E ast

Kingston Steam Plant


RIP Kingston Birding?
On December 22, 2008, a section of dike surrounding the highest ash storage areas collapsed, resulting in a spill of about 5.4 million cubic yards of ash into the Watts Bar Lake and onto Swan Pond Road. The ash pond area is presently closed to birders and the future of the site as quality bird habitat is uncertain. See the TVA website for an update on the ash spill. Although TVA has pledged to restore the area, it has not clearly stated that it will replace the lost shorebird and waterfowl habitat. Tell TVA and EPA, who is overseeing the cleanup, to replace this important lost habitat.

Kingston Steam Plant (officially called Kingston Fossil Plant but better known to birders and others as Kingston Steam Plant) is a large Tennessee Valley Authority coal-burning power plant a short distance from I-40 about 40 miles west of Knoxville. For many years, it has been one of the top sites in east Tennessee for shorebirds. Large numbers of waterfowl, herons and egrets, and gulls and terns can also be present.

The shorebirds, waterfowl, and herons and egrets are attracted to large shallow ash settling and water treatment ponds. Because of changing plant operations, the configuration of the ponds, as well as their attractiveness to birds, changes over time. During the early 1970s, shorebirds and waterfowl could be viewed from adjacent Swan Pond Road. A tall dike now borders Swan Pond Road and it is necessary to walk to viewing areas.

Ash Ponds

Rare and/or unusual species reported at Kingston Steam Plant include Piping Plover, American Avocet, Baird's Sandpiper, Ruff, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Red-necked Phalarope, Franklin's Gull, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Snow Bunting,

From I-40, take the Midtown exit, Exit 350. This exit is about 40 miles west of Knoxville and about 17 miles west of the junction of I-40 and I-75. At the end of the exit ramp, turn south (to the right if exiting from I-40 east; to the left if exiting from I-40 west). This road (TN 27) quickly intersects with US 70. Turn left (east) onto US 70. After 0.7 miles, turn left (north) onto Swan Pond Road. This is the first road to the left and signs at this intersection direct you to the Kingston plant.

Immediately after turning onto Swan Pond Road, you will pass under I-40. Just past this underpass, a road to the right leads to some plant entrances and a lakeside public fishing access area. This road also leads to an area where Brown-headed Nuthatches have regularly occurred for several years.

For the main shorebird and waterfowl area, stay on Swan Pond Road (bearing to the left) after passing under I-40. About 1.5 miles from US 70, turn right onto the main plant entrance road immediately after crossing railroad tracks. Then immediately turn left onto a gravel drive to the left of several ballfields. Park in the gravel parking lot between the gravel road and the ballfields a few hundred yards from the paved plant entrance road (coordinates N 35.9079°, W 84.5178°).

For a Topozone map of the ash pond area, click here. The target on the map is on the parking area.


Sanderlings foraging in a Kingston Steam Plant ash pond

Photos by Charles P. Nicholson unless noted otherwise

To get to the Brown-headed Nuthatch area, turn right off of Swan Pond Road immediately after passing under I-40. Drive about 0.7 miles to a gravel parking lot on the right (coordinates N 35.8950°, W 84.5246°). Check the large loblolly pines in the mowed areas between the road and the lake for the nuthatches. Pine Warblers are also frequently present. Many large pines in this area were cut after being killed by pine beetles in 2000. Despite losing much of their habitat, the nuthatches have managed to persist here. Scan the lake for gulls and other water birds. Exit this area by turning around and driving back to Swan Pond Road.

To get to the main ash pond, follow the directions above. Park in the gravel lot next to the ball fields. On your right is an extensive old ash disposal area reclaimed with various grasses, herbs, and shrubs. Several wet areas are scattered about this field. This area is good for a variety of sparrows and finches. Northern Harriers can be found here during fall and winter. Pay attention to the signs as some of this area may be closed to public access.

On your left is a high grassy dike surrounding some of the ponds and ash storage areas. Meadowlarks are usually present on this dike. During the summer, watch and listed for Grasshopper Sparrows on the grassy dikes and in the reclaimed fields on the right. From fall through spring, Savannah Sparrows are usually present in the grassy areas and along the edges of the roadways. Water Pipits and Horned Larks are also possibilities.

To view shorebirds, waterfowl, and other water birds, walk from the parking lot down the gravel road to the east and away from Swan Pond Road. After a couple hundred yards, a road goes up the dike to your left. Walk up this road and scan the ponds. Depending on the water levels, shorebirds may be present in the long narrow pond on your right at the top of the dike and in other ponds to the north. After working these ponds, backtrack to the main east-west gravel road running along the base of the high dike.

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at Kingston Steam Plant.

Photo by Ron Hoff

Sharp-tailed Sparrow

After a couple hundred more yards, you will see canals and marshy areas on the left and right. Look for blackbirds, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, and Swamp Sparrows in these areas. Just past them on the left is another large shallow pond that can be productive for waterfowl, herons and egrets, and shorebirds. Farther on, also on the left, is a low deeper pond. From fall through spring, these ponds frequently have large numbers of ducks, American Coots, and gulls, and terns are often present during the spring and fall. The main gravel road bends to the left past this deep pond and runs along the dike between the deep pond and the large cooling water intake canal for the steam plant. This canal is a part of Watts Bar Lake, and during the winter often has large numbers of American Black Ducks and Hooded Mergansers in it.

As you follow this road to the left, scan the broad Emory River arm of Watts Bar Lake. Ospreys nest in this area and Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets nest on a nearby small island.

Several small constructed wetlands are on the right (south) of the gravel road past the canals and opposite the deep pond. Check these for Soras and other marsh birds.

Ash Ponds
One of the more permanent shallow ash ponds towards the back (south) of the ash pond complex. On the far side of the pond are a dredge barge and processing facilities for collecting and selling certain types of ash. This pond usually has large areas of shallow water and both vegetated and unvegetated mud/ash flats.

A spotting scope is necessary for adequately identifying many of the birds. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours to bird the ash pond area. There is no shade in this area and it can be very hot during the prime late summer shorebird migration. Porta-potties are sometimes present at the ballfields or in construction areas along the dikes. Otherwise, there are no facilities or amenities. Light conditions are usually best in the late afternoon.

Click here for TVA's web site for Kingston Steam Plant.

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Page 42, Grid A-2.

Prepared by Charles P. Nicholson with the assistance of Ron Hoff, September 2006.

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