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3rd Annual Wings of Winter Birding Festival set for January 24-26

December 10, 2019 | Friends of TNWR / Joan Rowe

Irish essayist Robert Lynd said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.” It seems true of human nature that when a chance close encounter happens with these flighty little jewels of nature, one immediately stills in hopes of extending the experience just a little longer.

There are those who seek these encounters as well as the peace and serenity of the natural spaces where birds live. Knowing how to identify the birds they see is a cherished challenge, and it is what differentiates a birder from a bird watcher. For those individuals, a unique opportunity awaits them this winter in West Tennessee.

In the heart of the Mississippi Flyway is home to the Wings of Winter Birding Festival (WOW), a multi-bird festival held over much of the Kentucky Lake/Lake Barkley region in West Tennessee. In this area are a myriad of public lands managing a diversity of habitats that are also home to over 300 species of birds. About 200 of these species gather here in winter during their regular migration. Much of this spectacular show is why winter birders find this area a top destination.

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

“The host of the event, Friends of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, brings in exceptional speakers and guides who help ensure a weekend of wonder on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake,” said Ranger Joan Howe. Having such expertise on hand has made a big difference in the success of this annual event. In the two years the TNWR has hosted the event, as many as 120 species of birds and waterfowl were spotted over the course of the three day festival, thanks to their participation of these speakers and guides.

Scott 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 behind sanctuary gates, and direct a field trip to TVA’s Harmon Creek Management Unit.

Author of more than two dozen books, Weidensaul is especially intrigued by bird migration. His most recent work is Peterson’s Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean, which will be available for sale at the festival.

Brian “Fox” Ellis portrays naturalists of historic note. Ellis will enlighten and inspire guests at Dinner with Charles Darwin. He will also portray John James Audubon as a guide on field trips and lead a workshop called “Bird Is the Word: Journaling, Poetry, Non-Fiction Writing, and Ornithology.”

“That’s one of the great things about this festival,” said Howe. “For the entire three days, whether on a trip, at dinner or hanging out in the hotel lobby, 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.”

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, tours visit birding hotspots such as the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR). The trip to the Big Sandy Unit of the TNWR and historic Old 23rd area features waterfowl as well as wetland and woodland birds. It includes a bite to eat at Christopher Manor, a beautifully preserved log cabin that now serves as an eco-friendly restaurant.

The festival also features a trip to 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Forest, where eagles, pelicans, raptors and woodland songbirds are familiar residents. The Winter Big Day is another chance for serious birding as participants and local experts spot as many species as possible during a marathon 12-hour timespan. Sightings often include rarities such as the Golden Eagle, Peregrine, LeConte’s Sparrow and others.

This region is brimming with local culture and history that WOW planners have incorporated into many festival activities. For instance, the Civil War Battlefields trip offers an opportunity to view several species on the grounds of Forts Donelson and Heiman. The active Bald Eagle nest at Fort Donelson is a special treat.

For an especially memorable trip, a TNRW partner is inviting participants to visit her privately owned nature preserve with ample opportunities to spot waterfowl, grebes, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and woodland birds. Entitled Birds and Brews, this trip includes a delicious lunch, with wine made onsite, followed by more birding. The adventure is capped off with a tour of a microbrewery and a taste of local flavors.

While all trips will be educational for newbies, the Beginning Birding field trip is perfect for those just getting started in the sport. This event is hosted by another local partner, whose home is uniquely designed for birding in comfort-- approximately 30 species gather outside the home daily. The owner, along with a seasoned instructor, will share information on the basics of bird watching, identification and ethics -- all topped off with a homemade lunch for attendees as well as the birds!

The Friends of TNWR have partnered with many sponsors for this event, including: TVA, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, area state parks, birding organizations, local chambers and others.

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