Return to map

Ensley Bottoms Complex

Birding Seasons:
Spring A+
Summer A
Fall A+
Winter B

View Larger Map


Submit a sighting via or

Site Description and Habitats

The Ensley complex consists of Ensley sewage ponds (aka, the “Pits”), TVA Lakes, and Riverport Road ponds. The “Pits” consist of an array of sewage sludge drying ponds - some dry and some flooded depending on rainfall and treatment. Shallow water/mudflat habitat attractive to shorebirds is abundant and large numbers of shorebirds frequent the area from March through October with smaller numbers of birds through winter. Weedy and overgrown fields and road sides support breeding Dickcissels and Northern Bobwhite and wintering White-crowned Sparrows (locally uncommon). The young forest stands and tree lines provide perches for Red-tailed Hawks, Loggerhead Shrikes, and Eastern Kingbirds. The area is not open to the general public but birders are allowed to enter. Caution: The disagreeable odors from the sludge drying ponds can be overwhelming at times. After rain, dirt roads are extremely slippery and caution must be taken.Never take risks while driving in and birding this area.

TVA Lakes are coal ash pools that have varied amounts of water and exposed mud flats. A variety of shorebirds use these ponds, we well as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and other ducks and geese. Least Terns have attempted to breed on the ponds and are found here in spring through early fall. The Painted Bunting site on TVA property (directions below) has a variety of early successional habitats for Orchard Orioles, Dickcissels, Indigo Buntings, and Painted Buntings. A variety of passerine migrants can be found here as well.

Riverport Road ponds are flooded borrow pits and may provide habitat for wading birds and shorebirds when the water levels are low. The wooded, shrubby, and marshy edges are worth investigating for Least Bitterns, Anhinga, and other local specialties.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Wilson Phalarope, Dunlin, Black-belled Plover, American Golden Plover, Black-necked Stilts, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon is regular, Mississippi Kite (spring-Summer)

Summer: Dickcissel, Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-necked Stilts, Painted Bunting, Western Kingbird, Mississippi Kite, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Winter: White-crowned Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawks (Krider’s phase is occasional)

Year-Round: Loggerhead Shrike, Black-bellied Whistling Duck (present in less harsh winters)

Rarities Seen at this Site:
Many rarities have been found here including, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Ensley), Ruff (Ensley, several birds have been found here over the years), Rough-legged Hawk (Ensley), Neotropic Cormorant (TVA Lakes), Common Gallinules are probably annual but not detected in the thick reeds (TVA Lakes), Least Bittern (TVA Lakes), Fulvous Whistling Duck (Ensley).

Species list via eBird Hotspot Explorer

Submit your data to eBird here

Other wildlife viewing opportunities

In the warm months, butterflies and sometimes dragonflies can be abundant.

Detailed directions for birding the Ensley area:

From I-55, take exit 9, Riverport Rd, south for 4.0 miles to the intersection with Plant Rd (on your right) and Buoy Rd (on your left). Going right onto Plant Rd takes you to the TVA Lakes, while going left onto Buoy St takes you to the Ensley Sewage ponds.

TVA Lakes
– from the intersection of Riverport Rd and Plant and Buoy St (see above), turn RIGHT onto Plant Rd. Once you turn right onto Plant Rd., you go only 0.1 miles, traveling up a slight hill, and turn RIGHT onto a dead end road. The ponds on your LEFT are the TVA Lakes.

Lat-Long for the main TVA Lake: 35.069819,-90.135358

*TVA Security is encouraging people to not get out of their vehicles for personal safety reasons. If you get out of your vehicle to bird watch and encounter TVA Security, please do what they request of you.

Ensley Sewage ponds

From the intersection of Riverport Rd and Plant and Buoy St (see above), turn LEFT onto Buoy St. Once on Buoy St, travel 0.2 miles to a 90 degree right turn. At this bend in the road, travel more or less straight into the parking lot for the work shop at the sewage ponds.
Lat-long for entrance to the Ensley Sewage ponds complex: 35.064551, -90.138491

Roads around the sewage ponds are open to vehicle traffic, but HEED CAUTION and drive only on well graveled and well traveled roads. Never take risks with your vehicle or when on foot. Rainy conditions can be some of the best times for bird watching at this site, but be very cautious as roads can be very slippery.

Once you pass the work shop, we suggest you make a LEFT turn. After turning left, make a RIGHT turn in only 200 ft on a wide gravel road. The ponds on both sides of the road can be excellent for shorebirds. As you travel south on this road, you have a couple options for viewing ponds. First, you can turn RIGHT onto the first gravel road on the right which takes you between a series of long skinny ponds (35.059246, -90.138629). Second, continue past the first gravel road until you reach a “T” (hereafter referred to as the “T”) (35.056208, -90.138414). You can drive along a narrow gravel levee to the left, however it’s best to park off the shoulder at the “T” and walk from here as the road is often grown up in spring through fall and a turnaround in the woods is difficult to navigate unless you are very familiar with the area. From the “T”, you can also park off the road and walk up the taller levee in front of you to the right. From the top of the levee, you can look down into the three ponds here (35.055013, -90.139607). Third, from the “T”, make a right (taller levees are now on your left) and drive this main gravel road west towards drier fields. Following the road from the “T” to the right will connect you with additional wide gravel roads and with the original Riverport Rd (also marked as Paul Lowery Rd in Google Maps).

Other dirt roads around the ponds can be driven, but they are sometimes muddy, rutted up, and cannot be well navigated in a small car. Be cautious on all roads! Never take risks!

Although the main ponds and locations described above are where the majority of shorebirds tend to be found, but Upland Sandpipers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and American Golden Plovers are usually seen in the drier fields in the area.

Riverport Road Ponds
After turning onto Riverport Rd, travel approximately 1 mile and a series of ponds are on your left (35.068643,-90.100557). These areas can support a variety of shorebirds and wading birds (when water is low), Anhinga and Least Bittern in spring and summer, and waterfowl in winter. These ponds are always worth checking. Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills were present in August 2012. A wide shoulder on the road makes birding here relatively safe, but be aware of a large number of tractor trailers.

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Entrance to Ensley Sewage Ponds: 35.064515,-90.138511
TVA Lakes: 35.069512,-90.135775
Riverport Road Ponds: 35.068643,-90.100557

Fees and Hours
No fees are required to access these areas. The areas are accessible during daylight hours year round.

Western Cottonmouths and dangerous or muddy road conditions are the main hazard. Heed caution when walking through tall grasses as cottonmouths are common in the area. Refer to Safety Tips page for more information and for birding ethics.

There are no restroom facilities or designated birding observation areas. All birding is from the roadside.

Ensley Sewage Lagoons:
Memphis/Shelby County Port Commission, 115 Riverside Dr,
Memphis, TN 38106

Info for other site
Tennessee’s Watchable Wildlife web site