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Old Wednesday 6th April 2016, 01:53   #1
David in NC
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Seven Islands State Birding Park

May be too late but I'm going this weekend for the first time.

Anybody been or have any tips?

(Don't go on the weekend would probably be one but I have no control of that... )
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Old Monday 11th April 2016, 18:02   #2
David in NC
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I did go to to Seven Islands State Birding Park and I thought I'd share my experiences.

http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/seven-islands

Video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=P...&v=ra34feduMg4

This park is near Kodak/Sevierville and not too far from Knoxville, and not far off Interstate 40.

The roads leading from Sevierville/Kodak (Exit 407/Parkway/Bass Pro Shop area) are pretty narrow and very winding so I would NOT suggest attempting to visit if you are in a large RV or pulling a camper! By this I am referring to West Dumplin Valley Road/Kodak Road/Kelly Lane.

I will say that the way Google Maps took us when we LEFT was a BIT more straight and easy so IF you had an RV or pull behind camper that MIGHT be a better way IN also (Exit 402/Midway Road/Kodak Road/Kelly Lane).

We arrived on Sunday April 10th at about 11:30 AM. There were only about four or five cars in the parking lot. A man who appeared to be the butterfly expert in the attached video (link) was in the parking lot talking with a woman over a map or chart. A paved road (actually the continuation and terminus of Kelly Lane but called "Kelly Lane Greenway" inside the park boundaries) skirts the park on your left when leaving the parking area and some folks were using that (walkers and bicyclists). We decided on the Loop Trail which is dirt/hardpacked clay which parallels the paved road starting out but the Loop Trail slowly diverges to the right from it's parallel with the Greenway and loses a bit of elevation. I'm a big, obese guy so I got pretty winded climbing out (when we left) but most average folks would not have problems with this gradual grade on the climb out. For me-for a "park" it was more than I care for, but if I were in "hiking mode" this was nothing compared to my usual hiking trails (albeit where I'd have lighter pants, different footwear, and hiking poles!)

The trail begins at the edge of the parking lot but funnels you through a barn. As soon as we left the barn (which they say was "culturally created") you are descending gradually through replanted native grasses and wildflowers (although most were not in bloom). The literature provided (and as mentioned briefly in the video) says they specifically eradicated the fescue to replant native plants. I am always glad to see this kind of biological/wildlife management and it can only lead to a healthier environment, especially for us birders.

We could hear some interesting birds on the prominent hill on our left but they were hidden by the trees. I am slowly growing in my ability to identify some birds by ear but these were not known to me, pretty as though they were. At first only small birds were visible in the low vegetation (sparrows and Carolina Chickadees) but we soon spotted a couple of Eastern Towhees. Additionally a couple of the chickadees were often seen with nesting material in their beaks so it was a bit more interesting to watch. We also noted Tree Swallows and Crows flying.

We had allotted several hours so we were in no hurry. Often standing in one spot five or ten minutes, we kept a very relaxed pace. I noted some "buzzards" in the distance. I glassed them hoping one might be a raptor but all appeared to be Turkey Vultures. As they got closer I could see the red on their heads which I like to use to differentiate them from Black Vultures.

I was almost starting to think there wouldn't be any really prominent sightings (just many of the everyday species I'm accustomed to in western NC) but that changed quickly. I noted two high flying birds in my peripheral vision that were thermal soaring in lazy loops almost above us and glanced up thinking they were more vultures but almost instantly (and without binocs at first) spotted white tails and white heads. I'll admit to being kind of giddy when I told my wife (who was busy glassing a lone tree for movement) "Honey there's two BALD EAGLES for you..."

I love raptors (aside from being a patriot and it being our national symbol) and while eagles are in my area, I can count on ONE HAND the times I've seen them in flight. I often say that NO DAY you spot a Bald Eagle is a bad birding day!

We proceeded on and could hear Canada Geese in this distance from the direction of the river). Mostly we were seeing the smaller birds along the Loop Trail (traveling left, or "clockwise" on the Loop) until reaching the river (the park is situated on a large bend in a fairly wide spot on the French Broad River.) A bench sits in a secluded spot overlooking the river and I have to say it was downright PLEASANT to sit there and relax (this point is roughly the halfway point along the Loop Trail).

From the bench (only about ten feet from the water's edge in a pool that appeared a few feet deep) we also watched hungry bluegill feeding on various flying insects that ended up in or on the water.

We walked the next leg of the trail which parallels the river. A large ring or gourd house was placed here and I could see a tree swallow on the pole. Next we came to a small pond and a 90 degree bend in the trail. Here at the pond a State truck and a UTV were parked and two park/State employees had a group of about 10 or 12 teens doing some sort of tour or program. The next leg of the trail is a narrow single-track path though thicker woods and vegetation. I could see this being warbler country but except for maybe one (?) I didn't see any. We did see a Goldfinch, a female Cardinal, and hear several others.

I also noted two Osprey circling nearby also, so I was happy about that and definitely got my raptor sighting in, along with the eagles.

After this the actual loop came to an end, so we just had the climb out remaining. As we finished up, there were many more cars in the parking lot, as well as a large group of early teen girls from a church arriving.

As many of you likely know, birding can be sometimes be "hit or miss". I have went to some birding areas that were well promoted, but to get there and find NOTHING flying. On this day, I certainly feel this park was well worth our time. I can't guarantee everyone would enjoy it, but it was a great diversion for us.

It's nearness to I40 should make it convenient for a day trip if you aren't local. It's location to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg should make it a new traditional "side trip" for any birder visiting those popular towns. While we did go out to Cades Cove once on our weekend getaway, this park is actually closer (especially to Pigeon Forge) and more specific to birding.

I suggest you try it if in the area!

Last edited by David in NC : Tuesday 12th April 2016 at 02:19.
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