BIRDWATCHING

IN CHATTANOOGA


 
 

Birdwatchers enjoy combing the beautiful Chattanooga area for a wide variety of colorful and rare birds. The great diversity of natural habitat attracts many different species of songbirds, waterbirds, and raptors. Bald Eagles are frequently seen over the Tennessee River, and the Peregrine Falcon, which was once almost extinct as a result of pesticide poisoning, is beginning to nest here again. Chattanooga is also an important migration corridor for many birds, including spectacular numbers of Sandhill Cranes.
 
 

Birdwatching can be fun at any level, from beginner to expert. The Tennessee Ornithological Society invites you to enjoy birding the Chattanooga area and to start your own "Life List" of species. Here are some favorite observation spots compiled by the Chattanooga chapter of TOS.


1. TENNESSEE RIVER GORGE

A 25,000 acre "Grand Canyon" carved through the Cumberland Plateau, this hardwood forest is very important habitat for neotropical songbirds. It is also a migratory pathway for both songbirds and raptors. Some of the best birdwatching in this area is around the "Pot House" (named for a set of "boiling" rapids), a field station run by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. This land trust was set up to protect the gorge and so far has preserved 14,037 acres. A few pairs of cerulean warblers and American redstarts breed every year around the Pot House; both are rare breeders in southeastern Tennessee. Other breeders include ovenbird; Kentucky, yellow-throated, and hooded warblers; scarlet and summer tanagers; acadian flycatcher; yellow-billed cuckoo; and broad winged hawk. Bald eagles may be seen in the winter and ospreys in the summer.

DIRECTIONS: From I-24 take Highway 27 North, then onto 27/127 (Signal Mountain Road). Turn left where 27 (Suck Creek Road) separates at the foot of the mountain. Proceed four miles and turn left at the end of a new bridge onto a country road that parallels the river and runs for many miles through the river gorge. The Pot House is four miles from this turn and there is a gravel parking lot across the street from the house.
 
 


2. RACCOON MOUNTAIN

This site is a monument to Tennessee Valley Authority engineering. Water is pumped from the Tennessee River into a man-made lake atop the mountain, where it is gravity-fed to turbines within the mountain to generate electricity. A tour of the facilities is available by taking an elevator deep underground. From the mountaintop visitor center, an observation deck provides a panoramic view of the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge. From here, one may see migrating hawks, falcons and eagles in spring and fall. The lake is a good bet for bald eagles, common loons, and vultures during winter. A walk around a nearby picnic area may reveal many small land birds.

DIRECTIONS: From Chattanooga, take I-24 W; take exit #174 (Hwy 41) and turn right; travel 2.5 miles on Hwy 41 and turn right at pumped storage plant sign. Travel 8.2 miles, following signs to visitor center.
 
 


3. CRAVEN'S HOUSE

A unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, this site on the wooded slopes of Lookout Mountain is an excellent area to observe migration. Neotropical migrant songbirds pass through in April and May, wearing breeding colors and full of song. Thirty-four species of warblers have been observed here as well as scarlet and summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and northern orioles. Fall migration viewing is also excellent. This is the best location in the area to find migrating Philadelphia vireos, and a Connecticut warbler has been seen here. Summer breeding songbirds include ovenbird, Kentucky and hooded warblers, and woodthrush. Kettles of broad-winged hawks and other raptors also follow the ridges southward each fall.

DIRECTIONS: From I-24 in Chattanooga, take exit 178 (Lookout Mountain exit). Turn left on Broad Street and proceed west, up the mountain where Broad Street turns into Cummings Highway. Turn left on Scenic Highway and proceed to Craven's Trail. Turn right and proceed to the park.
 
 

4. AUDUBON ACRES

This important natural and historical area along South Chickamauga Creek contains a 1700's Cherokee Indian log cabin and a swinging bridge. Because of its strategic streamside location with a mix of open meadows, pines, and hardwood forests, it is an excellent location for migrating species such as thrushes, vireos, warblers, tanagers, and flycatchers. Great horned, barred, and eastern screech owls are seen regularly. Red-shouldered hawks nest here, and it is the only known local nesting site for the state threatened sharp-shinned hawk.
 
 

DIRECTIONS: From downtown Chattanooga, follow I-75 N toward Knoxville. Take exit 3A (east) onto East Brainerd Road. At second traffic light, turn right onto Gunbarrel Road. Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00am -5:00pm; Sun 1:00 - 5:00pm.
 
 

5. BRAINERD LEVEE

This city-owned levee has created a freshwater marsh and seasonal mudflat that is habitat for a variety of wetland species and migratory birds. Spring and fall bring marsh species such as bitterns, rails and an occasional rarity like the common moorhen or glossy ibis. In summer, waders such as herons and egrets and perhaps a white ibis may be found. The levee is home to many species of songbirds by season and ducks in the winter. Such neotropical migrants as common yellowthroats and orchard orioles breed in the area and various sparrows abound in the fall and winter. The Brainerd levee is one of the most important stopover areas in eastern Tennessee for shorebirds migrating between Canada and South America, with at least 23 species observed here.

DIRECTIONS: Take I-75 N to exit 4, Highway 153. Go north on Highway 153 to Shallowford Road exit, turn left (west) on Shallowford Road then two miles to intersection of Shallowford and North Moore Road. Parking lot is at the corner.

