Merkle Wildlife Management Area
Merkle WMA’s 1,670 acres, under the management of MD Department of Natural Resources, adjoins Jug Bay Park just to the north. They are connected by a “Driving Tour” starting at the end of Croom Airport Road at Jug Bay, crossing Mattoponi Creek and its extensive marsh along a specially engineered trestle roadway which allows free flow of the underlying water. This road is open to hikers and cyclists during all open hours; vehicles are restricted to Sundays 10 AM to 3 PM. Along the way one can stop at an observation platform which gives wide views of the Patuxent River. The road continues through fields dedicated to crops. A small portion is kept in grass, but so frequently mowed as to preclude Grasshopper Sparrows and meadowlarks most years. The entrance road makes a wide loop in front of the Visitors Center, the interior of which is mowed less thoroughly. Several trails wander through.
During migration, there can be a good diversity of species along the driving tour and entrance road, and rarities do occur. If not mowed, the “loop” is a good spot for migrating Bobolinks. After harvest, the fields may harbor plovers, sparrows, and Horned Larks. At the end of the Mounds Trail there has been a small colony of Red-headed Woodpeckers. Other nesting birds include Bald Eagle, Osprey, Screech Owl, Prairie Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak. In migration shorebirds often visit the edge of a small pond behind the Visitors Center.