When's the last time you eyed eagles? Or tried to count Canada geese in multitudes hopelessly beyong counting? For sheer numbers and varieties, the bird-watcher's paradise hereabouts in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a two-hour drive away on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Particularly this time of year, when the species that winter here have arrived and many of those that drop by on their way farther south are still in temporary residence. In all, 240 species of birds have been counted at Blackwater.

But it's not just an Eden for the dedicated birder seeking to fill in gaps in his life list. Blackwater's charm is in the density of its avian population and the opportunities to glimpse the homelives of residents. It's been established since 1932 and is heavily nested. The bald eagle is common. The Canada goose population pushes 100,000 in November, with about 30,000 staying all winter.

Animals, too: foxes, raccoons, otter, squirrels; whitetail deer are abundant and quite tame (refuge rules demand, however, that you be most circumspect and remember that you're the intruder), and the oriental sika deer will usually present themselves.

Daily hours are dawn to dusk. The Wildlife Interpretive Center, which has movies and slide programs for groups, given advance notice (301/228-2677), closes at 4:30.

From the Bay Bridge, drive south on Route 50 through Cambridge, turn right on Route 16 about 7 miles to Church Creek, then left on Route 335 to the Blackwater entrance.