In your backyard, on your commute to work, at the park – birds are everywhere. Whether you are a beginner looking for easy birds to identify or an experienced birder, there are many places to start exploring.
Great half day experiences:
Between April 10th and May 10th, your first choice should be a morning trip to Sharp’s Ridge in north Knoxville. Sharp’s Ridge is an important migratory stopover point for migrating warblers and other songbirds. An easily walkable one-mile long road traverses the ridge. Local birders are usually present, and most are willing to let you tag along with them. Birding at Sharp’s Ridge varies from day-to-day, but it is one of the best spots in the Eastern part of the US to see migrating songbirds.
Seven Islands became the state’s first birding park state park in 2014 – and for good reason. Birdwatching is good to excellent 365 days out of the year, but spring and summer are the best. Over 75 species of birds nest in or near the park including some species that are hard to find anywhere else in the county. Northern Bobwhite, Blue Grosbeaks, Prothonotary Warblers and Indigo Buntings are some examples that all are common in the park. A bulletin board inside the main barn at the parking lot offers suggested one, three, and five-hour birding walk routes, as well as checklists and other useful birding information
This appropriately named trail is a wonderful birding location about 25 minutes north of Knoxville. The two-mile paved walking loop trail runs along the Clinch River right below Norris Dam. Inside the loop are areas of dense vegetation and tree stands which are good for warblers, thrushes, and many other songbirds from April through October. The river keeps the area cooler and can attract ducks, herons and the usual water birds throughout the year.
About 45 minutes west of Knoxville, a wetland was created to replace the damaged area from a coal ash spill. A paved walkway about a half mile in length runs along the main lake and through the backside wetlands. This easy walk usually takes about two hours to cover adequately. Throughout the year this area produces many species of ducks, shorebirds, rails (Sora & Virginia), and other unusual East Tennessee birds such as White Ibis, American Bittern and Little Blue Herons. Remember to bring a scope if you have one.
A beautiful state park located 30 minutes north of Knoxville, features a large lake and an excellent hiking trail that winds through the woods behind the lake. In winter, ducks are common and rarities occur every year. In spring and summer, many birds nest around the lake and in the woods. Swainson’s Warblers, one of the rarest Tennessee warblers, have been nesting here for years. Other songbirds such as Wood Thrush, Ovenbirds, Summer Tanagers and Orchard Orioles spend their summers in the park.
If you have more time to explore, the following experiences are great for full day experiences:
Located 40 minutes south of Knoxville, Kyker Bottoms is a TWRA refuge managed for small game and ducks. It is one of the best locations in East Tennessee to see winter ducks, although the refuge is closed from November 15 to March 1. The large refuge runs along Ninemile Creek and features fields, wetlands, and thickets. Often covered with heavy vegetation, a viewing platform can be accessed year-round for better views. A large population of Northern Bobwhite, as well as other grassland species call this home. It is recommended you go the first time with someone knowledgeable about the property as there is little documentation on where to go and essentially no trail maps.
The best spot in East Tennessee to see migrating shorebirds is at Rankin Bottoms in Cocke County, a one-hour from Knoxville. From mid-August to the end of September, excellent mudflats are produced when the water levels go down where the French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers meet to make Douglas Lake. A significant numbers of shorebirds and almost all regular species of shorebirds seen in Tennessee each year, occur sometime in the fall at Rankin. Early in the fall season, many people take kayaks to paddle out closer to where the birds are feeding on the mudflats. Viewing typically requires a scope. Going with someone knowledgeable about the area is recommended on your first trip.
There are several good locations in the national park to birdwatch including Cades Cove, the Sugarlands Park Headquarters, Alum’s Cave Trail and Elkmont. But typical of mountain birding, the number of species seen is relatively low and you need to rely on your hearing far more than in non-mountainous areas. If a nice mountain hike coupled with some good birding is your interest, the Smokies is the place to be.