(Above: Ranger Fontenot handling a curious Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Steve Ward)
Nashville is no stranger to state parks and nature reserves. The rolling hills and riverbanks are lush, and many locals value their well-kept gardens. Many different kinds and species of birds are drawn to these landscapes, making Middle Tennessee a beautiful place for birdwatching.
This spring, Radnor Lake State Park hosts an extra special bird sighting: a bald eagle’s nest with two hatched eaglets. Visible from the main paved route along the lakeside, the park first noticed the arrival of the adult eagles last January. The pair mated in December of 2021 and built their nest in 2022. This is the first successful nesting pair in the park’s history.
Tennessee State Park Ranger Dameon Fontenot has gotten to know these eagles well.
“Throughout the week, you can catch a ranger with a scope looking at the nest on Otter Creek Road or on Lake Trail at the Nan Addams observation deck,” said Fontenot. “My favorite moment during these programs is seeing the visitors’ faces when I tell them there is a bald eagle nest right here in the park. It’s a combination of excitement and bewilderment.”
Fontenot explained that on average, eagles stay in the nest for ten to twelve weeks. The park anticipates that the eaglets will fly the nest around mid-June. If you miss your chance to see them, Fontenot expressed that he imagines they will be back next year.
“Observing these eagles, from courtship to now having two eaglets, has been one of the highlights of my time here,” said Fontenot. He has also observed hawks, herons, and a plethora of wildlife that call Radnor Lake home. Fontenot has a spectacular camera and scope, so be sure to stop by, ask questions, and see some remarkable close-ups.
Another remarkable birding destination in Nashville is Owl’s Hill Nature Reserve. With rescue owls in their care on top of being an ideal habitat for wild owls, the views of their rolling hills and hiking trails make for excellent birding. While Radnor Lake is also a nature reserve, it is a state park, and Owl’s Hill is privately owned. It was initially bought and founded by the Cheek family and is a well-maintained nature sanctuary. Because it is private, you do have to
pay to enter. A day pass is five dollars, but I would recommend the weekend guided hike for twelve. Certified naturalists take you through hiking trails, discussing local plant and animal life as they go. Or, you could attend an exhibition show featuring their rescued owls. The owls’ cages are all next to the reserve’s main offices and trail heads, so regardless of what activity you chose, you will not miss Shakespeare the Barred Owl and his other rescue friends.
All one needs to start birdwatching are their eyes and a sense of curiosity. From deep forests to creeks and rivers, a diverse array of birds can be spotted day or night throughout Middle Tennessee, whether you are in a park or staring out of your workplace windows. There are numerous ornithological and naturalist organizations, groups, and meetups that are great resources, of course, but birdwatching can take many shapes and forms.
It may come as no surprise to you to hear that BIPOC folk are disproportionately profiled and antagonized in parks and on hiking trails. In 2020, after a black man in New York was harassed and threatened while birding, a group of concerned scientists and biologists decided that it was time to bring attention to Black birders on a global scale and launched Black Birders Week.
For a week at the end of May and beginning of June, which in 2022 is May 29 to June 4, biologists and experts host virtual events open to the public. The creators of Black Birders Week are Corina Newsome (@hood_naturalist on Instagram, and trust me, you want to follow her!) and the team with her at Black AF in STEM Collective, a gathering of Black scientists in various STEM fields working to amplify Black voices in the sciences. Another notable scientist in this collective is Nicole Jackson, founder of Black in National Parks Week.
Not only are those in the Black AF in STEM Collective working to keep parks safe for people of color, they are also passionate about community education and access. Since Black Birders Week started after the pandemic hit, their events have all been held virtually, which is something they plan to continue because it allows them to engage with people all over the globe.
For a specific list of Black Birders Week events, check their website and Instagram (@blackafinstem). The theme for 2022 is “Soaring to Greater Heights”. On the opening day, the main topic is being Black in nature. Each successive day discusses the stages of a bird’s life in order: first, they’ll discuss nesting, then learning to fly, coming back to roost, etc.
If you are looking to learn more about birding in Tennessee, visit Tennessee Ornithological Society’s calendar of events at tnbirds.org. If you are looking to take a deep dive into learning about the environment around you, the Tennessee Naturalist Program is a ten month course. You might become one of the naturalists who lead the Owl’s Hill hikes! Go to blackafinstem.com for more information on Black Birders Week, and say hi to Ranger Dameon Fontenot when you go see the Radnor Lake eagles.