7 miles, watch on the left for a small parking area and wide trail leading through the woodlot.  Open to foot traffic only, this trail can be productive for warblers and other woodland birds in spring.  The trail ends in the woods near a marshy section on the edge of the smaller pond;  walk through the treeline to view the pond and marsh.  Retrace your steps to the main road at the dike and turn left (south). 

As you continue along the main road at the dike, the smaller pond will quickly become visible to the left;  if wet, check all sections of the pond for waterfowl, waders, or shorebirds in season. The marshy sections of the small pond are good for rails. Continue between the small pond on the left and the large impoundment on the right to the southeast corner of the large impoundment at 1.0 miles.  There is often water in this corner of the large impoundment, and in the past this has been the best spot for shorebirds in migration. There is a view of a grassy meadow and small cattail marsh, just beyond the end of the road between the two impoundments.

From the southeast corner of the large impoundment, you may retrace your route to the parking lot (2.0 miles round-trip), or can continue around the large impoundment by heading to the right (west or clockwise, 2.5 miles round-trip).  The hedgerows near the south side of the large impoundment can be productive, and if you continue to the west side of the impoundment you will have a view of the Elk River.  At 1.9 and 2.0 miles, gravel roads lead down a steep hill to the shore of the river;  the bottom may be extremely muddy and cars may get stuck, so walking is suggested.  The woodlot on the left after 2.0 miles can be productive for warblers, thrushes, and other forest species.

Continue on the main road at the dike and make a left at 2.4 miles to return to the parking area.

Birds to look for
  • Year-round:  Waterfowl, raptors, wrens, sparrows, and finches. 
  • Spring through early fall:  Waders, gulls and terns, rails, shorebirds, swallows, flycatchers, warblers, vireos, tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles. 
  • Birds of particular interest:  Northern Harrier, Little Blue Heron, Wild Turkey, Short-eared Owl,  Marsh Wren, Winter Wren, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swamp Sparrow.  Watch for breeding Wood Duck, Blue-Winged Teal, Green-winged Teal.
It is possible to find a large proportion of the regularly-occurring birds on the Cecil Checklist at Courthouse Point.
Hours/Fees/Amenities Access to Courthouse Point MHA is restricted to hunting permit holders for the hunting season from September 1 through February 15.  Check State hunting seasons. Outside the hunting season, Courthouse Point is open for hiking, fishing, bird watching, nature photography, etc. with non-hunting permit. No fee to enter; however, the free annual non-hunting use permit is strictly required and must be displayed on your parked car. To request a permit, contact the Gwynnbrook Wildlife and Heritage Service Office at 410-356-9272 allow 3 weeks for delivery of your permit by mail. 

There are no picnic tables, restrooms, or other amenities at the site.  The closest public restroom is at the Canal Museum (Monday - Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.;  closed Sunday) or at the library in South Chesapeake City (limited hours).  There is a picnic area just outside the Canal Museum along Rt. 286.
What to bring A scope is needed to scan the water.  Waterproof footwear may be needed after rain.  Bugs are rarely a problem, even at the height of summer.
Difficulty of walking Easy to moderate.  Most walking is on flat, gravelled  or dirt roads. Some short climbs up the gravelly side of the dyke may be needed.  Total round trip distance around the large impoundment and back to the parking area is 2.5 miles.
Personal safety This is an isolated area with little public use.  Most birders would feel more comfortable with a friend.  Coyotes may be found here but generally do not bother people. Check the State hunting schedule and do not visit during hunting season.
Nearby sites Bethel MHA, C&D Canal Levees, Earleville WMA, Elk Forest WMA/Welch Point WMA
For more information

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 Contact Us last updated 11/1/07