Submitted by Brian Truskey, Communications Apprentice at Land Between The Lakes
At Land Between The Lakes our visitors can enjoy a variety of activities. Some of our most popular include off-highway vehicle riding, swimming, canoeing, camping, biking, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, environmental education, and of course, wildlife viewing, and birding. We manage and protect wildlife habitat in order to ensure that our visitors will be able to see wildlife in years to come.
What are Wildlife Refuges?
Wildlife refuges consist of land and water areas where wildlife can go to rest, winter, and feed – free from human intrusion. Land Between The Lakes sits between two large flowing rivers, the Tennessee and Cumberland. This proximity to the most heavily used migratory corridor for waterfowl and other birds in North America, the Mississippi Flyway, makes Land Between The Lakes an ideal location for wintering and migrating birds.
Although wildlife live across our peninsula, nine wildlife refuges offer critical resting areas for a variety of species at Land Between The Lakes, totaling 2,681 acres (227 land, and 2,454 water). This makes up a small portion of our 170,000 acres. We ask that you and your pets help us by making sure these areas remain undisturbed during resting season from November 1 through March 15.
Water refuges cover areas such as interior lakes, impoundments, and some bays of Kentucky and Barkley lakes. You can find the locations of these wildlife refuges on our Recreation Map. We have designated refuge sites at:
- Duncan Bay
- Duncan Lake
- Energy Lake (the Western portion)
- Fulton and Honker Bays
- Hematite Lake
- Honker Lake
- Long Creek
- Rushing Bay
- Smith Bay
Why do we have Wildlife Refuges?
The Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge served as the primary waterfowl refuge on the Cumberland River from its creation in 1938 until the establishment of Land Between The Lakes in 1963. The Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee, located just southeast of us, now fills that role.
The first wildlife refuges at Land Between The Lakes provided resting and feeding areas for migratory waterfowl. As bald eagle populations in the area increased, the scope of the refuges expanded. Now we provide undisturbed sanctuaries for waterfowl, eagles, sandhill cranes and other wildlife such as shorebirds. The name also changed from waterfowl refuges to wildlife refuges.
Why do the Refuges Close to Human Activity?
We close these areas to improve the survival rate of wildlife. During closure periods, refuges contain above average numbers of birds compared to surrounding areas. Land Between The Lakes serves as a great resting and wintering location, and provides wildlife with the necessary food they need to survive through the winter, like fish, mast, and small game. It also provides us with the chance to view wildlife, and educate ourselves and others about their habitat.
Disturbing wildlife, especially during refuge closure periods, can have a detrimental effect. Eagles, for example, are less likely to winter in areas where humans repeatedly disturb them. Eagles, like many birds, need to conserve their energy during the colder parts of the year. If they are scared from their perches by people trying to get a closer look, they have to expend some of that valuable energy. Repeated disturbances require them to expend a lot of energy, which can lead to illness and their disappearance from our shores.
Please help our wildlife by giving them their space and keeping your distance. This can be done by using binoculars and staying out of wildlife refuge areas when they are closed, November 1 to March 15 here, and November 1 to February 15 for the neighboring Kentucky Fish and Wildlife refuges. These refuges can be found on our Recreation Map.
How Do Refuges Affect Recreation and Tourism?
A popular recreational activity, birding, brings many visitors to Land Between The Lakes as well as to the surrounding areas, towns, and businesses. According to the Internet Research Information Series, birding ranks as the 15th most popular recreational activity in the United States. Research predicts that the popularity of birding will continue to grow.
A 2011 National Recreation Survey shows the most watched birds to be:
- Waterfowl (Primarily ducks and geese), watched by 13.3 million people
- Birds of Prey (such as eagles, hawks, and osprey), 12.9 million
- Songbirds (abundant in the spring and include species such as bluebirds, cardinals, and robins), 12.1 million
- Herons, shorebirds, and other water birds, 10.6 million
- Other birds (Such as roadrunners and turkeys), 6.9 million
Wildlife refuges and Nature Watch areas at Land Between The Lakes provide safe havens for many of these birds.
“A variety of migratory birds winter at Land Between The Lakes. Without our refuges, we would likely see fewer birds, and as a result, fewer birding and hunting opportunities,” explains Steve Bloemer, Wildlife Biologist at Land Between The Lakes.
What are Some Ethics and Etiquette of Wildlife Viewing?
When viewing wildlife be careful not so scare wildlife from their resting and nesting areas. Here are some Wildlife Watching Ethics tips from Wildlife Watching in National Parks. For a more detailed list, visit their site.
