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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.
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).
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.
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Other wildlife viewing opportunities
Cultural and Historical Interests/Activities
Detailed directions for birding Hiwassee Refuge
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 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.
Be sure to check out nearby Yuchi Refuge
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Fees and Hours