Kyker Bottoms Refuge
Kyker Bottoms Refuge is a 350 acre area in southern Blount County owned and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. It lies along Ninemile Creek a few miles west of Tellico Lake and features fields, wetlands, and thickets managed primarily for small game and waterfowl.
For the birdwatcher, Kyker is one of the best places in east Tennessee and especially the greater Knoxville area from fall through spring for a large variety of hawks, sparrows, and, depending on water conditions, waterfowl and shorebirds.
Rare birds recorded at Kyker include Nelson's Sharp-tailed
Sparrow, LeConte's Sparrow, Brewer's Blackbird
Late fall view of Kyker Bottoms from the observation platform.
From Knoxville or points west via I-40: Take I-140 south to US 129. Then take US 129 south past the Knoxville Airport. A few miles past the Knoxville Airport, US 129 merges with US 411. Continue south on US 129/411 to a stop light where the highways split. Turn left, staying on US 129 South for about 7.5 miles to the intersection with Garland Road on the right (coordinates N 35.601671° W -84.108857°.) Turn right (east) onto Garland Road. The refuge property starts on the right in about 0.8 miles.
From the east on I-40, exit at US 129-Alcoa Highway and stay on US 129 towards the Knoxville Airport. Follow directions as above.
From the south on I-75: Take exit #60 (Madisonville, TN 68). Go right at the end of the ramp, onto TN 68. Follow it to US 411 and go north on US 411. After crossing over Tellico Lake (which is worth a brief stop in winter for gulls and waterfowl) take a right on TN 72. At the fork in the road, go right onto Kyker Road to check the 2 gravel parking lots (described below) or go left onto Big Gully Road and turn into the paved parking lot (described below) after 0.3 mile.
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BIRDING KYKER BOTTOMS
Approximately 0.8 miles from US 129 you will pass the refuge boundary and over a small creek. If you are up for a walk, turn into the well-concealed gravel drive on the right immediately after crossing the creek. Be very careful parking as it can be muddy. After parking, walk out onto the levee. Taking a left at the first intersection on the levee leads to the equipment shed area, and goes through the most productive wetland area. This can be very buggy and very hot in summer. Alternatively, from the gravel parking lot cross back over the creek and walk the gated dirt road along the east side of the creek past overgrown fields and eventually to a large marsh. Turkeys are often present along this dirt road. This area is not open to the public in the winter when most waterfowl are present.
At 1.0 miles from US 129, one of the refuge parking areas is on the right near TWRA's equipment shed (coordinates N 35.600720° W -84.114217°). Do not block the gate.
During the fall and winter, an American Kestral and a Loggerhead Shrike are usually present near the equipment shed, perched on one of the light posts, fences, or tall shrubs. Check the brush around the equipment shed and the adjacent fields for Savannah, Vesper, and other sparrows, Palm Warblers, and pipits. Barn Owls have been reported by refuge staff, who plan to erect nest boxes. Watch for Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier.
The largest area of open water is directly in front of you. Scope this carefully for waterfowl before walking towards it (do not walk beyond the shed during the winter closure, explained below). Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots occur regularly.
Check the low wet areas near the open water for Swamp and other sparrows, snipe, and Sedge Wrens. If you have time, walk the dikes towards the west (your left as you face away from the equipment shed). American Bitterns, Soras, and Virginia Rails are occasionally observed from the dikes. Nelson's Sharp-tailed and LeConte's Sparrows have also been found here a few times during migration.
Wetland area, dike, and water control structure.
At mile 1.4 (from US 129) is a second gravel parking
lot on the right (coordinates
N 35.602298°, W -84.122173°). This area is generally similar to the area at the equipment shed but offers much more room for parking.
Across the road from this parking lot is more refuge land that is less frequently birded. The old gravel road goes through upland old fields and into a forested area. Red-headed Woodpeckers and other species can be found here. Many common species less frequently found elsewhere on the refuge are often present here as well. This part of the refuge south of Garland Road is open to public access year round.
Continue past this lot to get to the main hilltop parking
area and observation platform. At 1.7 miles from US 129, turn right
at the stop sign onto Big Gully Road. After 0.3 miles, turn right
into the paved parking lot (coordinates N 35.602180°
W -84.122143°). A gravel path leads up the hill to the accessible observation platform. Because of its distance from open water, a scope is helpful for viewing waterfowl from the platform.
The observation platform.
The brushy fields near the platform, in front of the parking lot, and to the left (north) of the parking lot are good for a variety of sparrows including White-crowned, White-throated, Field, Fox and Song, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos. From the parking lot, plowed food strips extend in various directions through the bluff; birding along these is usually very productive. While in this area, scan the farmyard and pond on the opposite (west) side of Big Gully Road. Several species not often found on the refuge, such as Red-headed woodpeckers, are frequently present here.
Northern Bobwhite may be heard or flushed almost anywhere in the refuge, and Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, and Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper's Hawks are usually present. Bald Eagles are also seen flying over the area with some regularity.
Kyker Bottoms Refuge is closed to all entry from November 1 through February 14. During this period, use of the hilltop observation platform is allowed, and stopping in the parking areas along Garland Road to scan the area is allowed. Many birds can be seen and heard from these locations, making for an easy birding trip for those with mobility problems. The refuge is also open for hunting except during the November-February closure period. Check the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website for current information on these hunts and the refuge closure.
Resist the temptation to stop along the roads to scan for birds. The roads are narrow with blind curves, and there have been several near misses. Use the parking lots.
A map is available on the TWRA web site at http://www.state.tn.us/twra/gis/wmapdf/KykerBottoms.pdf
DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Page 43, Grids D-5 and D-6.
Prepared by Charles P. Nicholson with assistance from Charlie Muise, Jean Alexander, David Johnson and David Trently, February 2006.