Wings of Winter – It’s Show Time in the Tennessee River Valley

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Winter is showtime in the western portion of the Tennessee River Valley. The Wings of Winter Birding Festival offers guided field trips, speakers and more in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, January 24-26, 2020.

The Northern Pintail duck is a common sighting to Duck River Bottoms and will likely be on the river to greet Wings of Winter attendees. (Photo credit: Clayton Ferrell, Photographer)

Friends of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge bring in exceptional speakers and guides who help ensure a weekend of wonder on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

Just when many parts of the country feel drab, nature is putting on a spectacular show over the western portion of the Tennessee River Valley in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway.

The Valley is home to about 180 species of birds; another 200 species regularly migrate through or spend the winter. They are the stars of the Wings of Winter Birding Festival, Tennessee’s largest multi-bird festival.

The event welcomes all levels of birders to Paris, Tennessee for three, remarkable days of birding trips, presentations, meals and comradery. Now in its third year, the festival takes place January 24-26, 2020 during winter migration. Registration is open through January 1.

“Friends of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR) bring in exceptional speakers and guides who help ensure a weekend of wonder on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake,” said Ranger Joan Howe. More than 120 birds and waterfowl are traditionally spotted during 16, unique birding trips, several of which include birding with speakers, Scott Weidensaul and Brian “Fox” Ellis.

“That’s one of the great things about this festival,” said Howe. “For the entire three days, attendees are never more than a few feet from super birders. Spending quality time with individuals like Scott, Brian and our superior local guides is the perfect way to up your birding game.”

Weidensaul, the keynote speaker, is a celebrated naturalist, ornithologist, author and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He will join attendees on the pre-festival boat tour, lead a spectacular trip that travels behind sanctuary gates, as well as a field trip to TVA’s Harmon Creek Management Unit. His most recent work is Peterson’s Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean.

Brian “Fox” Ellis portrays naturalists of historic note. Ellis will enlighten and inspire guests at Dinner with Darwin. He will also portray John James Audubon on select trips.

Opportunities to explore this bird-rich region abound, thanks to a variety of public lands that offer a wealth of woods and water. Throughout the festival, multiple tours visit birding hotspots such as the 170,000 acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, where eagles, pelicans, raptors and woodland songbirds are familiar residents. “Winter Big Day” is another example of a serious birding field trip. Participants and local experts spot as many species as possible during this 12-hour marathon that often includes rarities like the Golden Eagle, Peregrine, LeConte’s Sparrow and more.

The region is brimming with local culture and history; fortunately, event planners incorporate these traits into many festival activities. “Civil War Battlefields” offers an opportunity to view several species on the grounds of Forts Donelson and Heiman. The active Bald Eagle nest at Donelson is a special treat.

The trip to the refuge’s Big Sandy Unit and historic Old 23rd area features both waterfowl and woodland birds. A stop at The Old 23rd Restaurant includes a bite to eat at this restored log cabin, now an eco-friendly restaurant.

Other event partners are hosting “Birds and Brews,” a trip to a privately owned nature preserve, which offers excellent opportunities to spot waterfowl, grebes, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and woodland birds. Lunch is provided with wine made onsite. The adventure is capped off with a taste of local flavors at Perrylogic Brewing Company.

While all festival activities are educational, “Beginning Birding” is designed for those just getting started. A seasoned instructor shares information on the basics of bird watching, identification and ethics in a local home designed for birding in comfort, and it’s all topped off with a homemade lunch.

The Friends of TNWR partner with many organizations for this event, including: TVA, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state parks, birding organizations, chambers and others that help keep the Valley filled with opportunities to experience nature, history, culture and more. Use the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide to experience places of wonder that will enrich your travel and your life.

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