Ellington Agricultural Center

NASHVILLE-DAVIDSON COUNTY

Ellington Agricultural Center, a state-owned complex in south Nashville, is a fine urban birding site easily accessible for travelers there on business or conventions. Just two miles east of much used Radnor Lake State Natural Area, Ellington is an oasis for solitary birding.With its 207 acres of diverse topography including woodlands, meadows and streams, it supports a wide range of birdlife throughout the year.  In 2005, trails were built throughout the campus, making birding the area much easier.  A total of 124 species of birds have been recorded since October 2005 .  These include 30 warbler species and 10 sparrow species, as well as nesting Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Common Yellowthroats, and Red-winged Blackbirds. 

Once a working farm, the Center is now the headquarters for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and a branch location for other agencies.  The Center is listed as an Official Arboretum by the Nashville Tree Foundation and is home to the Tennessee Bicentennial Iris Garden maintained by the Middle Tennessee Iris Society. It is also the site of the Tennessee Agricultural Museum, which has an extensive collection of home and farm artifacts from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Interpretive displays on the Center along trails and elsewhere on the Center grounds highlight various conservation practices.

Red-winged Blackbird Ellington Trail Scene
Red-winged Blackbird, a common summer resident in Ellington fields, and the Rogers Walk. Photos by Dave Hawkins Photography, Nashville,TN (left) and Jan Shaw (right).

DIRECTIONS
From I-65: Take Exit 78-A east on Harding Place. Turn right at the second light onto Trousdale Drive.  Travel south on Trousdale for approximately 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Hogan Road at the four-way stop.  Hogan Road ends at the front gates of the Ellington Agricultural Center (address: 440 Hogan Road, coordinates: 36.06512°N, 86.74905°W).

From I-24: Take Exit 56 west on Harding Place to the Nolensville Road intersection.  Turn left onto Nolensville Road and travel south 1/10 mile. Turn right onto Edmondson Pike.  Travel 1.5 miles on Edmondson Pike to the east entrance to Ellington Agricultural Center on the right (coordinates 36.06330°N, 86.74127°W).

For a Google map and directions to the Edmondson Pike entrance, enter either your full starting address including town and state OR your zip code:

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BIRDING ELLINGTON AGRICULTURAL CENTER
The Center can be separated into two general areas, the higher ground surrounding the Brentwood Hall mansion (now named the William F. Moss Administration Bldg.) and many agency buildings, and the lower Rogers Walk, a 1.6 mile loop trail.  The hilltop area is more of an open, park-like setting with huge, mature trees scattered about.  There are fewer birds to be found in this area, but it can be good in the early morning during migration.  There is a Purple Martin colony on the east end of the hill next to the TWRA office building.  They usually arrive in early March.  The Rogers Walk loop trail includes open brushy areas, woodlands, meadows, and riparian areas along 2 creeks.  For birders not wanting to do the whole loop, they can turn around at any point or cut through the campus using marked connector trails to return to their starting point.

Birders often start by parking at the Iris Garden parking lot just to the right after coming in the main Hogan Road entrance (location 2 on the map below).  The trees in the parking lot can be good for migrating warblers, and Eastern Bluebirds nest in the house attached to the fence here.  There is a trail map sign at the parking lot. 

Trail Map
Trail map produced by Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Click here for a larger map.

To bird Rogers Walk, take the mulched trail from the parking lot back toward the main entrance and across the road.  The first open area along the creek is good for warblers, sparrows, and nesting Indigo Buntings depending on the season.  The Center staff has planted trees and constructed a rain garden here to make a larger riparian buffer zone as part of their Watershed Initiative.  The trail then enters a wooded area with the expected woodland bird species.  Coming out of the woods, the trail has 3 forks.  The right 2 forks form a short loop which goes up and down a small hill.  Along both sides are weedy fields which can hold several sparrow species in fall and winter.  At the top of the hill is a small cemetery with gravestones dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.  The large trees here are good for migrating warblers.  After doing the short loop, take the left fork which will come out onto 10-Acre Meadow.  A mowed, grass path surrounds the field, with a creek running alongside the northern portion.  Either direction is good for observing migrants in the trees or sparrows in the field.  Nesting Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroats, and Red-winged Blackbirds are common here depending if the field has not been recently mowed.  Sparrows seen here include Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Field, Savannah, Fox, Song, Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Junco.  Marsh and Sedge Wrens, and Connecticut and Mourning Warblers have been a few of the highlights during migration.  American Kestrels and Red-tailed Hawks often perch on the huge utility tower at the east end of the field.  In the winter, American Woodcocks can be seen and heard displaying above the field. 

Ellington Field Common Yellowthroat
Meadow bordering Seven Mile Creek and Common Yellowthroat, a summer resident. Red-tailed Hawks nest on the transmission line tower in the photo on the left. Photos by Jan Shaw (left) and Dave Hawkins Photography, Nashville,TN (right).

The east end of 10-Acre Meadow borders Seven Mile Creek, where portions have been restored by the Watershed Initiative.  Mallards, Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and Belted Kingfishers can be found along the creek.  At the southeast corner of the field, take the gravel path into the woods which parallels the creek.  This area is not particularly birdy, but does hold large flocks of American Robins, a few migrants, and the occasional accipiter.  Reaching the end of the gravel path, cross the road to the horse pasture.  There is another trail map sign here to let you know where you are.  The horse pasture can have Barn Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, or perhaps a Blue Grosbeak.  Cross the road again to the south and follow the grass path through the field towards the woods.  The trail goes into the woods where there are some huge, mature trees dominated by sugar maple, black walnut, and hackberry.  Wood Thrush and Barred Owl have been observed through here, along with many migrant species. 

The trail winds up a hill and leaves the woods and ends up at a parking lot next to a restroom.  This is the only restroom on the campus outside of the office buildings.  To continue with Rogers Walk, go north across the parking lot towards the Agricultural Museum.  To the left of the museum are some old log buildings and the Eagle Trail which goes through some woods and back down to the Iris Garden parking lot where the Rogers Walk began.  These woods can be good for Kentucky Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, tanagers, and other migrants. 

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks has nested on the property for several years.  The nest can easily be seen from the road coming in from the east side of the Center.  It’s at the top of a huge utility tower in the southeast field which runs along Edmondson Pike.  A small pond in the northeast field along Edmondson Pike has had Canada Goose, Blue-winged Teal, and Mallards.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk, a permanent resident of Ellington Agricultural Center. Photo by Dave Hawkins Photography, Nashville, TN

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Ellington Agricultural Center bird list.

The buildings at Ellington Agricultural Center are open to the public during normal business hours Monday through Friday and additional hours during special events.  The grounds are open for birding and other public uses seven days a week.

Ellington Agricultural Center website.

Agricultural Museum website.

Tennessee Bicentennial Iris Garden website.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife account.

DeLorme Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer page 53, Grid D-6.

Hiking TrailsRestrooms

Contributed by Jan Shaw, November 2008

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