Cove Lake State Park

CAMPBELL COUNTY

Cove Lake State Park is adjacent to I-75 at Caryville in Campbell County, about 30 miles north of Knoxville. The park consists of Cove Lake, fields, and forest. The lake is at the upper end of the Cove Creek arm of Norris Lake; the low Caryville Dam holds the water level in Cove Lake constant throughout the year.

Lake View
A small raft of wintering coots and ducks on Cove Lake.
The Cumberland Mountains are in the background.
Photo by Charles P. Nicholson.

The main birding attractions at Cove Lake State Park are waterfowl and songbirds. The park has for decades been a frequent field trip destination for the Knoxville Chapter of TOS. Until the late 1970s, the park was well known for the flock of migrant Canada Geese that wintered there; these geese could be easily seen feeding on corn that park staff scattered on the lawn in front of the restaurant's picture windows. These migrant geese no longer occur, and the park is now home to a large flock of resident giant Canada Geese.

Other regularly occurring waterbirds include Great Blue Herons, Mallards and Wood Ducks year-round, and wintering Pied-billed Grebes, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers. Several other ducks are occasionally present. One or 2 Bald Eagles have been regular winter residents in recent years, and Red-shouldered Hawks are present year round in the low wet woods.

Tree Swallows
Horned Grebe
Above left: A Tree Swallow defends a nest site in a dead tree. Above right: A wintering Horned Grebe. Photos by Dan Mooney.

Parts of the lake are fringed with shrubby wetlands where Willow Flycatchers, Gray Catbirds, and Yellow Warblers breed. In part because of beaver, several wooded swamps with many standing dead trees are present, and Tree Swallows and Prothonotary Warblers are common breeders in these areas. Both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles nest in large deciduous trees near the lake. Another attraction is the one or two pairs of Swainson's Warblers nesting in the park.

DIRECTIONS

From I-75, take Exit 134 (Caryville-LaFollette). If northbound on I-75, turn right (east) at the end of the exit ramp onto US 25W and drive 0.7 miles to the park entrance on the left (coordinates 36.3086°N, 84.2107°W). If southbound on I-75, turn left at the end of the exit ramp and drive about a mile to the park entrance.

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BIRDING COVE LAKE
After entering the park from US 25W, either take a quick left and park in the lot just past the restaurant (coordinates 36.3087°N, 84.2131°W) or continue straight to the picnic area (coordinates 36.3082°N, 84.2157°W). From the restaurant parking lot, walk down the hill towards the lake and the paved path. From the picnic area, follow the paved path to the left (southeast). Scan the lake for birds. Bald eagles, when present, are usually along one of the far shores. A few shorebirds may also be present on the sandy spit at the end of the swampy peninsula extending south into the middle of the lake. Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers may occur anywhere around the lake. Great Horned Owls have nested in the large white pines near the fishing pier. The numerous bird boxes in this area are used by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds.

Continue along the paved path towards US 25W and the large scattered oaks. You will soon pass a wet shrubby area on your left; during late spring and summer, Willow Flycatchers and Yellow Warblers are present here. Check this area for sparrows during the winter. Several Eastern Kingbirds, as well as both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles nest in the large trees around the old Indian mound (marked by a sign) and along the nearby lakeshore. A Warbling Vireo is occasionally present in this area.

After working this area, follow the paved path back to the north (away from US 25W) towards the woods and the picnic area. Watch for Cedar Waxwings in the cedar and persimmon trees, and for Pine Warblers in the pines. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos are usually present in this area during the winter. Past the picnic area, a trail leads to an observation tower on the lakeshore. Wood Ducks are often present in this area and during the spring and summer the nearby live and dead trees are occupied by Great Crested Flycatchers, Tree Swallows, Prothonotary Warblers and the occasional Red-headed Woodpecker.

Viewing Platform
The observation tower near the park picnic area. Photo by Charles P. Nicholson.

From the observation tower, go back towards the picnic area and take the paved path into the woods at the north end of the lake. During spring and summer, listen and watch for vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Wood Thrushes, Yellow-throated, Black-and-White, Swainson's, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers, and Ovenbirds in this area. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Winter Wrens, Hermit Thrushes, and White-throated Sparrows are present here during the winter.

After finishing the southwest side of the park, including the main part of the lake, the picnic area, and the woods at the north end of the lake, walk or drive past the swimming pool to the campground area on the north side of the park. Scan the narrow arms of the lake and the beaver ponds here for ducks. Prothonotary Warblers are common here during the spring and summer. The narrow lakeside trail to the wildlife observation deck is usually productive.

Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwings are present throughout the year and often abundant during the winter. Photo by Charles P. Nicholson.

Ask for a checklist of park birds at the park office.

For the State Park website, click here.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife account.

DeLorme Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer page 59, Grid B-5.

Wildlife Viewing AreaRestroomsDrinking WaterHiking TrailsPicnic AreaBicycling CampingFishing

Prepared by Charles P. Nicholson, January 2006.

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