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Nickajack Dam and Lake

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

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Site Description and Habitats

Nickajack Dam (river mile 424.7) on the Tennessee River was completed in 1967 and replaced the aged Hales Bar Dam that had been built by private interests in 1913. Most of the shoreline is undeveloped. The site is the beginning of the Tennessee River Gorge that is dominated by upland hardwoods mixed with Virginia Pines. Ridges rise to 1,200' with impressive limestone cliffs topped with Eastern Red Cedars with riparian woodlands in lower elevations. The water area is the main focus for this site and the river here has some large eddies and bays with substantial milfoil. There are trails in the wooded and shrubby areas.

The woods along the road to the dam are good for birding and a mostly failed subdivision on the lakeshore is open to drive around. In 2014, the home lots were quite grown up and good for birds and should be excellent for sparrows in winter.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Nearly all warblers, vireos, and thrushes can be found, including Blackpoll (spring only), Magnolia, Tennessee, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Blue-winged, and Hooded Warbler, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo, and Least Flycatcher. Broad-winged Hawks are regular, with small numbers staying through the summer. Caspian and Forster's Terns are annual. Look for Black Terns primarily in May and August.

Summer: Osprey, Prothonotary, Kentucky, and Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Indigo Bunting,Orchard Oriole, and Baltimore Oriole.

Winter: Bonaparte's, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls, waterfowl including Canvasback Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, among others, Pied-billed Grebes are common, and Common Loons and Horned Grebes are regular throughout winter.

Year-Round: Brown-headed Nuthatch, Fish Crow, Bald Eagle, Song Sparrow, Great Blue Heron.

Rarities Seen at this Site: Red-necked Grebe, Clark's Grebe, White-winged, Surf, and Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Brown Pelican, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Saw-whet Owl (is probably not rare, but is just rarely detected).

Species list via eBird Hotspot Explorer

Submit your data to eBird here

Detailed directions for birding Nickajack Dam and Lake
The area of interest is the entire lake, accessible from many locations.

From Chattanooga: Take I-24 toward Nashville and exit number 158. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp onto TVA Access Road. This road will lead you to the Dam, follow the signs to the dam and explore the recreation area and boat ramp and the area below the dam.

From Nashville: Take I-24 toward Chattanooga and exit number 158. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp onto TVA Access Road. This road will lead you to the Dam, follow the signs to the dam and explore the recreation area and boat ramp and the area below the dam.

The area above the dam can be scanned from the recreation area and boat ramp at Shellmound Campground. You can also stop briefly (pull completely off the road) at the top of the dam and scan. Drive below the dam to the restrooms an parking lot and scan for gulls, waterfowl, and herons. Also drive further down to the powerlines and walk the gravel road through the shruby areas and explore the woods. In about 500m up the gravel road, there's a large wooded lake on the left side of the pwerlines to check out. You may need boots to get there!

On the way to the dam area, there's a large pond on the left and a big fancy gated entrance to a mostly failed subdivision. Drive through here to look for sparrows in winter, and Yellow-breasted Chat, Prairie Warbler, and Orchard Orioles in summer.

Be sure to check out nearby Marion County Park and other good birding spots in the immediate area.

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Parking below the dam and restrooms: 35.008355,-85.619358
Subdivision entrance: 35.017292,-85.598325

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

There are restroom facilities.

Info for other sites
Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife web site