6. TENNESSEE RIVERPARK AND CHICKAMAUGA DAM

The Tennessee Riverpark stretches 1.65 miles along the east side of the river below Chickamauga Dam. It features playgrounds, picnic areas and fishing piers, along with a paved Riverwalk for walking, bicycling, or rollerblading. Peregrine falcons have nested on the railroad bridge in both 1997 and 1998, only the second nesting of this species in Tennessee in 50 years. They may be seen on the railroad towers or on wires over the water. On the way to the dam, a fenced-in beaver pond can be viewed at a distance. It contains a heron rookery as well as wood ducks and other waterfowl. In winter gulls may be seen near the spillways or on the lake above the dam, and many sparrows may be found in the riverside brush and grassy meadows. Yellow warblers and eastern kingbirds are among the nesting species. Raptors often perch on the high steel towers.

DIRECTIONS: From I-75 N, take Highway 153 N; exit at Amnicola Highway, turn left (west); take first road to the right (marked TVA) to go to the dam; continuing towards dam the road splits to the right for the powerhouse or left to get below the dam. The beaver pond is on the left before reaching the dam. The Tennessee Riverpark may be accessed from below the dam, or there are two Riverpark exits off Amnicola Highway.
 
 

7. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON STATE PARK

This free lakeshore park is an excellent place to view waterbirds and small land birds. From the boat landing and fishing piers common loon, horned grebe, and bald eagles can be observed between November and March. Red-throated loon, red-necked grebe, and oldsquaw are a few of the rarities found from there in the winter. The brushy lake shore affords fall migrant songbirds and breeding eastern kingbird and orchard oriole. The Virginia pines hold breeding brown-headed nuthatches and pine warblers, with red-breasted nuthatches, purple finches, and pine siskins in some winters.

DIRECTIONS: From I-75 N, take Highway 153 N. Take Highway 58 (Decatur) exit and turn right; proceed north approximately two miles; turn left at the state park sign and follow signs to park.



8. CHESTER FROST PARK

A leisurely walk around the park roads offers good birdwatching any time of year. In the winter, bald eagles and water birds are seen regularly. This is a dependable site for brown-headednuthatch (in the pines) and red-headed woodpeckers (deciduous trees). During spring and fall migration many varieties of warblers, flycatchers and vireos can be found in wooded areas, and osprey may been seen around the lake. Many species nest here each summer, and large hatches of (non-biting) mayflies bring out numerous insect-eating birds.

DIRECTIONS: From I-75 N, take Highway 153 N to Hixson Pike exit, proceed right on Hixson Pike for 5 miles and bear right on Gold Point Circle (look for Park signs at split).
 
 

9. SODDY LAKE

This embayment is part of Chickamauga Lake a few miles north of Chattanooga. Fall and winter provide the best birdwatching as many species of water birds can be seen in the shallow waters and mudflats on the west side of Highway 27 as it passes over the lake. At sunrise on winter mornings bald eagles might be viewed as they leave a roosting area in a gorge to the west. In summer cliff swallow nest beneath a bridge on the causeway.

DIRECTIONS: Take Highway 27 N or Highway 153 N; travel 15 miles north of 27/153 intersection to northern Hixson Pike exit, turn left. Turn right at light and lake is on the right. Pull well off the road onto shoulder before exiting car.
 
 

10. HIWASSEE REFUGE

This is one of the largest migratory stopovers for sandhill cranes to rest and feed between Florida and their northern breeding grounds (Nov - Dec). The cranes stop here again on their return migration north (Feb - Mar), at times numbering more than 7,000. Several thousand even spend the winter here. Featuring cropland and seasonal mudflats, the refuge is also winter home to an impressive array of waterfowl and is one of the best places in eastern Tennessee for snow and white-fronted geese. The area also harbors wintering bald eagles, northern harriers and double-crested cormorants. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is hacking golden eagles in the area, and in summer osprey breed along the river. Viewing is limited to a designated area Oct 15 - Feb 29 to protect the sandhill cranes.

DIRECTIONS: From the junction of TN Highway 58 and TN Highway 60, follow Hwy 60 for 7.8 miles north. Turn right onto Meigs County Road 131, travel one-half mile to the first gravel road and turn left. Crane viewing and parking is available at the end of the road.

11. STANDIFER GAP MARSH

Standifer Gap Marsh is property owned by the Wildwood Methodist Church and made available to birders and wildlife enthusiasts.

Directions: From Interstate 75 take 153 Highway to Shallowford Road Exit 2. Take a right and go through two stop lights. Turn left onto Standifer Gap Road and go 08. mile to the Wildwood Methodist Church. The marsh is the area to the left of the church.

 


HOW MANY OF THESE SPECIES

HAVE YOU SEEN?


 Species

Possible Site

Seasons
   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  W  S  S  F
 American Redstart  x x x x     x x   x    x  x  
 Bald Eagle  x x        x x x x x  x     x
 Carolina Wren  x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
 Common Goldeneye           x x x     x     x
 Common Loon           x x x     x     x
 Eastern Kingbird x       x x x x   x   x x  
 Great Blue Heron x        x x x x x x x x x x
 Great Horned Owl x x   x x         x x x x x
 Hooded Warbler x x x x    x x x   x x  
 Indigo Bunting  x x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
 Killdeer  x          x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
 Osprey  x  x          x  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
 Peregrine Falcon  x  x        x  x        x  x  x  x
 Pileated Woodpecker  x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
 Red-tailed Hawk x x x x         x x x x x x
 Sandhill Crane                   x x     x
 Scarlet Tanager  x x x x     x x   x   x x  
 Song Sparrow x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
 Wood Duck x   x x x     x   x x x

 
 
 
Homepage