Home » 2000 Chesapeake RV Road Trip

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD

Saturday, November 11, 2000 - 2:00am by Lolo
55 miles and 1.25 hours from our last stop


Now I know where all the birds go when they fly south. Apparently, the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake is the place to be in November if you’re a migratory bird, and there are lots of wildlife refuges for them to choose from. Blackwater happens to be the biggest, with 27,000 acres of pristine tidal marshes, freshwater ponds, and woodlands.

Family photo by AndrewFamily photo by AndrewThis particular refuge was established in the 1930s as a duck sanctuary, because the duck population had been so depleted by overhunting. We had seen an example of a duck-hunting gunboat at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum earlier on this trip, so I’m surprised that there is even one duck left. With about a dozen guns sticking out the sides of a camouflaged boat, those poor ducks didn’t stand much of a chance. Now, however, mankind has come to their senses, at least a little bit, and set aside this land and many others throughout the Delmarva Peninsula as a haven for ducks and their other feathered friends, such as Canadian geese, mute and tundra swans, snow geese, herons, osprey, and even bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

This place really did attract some people that were very into birding. Although I wouldn’t exactly describe us as avid or very knowledgeable birders, we do enjoy and have an appreciation for nature and wildlife of any sort. Plus this place allowed bike riding, and that’s something we are passionate about.

Family photo by TomFamily photo by TomBefore heading out on our bikes, we stopped at the Visitor Center to see the exhibits and to get some trail maps and brochures on identifying the wildlife. While there, we learned that this refuge was one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Hopefully, we would get to see one today.

There are no separate bike trails at Blackwater, but rather we rode along the paved 5-mile Wildlife Drive, which is shared by cars, bikes, and pedestrians. The ride was lovely. It meandered past the Little Blackwater River and the Blackwater River and through woods and marshes. There were also a few places where we got off our bikes to go on short hikes. The first one, which was called the Marsh Edge Trail, was on a boardwalk that went through a pine forest and out to a beautiful marsh. Later on we took the ½ mile Woods Trail through a lovely forest of pine and hardwood forests.

We had a great bike ride that day through what is truly a very peaceful and beautiful place. Also, we saw many, many birds, most of which even we were able to identify. However, we never did spot the elusive Delmarva fox squirrel..


The Delmarva Peninsula lies along the Atlantic Flyway, making it prime territory for birding and wildlife watching. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Cambridge on the Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is the largest of the many wildlife refuges that dot the Peninsula. Its 27,000 acres, which are composed mainly of rich tidal marsh, freshwater ponds, and mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, are a haven for migrating birds and other wildlife.

The refuge was set up in 1933 as a sanctuary for ducks, which had been greatly overhunted. Today, during the peak month of November, there are as many as 15,000 ducks, 33,000 Canadian geese, numerous mute and tundra swan, herons, snow geese, and ospreys. The refuge is also home to the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, the peregrine falcon, and the bald eagle.

Much of the refuge is inaccessible by car or even foot. However, the park service has built a paved 5-mile Wildlife Drive, which is open to cars, bikes, and pedestrians from dawn to dusk each day. Before heading out on the drive, stop and the Visitor Center to stock up on brochures to help you identify the wildlife you’ll see along the way. The drive meanders past the Little Blackwater River and the Blackwater River, and through woods and marshes. There are several places to stop and take a short walk along the way. The Marsh Edge Trail is a short 1/3-mile boardwalk trail along the Little Blackwater River, through a pine forest to a typical Eastern Shore marsh. Another stop is the Woods Trail, a short ½-mile hike through a forest of pine and mixed hardwoods.