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TENNESSEE WILDLIFE VIEWING TRAIL » Middle Tennessee
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Tennessee NWR - Big Sandy Unit

Site Directions: The Big Sandy/Sulphur Well portion of the unit, approximately 4 miles east of Paris, Henry County, Tennessee; the Big Sandy Peninsula portion of the unit, approximately 7 miles north of Big Sandy, Benton County, Tennessee; and the Paris Landing area (all within Kentucky Lake) from the north end of the Big Sandy Unit to half-mile north of U.S. 79 (Scott Fitzhugh Bridge) including Eagle Creek, in the counties of Henry and Stewart, Tennessee.
Pace Point- Lat-Long: 36.40595, -88.05654
Rocky Point birding area- Lat-Long: 36.38135, -88.06855
Entrance at Lick Creek Rd- Lat-Long: 36.35931, -88.031473

Hours: day light hours
Seasonality: year round, but some roads are closed to all access in winter
Fees: none

Site Description: The Big Sandy Unit of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge primarily consists of rolling uplands adjacent to the waters of Kentucky Lake. Most of the open upland areas (approximately 700 acres) are managed for waterfowl using a cooperative farming program where local farmers plant the fields in row crops and the rent is a portion of the crop that is left standing in the fields. The crops left for waterfowl usually are corn and winter wheat. Over half of this unit consists of waters of Kentucky Lake. A waterfowl management strategy that attracts a wide variety of waterfowl to this unit including several diving duck species, loons, and grebes is a seasonal closure of some bays to boats during the waterfowl migrations and wintering periods. A prominent feature on this unit is Pace Point. This area is located at the top of the Big Sandy Peninsula and overlooks the confluence of the Big Sandy River and the Tennessee River.

Another important habitat on this unit is the upland deciduous forest that dominates the Big Sandy Peninsula. There are about 7,000 acres of mature forests in one contiguous block at this location. Many species of forest interior birds can be found utilizing this habitat. The forests of this area are actively managed using commercial thinning that is aimed at improving the nesting structure for several of these birds.

Wildlife to Watch: This unit with its diverse habitats is a draw to virtually the whole range of bird groups. The mature upland deciduous forest attracts many Neotropical species and fields hold marsh and sparrow species, but the expansive views of the lakes and bays are the main draw to the area. Situated in a north/south direction at the confluence of the Big Sandy River and the Tennessee River (Kentucky Lake), the area geographical is a natural corridor for migrant and wintering water associated species. Loons, grebes, and coots gather by the hundreds, gulls flock by the thousands, and waterfowl are present by the tens of thousands with upwards of 25 species found in a day.

Shore and wading birds are attracted to the shallow areas and mudflats in moderate numbers, but the lake is usually maintained at too high of a level to provide any habitat for shorebirds and wading birds when they are migrating through in large numbers from April through September. Mud flats tend to only be available at the tail end of fall shorebird migration, thus not being very useful for our species in greatest need.

Raptors are numerous with nesting Ospreys along the river courses and Bald Eagles wintering in significant numbers. Golden Eagle, a Tennessee Threatened species, is observed in the winter, with a least one bird wintering annually. At times they are seen in the winter roost site of the Bald Eagles.

In winter, all the regularly occurring ducks and geese can occur in the bays and on the lake. Less common birds that are occasionally found include all three species of scoter, red-necked and eared grebe, Pacific and Red-throated Loon.

NOTE: Please refer to refuge personnel about hunting seasons and public access dates. Access dates vary by site.


For more information:

Tennessee Ornithological Society - Audubon Important Bird Area site description

Birds of Pace Point at Tennessee NWR, Big Sandy Unit from eBird submissions

Birds of Big Sandy Unit at Tennessee NWR from eBird submissions


Submit your data to eBird and help us add to the list of birds seen at this site.


Be sure to check out our Safety Tips page for important information regarding viewing wildlife in these areas.