- View from a distance. Doing so minimizes disturbances to wildlife.
- Keep on roads and trails. Animals are more tolerant, and you will do less damage to sensitive natural resources.
- Never feed, call or try to entice wildlife. It can be dangerous to wildlife when wildlife associate people with food.
- Control your pets. If they must come along, keep them on a leash.
- Don’t touch or handle injured, weak, or baby animals. The mother may not return if you do.
You can also go online to see the Wildlife Watchers Code of Ethics. It contains a variety of tips and information on how to view wildlife responsibly and safely without intruding upon or entering refuge areas.
Where Should I Go to See Wildlife at Land Between The Lakes?
In addition to wildlife refuges, Nature Watch Areas provide some of the best places to see a variety of wildlife. Woodlands Nature Watch Area, near Woodlands Nature Station, borders several wildlife refuges, giving visitors a great opportunity to view wildlife without disturbing them. Due to limited hunting and camping activities in Nature Watch Areas, animals tend to be less shy, further increasing the likelihood of seeing wildlife.
In addition to a wide variety of birds, you may see other animals including white-tailed deer, fallow deer, beavers, gray foxes, box turtles, gray squirrels, turkeys, and otters to name a few. Around 260 species of birds and 55 species of mammals have been documented in Land Between The Lakes. Visit our Wildlife Watching Tips page for more information and helpful tips on wildlife viewing. You can also download a Nature Watch App to help you find wildlife and trails, track and plan your trip, or identify and record your findings.
Best Birding Locations
Although you can bird watch almost anywhere at Land Between The Lakes, here are a few of our favorite places.
- Elk & Bison Prairie
- Fort Henry Trails
- Hematite Lake and Trail
- Honker Lake, Bay, and Trail
- Kentucky Dam
- North/South Trail from Sugar to Rhodes Bay
- Shaw Branch Road–Forest Service Road 153/134–from Hwy. US68/KY80 to Energy Lake
- South Oak Grassland Demonstration Area
- South Welcome Station and Bear Creek
- The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm
- Woodlands Nature Station Backyard
For over 10 years, avid birders in our region have been recording their sightings online at eBird, where you can track sightings, find the best times to see various species, or get information about your favorite birds to help plan your visit.
Nature Watch Trails
We offer five easy to navigate trails near the Woodlands Nature Watch Area that will get you into the wild for better wildlife viewing. Check out the Center Furnace, Hematite, Honker, Long Creek, and Woodland Walk trails. Located within walking distance of the trails, Woodlands Nature station is open to the public from March 1 through November 30. Their friendly staff will happily answer your birding and wildlife viewing related questions.
I hope this helps encourage you to grab your binoculars and spend some time viewing the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes. It’s a great, free activity for everyone of any age. Below I included the sites mentioned in the article. They contain a bounty of information, as well as birding and wildlife viewing tips.
Brian A. Truskey
2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/fhw11-nat.pdf
Birding Locations at Land Between The Lakes www.landbetweenthelakes.us/seendo/outdoor-rec/birding/
Birding Trends, IRIS information series www.srs.fs.usda.gov/trends/pdf-iris/IRISRec30rptfs.pdf
Chester, E. W, & Fralish, J. S. (2002) (Eds.). Land Between The Lakes, Kentucky and Tennessee: Four Decades of Tennessee Valley Authority Stewardship. Austin Peay State University; Clarksville, TN.
Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge www.fws.gov/crosscreeks/
Environmental Education www.landbetweenthelakes.us/seendo/environmental-education/
Furnaces and Iron Industry Ruins www.landbetweenthelakes.us/seendo/self-guided-activites/iron/
Land and Resource Management Plan www.landbetweenthelakes.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/LBLAreaPlan.pdf
Maps for Land Between The Lakes www.landbetweenthelakes.us/visit/maps/
Nature Watch Areas www.landbetweenthelakes.us/seendo/self-guided-activites/nature-watch/
Nature Watching Apps www.fs.fed.us/outdoors/naturewatch/apps.php
Trails at Land Between The Lakes www.landbetweenthelakes.us/seendo/trails/hike-bike-trails/
TRENDS. Birding Ranks 15th Most Popular Recreational Activity http://naturetravelnetwork.com/trends-birding-ranks-15th-most-popular-recreational-activity/
Wildlife Watchers Code of Ethics www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlifemapping/handouts/wildlife-watchers-code-of-ethics.pdf
Wildlife Watchers Ethics www.wildlifewatchingnationalparks.org/Ethics.html
Wildlife Watching Tips www.landbetweenthelakes.us/stewardship/wildlife-watching-tips/