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89. Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Lothian, Maryland

Find migrant and breeding warblers, shorebirds, raptors, and waterfowl at this 1,500-acre preserve 20 miles from Washington, D.C.

We introduced our teenage son Adam to pishing here. Not the coolest thing for a 14-year-old, but he was entranced as Yellow-throated Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flew down to check us out. A few hundred yards later, he saw his first Red-headed Woodpecker in a snag nest hole. He’s in college now, but we think birding will stick with him.

Jug Bay, one of the largest tidal freshwater wetlands on the east coast, always has stuck with us. It’s close enough to Washington that VIP planes from Andrews Air Force Base fly high overhead, but it’s tucked away enough to seem remote.

We come for the expected birds: wheeling Ospreys, floating Northern Harriers, trailside Prothonotarys, ducks in winter. We come for the special birds: Glossy Ibis unusually far inland, migrating Sora in fall. And we come for the surprises: rare gulls, a Barn Owl on a winter morning. Jug Bay is a sanctuary, not a park. Its prime focus is research and environmental education. We like that, too. Visiting hours are limited, but it’s well worth fitting it into your Chesapeake Bay-area birding plans. You never know what you’ll find, and you won’t be disappointed. — Warren and Lisa Strobel

Warren Strobel is an award-winning journalist, and Lisa Strobel is a CPA. They bird around Chesapeake Bay and blog about birds at

89. Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Lothian, Maryland


Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is a 1,500-acre preserve located 20 miles east of Washington, D.C. From the Capital Beltway (I-495), exit at Rt. 4 (Pennsylvania Ave.) and drive southeast 10.5 miles. Turn right on Plummer Lane and right on Wrightown Rd. to the entrance. Continue one mile on a gravel road to the parking area.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
38°47’5.23″N 76°42’5.21″W


Tidal freshwater wetlands, marshes, riparian areas, forests, meadows, and fields.


Mostly flat, with 15 miles of trails, including wooded paths, observation decks, and blinds. Some trails include well-built wooden steps and bridges over creeks. Also accessible by kayak. Canoe excursions available. Birding by car on access road only.


More than 280 species recorded. Raptors, rails (notably Sora), waterfowl, shorebirds, migrant and breeding warblers, and other songbirds. Spring: Yellow-throated and Prairie Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Swamp Sparrow, Wood Thrush, and many other migrants. Fall: Shorebirds and terns. Winter: Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck. Regional rarities: Glossy Ibis, Glaucous Gull, Red Crossbill. For the patient, Barn Owl and Red-headed Woodpecker are possible.

When to go

Year-round. Best in spring, fall, and winter.


Wetlands Center, the sanctuary headquarters, has environmental exhibits, trail maps, species lists, and restrooms. Sanctuary is an active research site; its mission includes environmental education and habitat protection. Gas stations and convenience stores at Waysons Corner, 2.1 miles away on Rt. 4.


County sanctuary. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays 9-5. Entrance fees: $5 for adults, $3 for children under 18 and senior citizens.


Bird the popular Railroad Bed Trail and associated boardwalks. Also don’t miss the nearby Glendening Nature Preserve, the sanctuary’s newest tract.

Sites nearby

Jug Bay Natural Area
Just downriver along the Patuxent but an 11-mile drive from the wetlands sanctuary. Eight miles of trails. Migrating warblers, including Kentucky. Sora and other rails.

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
7.5-mile drive south of Jug Bay Natural Area on the Patuxent. 1,600 acres of marshlands, ponds, woods, and fields. More than 200 species.

For more info

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, (410) 741-9330.

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