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Black Bayou Refuge

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

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Site Description and Habitats

Black Bayou Refuge is a 1,350 acre management area adjacent to Reelfoot Lake in Lake County, Tennessee. The area is comprised of mature forest, willow thickets, sloughs and open water (when water is retained and area is flooded). Crops are planted in ponds for wintering waterfowl use. A large observation tower, built with funds from the Watchable Wildlife Endowment Fund, can be good for wildlife viewing; however the tower overlooks corn fields and rarely offers habitat and wildlife to view. The Wheelchair Hunting Area has wetlands that can be great birding.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Nearly all passage warblers, vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers can be found. Shorebirds can be found if habitat is available, including White-rumped Sandpiper and Black-necked Stilt. Little Blue, Snowy and Great Egrets can be common.

Summer: Swainson's Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Mississippi Kite, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Least Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Gallinule.

Winter: Waterfowl, Short-eared Owls, LeConte's Sparrow, and Rusty and Brewer's Blackbirds. American Woodcock can be found displaying at dusk along field edges in February.

Year-Round: Barred Owl, Bald Eagle

Rarities Seen at this Site: Black-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, and Bell's Vireos have bred here. Eurasian Wigeon, Western Meadowlark, Tricolored Heron, Spotted Towhee, and Rough-legged Hawk. King Rail used to nest here.

Species List via eBird Hotspot Explorer - Black Bayou Refuge

Species List via eBird Hotspot Explorer - Black Bayou Refuge - Wheelchair Hunting Area

Submit your data to eBird here

Other wildlife viewing opportunities:
White-tailed deer, coyotes, Northern and Southern Copperheads, Timber and Pygmy Rattlesnakes and Western Cottonmouths.

Detailed directions for birding Black Bayou Refuge:
From Hwy 78, turn east onto Choctaw-McCutchen Rd (36.452563,-89.404124). Follow the road almost a mile to an observation tower. The tower overlooks a farm field that typically has little to see, but if there's water in winter, there may be ducks at the far end of the field. Continue past the observation tower about 2/3 of a mile to Burnt Woods Rd. (36.444278,-89.385667), which is a gravel road off to the right at the second left hand bend on Choctaw-McCutchen Rd. Burnt Woods Rd. goes a short way to a parking area, but road/trail through bottomland hardwood forest is open to foot traffic. Walking this road in winter can be very productive with all the resident woodpeckers present, fox sparrows, hermit thrushes, brown creeper, and both kinglets. Woodland birding here is excellent.

In summer, if you are willing to walk far enough and put up with the mosquitoes, you can find Swainson's Warblers in the cane thickets.

Upon driving further up the main gravel road you pass an old pumping station and eventually come out of the woods along farm fields. Some of these fields retain water and may produce shorebirds in season or waterfowl and/or blackbird flocks.

From Hwy 78 (just south of Choctaw-McCutchen Rd), turn east onto Ernie Pierce Rd. (36.440532,-89.415732) and travel 0.75 mi to a gravel lot on the right and a gate (36.433713,-89.403609). This is the Wheelchair Hunting Area. Unless a hunt is going on, the road is open to foot traffic. In spring and fall, look for shorebirds, American and Least Bitterns, Great Egret, Little Blue and Snowy Egret, Common Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe, and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. In summer, this is an excellent place for Mississippi Kite. At the end of Ernie Pierce Rd. is a gravel lot and a small trail goes into the woods. This trail offers woodland birding much like Burnt Woods Rd.

Black Bayou Refuge (and Reelfoot WMA) map

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Observation Tower: 36.444209,-89.396163
Burnt Woods Rd: 36.444209,-89.385777
Wheelchair Hunting Area: 36.433713,-89.403609

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

However the Refuge is closed to all off road traffic November 15th to the last day of February.
NOTE: Please refer to TWRA Hunting Guide about hunting seasons and public access dates.

Refer to Safety Tips page for more information and for birding ethics.

There are no restrooms.

TWRA Region I office
200 Lowell Thomas Drive, Jackson, TN 38301
800-372-3928; 731-423-5725

Info for other sites
Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife web site