Personal Note: I have been visiting the Park for over four years and can say for the most part it offers a wide range of wildlife, vista and fauna. Late May through early July you may want to consider insect repellent to keep the biting flies at bay which can be very bothersome at times along the trail. The trail which borders the Potomac is near sea level, thus following hide tides after storms may produce some interesting artifacts along the trail closest to the Potomac. There are several tidal Marsh areas that are feed by the Potomac with the trail crossing over three allowing a view into the marsh. When walking the trails, you have at least two areas offering photo ops along the Potomac and several rest areas along the trails. All the Trails on the Refugee are mostly flat and easy to negotiate (see the Trail Access and Closures below).
Best Time to Visit: April – June, temperatures are pleasant and you can witness the many nesting areas for birds and raptors.You can find a few Osprey Sound bytes here. The park has several nesting boxes for smaller birds, and for Macro photographers, you will find enough plants, flowers, and animals to keep you busy throughout the summer, with late July being a good time for Dragon Flies. The wildflowers in this area are adequate and grow along the trails. You should find a nice selection from May ~ September for your photo collection, with early May having nice marsh flowers for your pleasure.
Spring in Occoquan
Hunting, and looking for a mate
Raptors fly the coastline in the hunt for fish, if you are patient you will witness an Osprey diving in the Potomac for a fish. Osprey has several nesting areas in observable locations from April – June, you will need a long lens for photo work or binoculars for watching from this distance. Eagles frequent the area and raise their family in the park on several occasions - The 2016 Eaglets are just about to fledged and face the world.
Photographers: Recommend you pack out 300mm or larger plus a 1.4 Teleconverter. If you are into birds April – May you will find Osprey a-plenty and Bald Eagles, with many smaller birds such as warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow Rumps, and larger water foul and cranes. Early June you may also run across a fox and her kids who have left the layer If you are really lucky you will encounter the resident Turkeys, and in my opinion is the best time to make your visit.
Great White Egret
One was not liking the other in his territory
If you are into Macro Photography, flowers, insects, I would recommend a 200 Macro for May ~ June, and 105mm for July ~ August for the wonderful Dragon Fly’s. Be advised on the Potomac side your enemy is the breeze coming off the river making your Macro focusing more difficult and challenging - YEAH!. June time is biting fly time, be advised!! The Refugee has a variety of wildflowers growing along the trails allowing you some nice photographs throughout the year. The dragonflies seem to love this place and I have seen and photographed many different species – timing is key!
A little artys touch in photoshop
Rude People: Unfortunately like most places you visit you will find one or two people who simply are out of sync with the rules. This park is a wildlife refugee, not a dog park or a Jogging trail but you will find those who don’t read or simply don’t abide by the published NO NOs. Anyway, this is a wildlife refugee and is set aside as such; Please be quiet and respectful of others. Running/jogging & Dogs are not allowed, is rude & inconsiderate to everyone else and be mindful that many visitors are trying to enjoy birding and local wildlife.
Trail Access and Closures: If you are driving in from any distance during the spring breeding seasons (February – June) I advise you to check the park status. Sections of the refugee may be closed during this time. However, enjoyment can still be had by all that visit on trails that remain open. The park cut a temporary by-pass trail to allow foot traffic for connecting to the main trail and now for the first time in many years; you can walk the entire trail around the Refugee during the breeding season.
The new connector trail is called: Eaglet Crossing Trail. The trail is a mix of well-worn and freshly cut connecting trails. During my first use I found the trail usable, but with many 4 to 5-inch brush stumps sticking up, so you need to keep your eyes open on where you are stepping to prevent a trip and fall. Also to note making your way, along with the freshly cut trail you will be faced with several areas that are very waterlogged and will most certainly result in a “wet foot” unless you have proper footwear/boots; The trail is close to the tidal marsh so water is a normal tidal marsh occurrence. I commend Occoquan Refugee for taking the time to cut the path to connect the outer trails during breeding season! This is wonderful...
My Personal Opinion: This regional park offer many great opportunities for wildlife and birding opportunities, especially during the spring months. Overall access and viewing are accomplished by using mostly flat well-maintained trails as well as a “wildlife drive” that facilitates driving a portion of the park via a back road inside your vehicle or bike (closed during breeding season).
Normally in the spring season, migratory and local wildlife (Eagles, Osprey & Fox, etc) will begin to raise their young and park rangers will close down a section or multiple sections of the park in their effort to “protect” breeding wildlife from human disturbance. I am happy to find this year the New Eaglet Crossing Trail for those traveling miles to visit this refuge and want to enjoy a long walk and birding session without having to double back on the same trail. Overall, this is an awesome park for naturalist and photographers, keep in mind no dogs or jogging
During your walks and birding around the Wildlife Refuge, you may discover some interesting artifacts that wash up out of the Potomac especially following a heavy downpour of rain or storm. About 2 years ago I rand across several piles of old bricks in various states of decay, some like new others well eroded. During my last visit, I decided to take one photo for reference. This Crescent Brick apparently came from an old Brick Factory; around 1894, many brick plants were consolidated by the Mack Manufacturing Company which is today called the Crescent Brick Company. Both Globe Refractories and Crescent Brick produce bricks to be used for ladles in the steel industry. The extremely high fusion point of the Kittanning clay produces a good firebrick. My thinking is the Crescent brick came from a factory in Philadelphia and this brick was probably produced in the 1940s, finding its way to the shores of Occoquan Wildlife Refuge.