One of our favorite places to visit in the middle of the summer is actually in Montgomery County, Maryland. Just across the river, near Poolesville, is McKee Beshers WMA. They have a wonderful set of fields of Sunflowers that they plant every year and we try and schedule a trip up to visit them in peak bloom. This year, the expected peak bloom time is early to mid July.
The habitat with the sunflowers is mostly open field, but surrounded by woods and close to the Potomac River, so it can be a good place for a variety of wildlife. American Goldfinches are abundant and chowing down on all the sunflower seeds. When we go, we typically see a good selections of butterflies. Along with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus), Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) and various skippers, we almost always encounter one of my favorite butterflies, the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis). It comes across as a particular social butterfly because it often lands on people. They land on people to drink the sweat for its minerals. You’ll also seem them landing frequently on the ground for minerals from pools of water and from dung.
While in the Poolesville area, two other great places to visit are the Hughes Road Polo fields and Violettes Lock. The Polo fields are a common place to spot birds that love fields. The fields themselves are private, but the road is public and you’ll often see birders out there looking for the most recent rarity. Over the winter (in February), a Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) was visiting for several weeks. More recently a Dickcissel has been the bird to see. While visiting recently, we also saw Indigo Buntings, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds and Bald Eagle.
Violette’s Lock is one of several locks along the C & O Canal’s towpath. Because of its accessibility, it is a favorite with hikers, bikers and birders. The most recent uncommon bird spotted along the path is a singing Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa). While visiting to see the Kentucky Warbler recently, we saw several natural delights, including a dragonfly dogfight, a Great Blue Heron close flyby, several turtles, a Green Snake, and a baby Prothonatory Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) being fed by its parent.
To get to these lovely places in Montgomery county, we typically take 15 North to White’s Ferry and take the ferry across the river. We’ll take White’s Ferry Road (which turns into Fisher Ave) into Poolesville and then turn right on Budd Rd which ends into Hughes Road. The polo fields will be on your right on Hughes Road. To get to McKee Besher, follow Hughes Road down to River Road and turn left; there will be a parking lot on your right. To get to Violette’s Lock from McKee Besher, follow River Road further east until you take a right on Violette’s Lock Road.