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Hiwassee Refuge

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

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Site Description and Habitats

The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is 6,000 acres (2,500 acres land and 3,500 acres water [Hiwassee River]) located on Chickamauga Lake at the confluence of the Hiwassee River with the Tennessee River. Beginning at Hwy 60 (over the Tennessee River, about river mile 499.5), the refuge stretches to around river mile 505 at Armstrong Bend and from the mouth of the Hiwassee River upstream to Hwy 58 at Agency Creek (about river mile 7.4). Included is Hiwassee Island (400 acres). Of the land area, approximately 30% (750 acres) is agricultural land that is cropped. Crops grown include corn, wheat, soybeans, milo, varieties of millet, and buckwheat. The vast majority of the refuge is farmed by TWRA personnel and the remaining 70% of the land area (1,750 acres) is a wooded mix, mainly of pine and hardwood forest.

A wildlife Observation Platform is open year-round to visitors.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Sandhill Cranes, the main attraction here, begin arriving in very late October and are present into winter and depart usually by early to mid-March. Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White, Pine and Palm Warblers, Summer Tanager, Bald Eagles and Osprey, Bank Swallow.

Summer: Osprey, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Prairie Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Great Egret, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Winter: Sandhill Cranes! Mallard, Gadwall, and Northern Shoveler are the most common ducks, but Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Cackling (rare), Ross's(rare), and Snow Geese among others are found. Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and Northern Harrier are common. Savannah Vesper, Field, Swamp, White-throated, and White-crowned Sparrows, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, American Pipits fly over regularly, American Woodcock should be heard at dusk in Jan and Feb, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Rusty Blackbird. Dunlin are often found throughout winter on sandbars in the river (esp. Candies Creek).

Year-Round: Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Barred Owls, Belted Kingfisher, and other woodland birds.

Rarities Seen at this Site: Whooping Cranes from the introduced eastern population occur annually in winter (primarily mid-Nov through Feb); Golden Eagle are probably regular but undetected while many immature Bald eagles are reported as Goldens; Hooded Crane (from Asia) was seen mid-Dec 2011 through late January 2012 and is probably the most viewed mega-rarity ever in the ABA area with over 7000 people having seen the bird, White Ibis.

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 as well as White-tailed Deer.

Cultural and Historical Interests/Activities
Each year on the 3rd weekend of January the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is held.

Detailed directions for birding Hiwassee Refuge
From the east and I-75, take exit number 25 in Cleveland, Tennessee. Travel north on Highway 60 through the town of Birchwood. Approximately 1.7 miles north of Birchwood, turn right on Shadden Road. Go one mile and turn right on Blythe Ferry Road. Take the next left on Priddy Lane and follow signs.

From Dayton (from the west), take Hwy 60 across the river and make a left onto Shadden Rd (follow large TWRA signs). On Shadden Rd, follow to the "T" and make a right onto Blythe Ferry Rd and follow signage to Priddy Lane where you turn left. Follow Priddy to the Observation Gazebo.

Additional birding on and near the refuge:
From the intersection on Shadden Rd and Blythe Ferry Rd, go left (west) on Blythe Ferry Rd and scan fields (much of it is Refuge) for eagles and cranes and the road ends at a boat ramp on the river. The Cherokee Memorial is near here as well. Park at the memorial and walk the ail to the bluffs that overlook the river and Hiwassee Island. Cranes roost on the mudflats around the island in winter and this is an excellent spot to see hundreds to thousands of sandhill cranes. Whooping Cranes are found here more easily than anywhere else as they roost with the Sandhills.

From the intersection on Shadden Rd and Blythe Ferry Rd, go right (east) and pass the Priddy Rd turn for the Observation Platform and look for overlooks over the Hiwassee river. Travel a few miles on Blythe Ferry Rd, around a couple 90 degree "turns" in the main road to where the road crosses an expanse of the river (mud flats in winter). There's parking access on the west side of the bridge (north side of the road) and scan the flats for shorebirds, waterbirds, eagles, etc. Continue past until you get to Hwy 58. Make a left onto Hwy 58 and go about a mile and turn right onto Hwy 306. Travel 5.5 miles to a T and go left on Hwy 308 and in about 0.9 miles there's a parking area on the left. You can park here and walk through the woods a short distance to the shoreline and scan Candies Creek.

The Armstrong Bend area is a large area of the Hiwassee Refuge, but it is closed in winter and mostly farmed, not providing much to see most of the year.

Hiwassee Refuge map

Be sure to check out nearby Yuchi Refuge

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Observation Gazebo: 35.399978, -84.989953

Fees and Hours
No fees are required to access these areas.

The refuge is closed from November 15 to the last day in February; however the Observation Platform is open year-round.

There are no restroom available, although a portojohn is usually available at the Observation Platform in winter.

TWRA Region 3 Office
464 Industrial Blvd.
Crossville, TN 38555
931-484-9571, 800-262-6704

Info for other sites
Tennessee’s Watchable Wildlife web site
Cherokee Removal - viewing roosting cranes from here