Nashville's best place to see warblers, tanagers, orioles, buntings, and other spring and fall migrants.
By Richard Connors | Published: 4/25/2014
In 1913, Nashville’s L&N Railroad bought 1,000 acres to build an earthen dam and reservoir to supply water for its steam engines. Decades later, the property was purchased by a construction company and destined for development, but, in the early 1970s, residents fought to save and preserve the area as public parkland. Soon, Radnor Lake and the surrounding land were included in Tennessee’s first state natural area.
The park has been referred to as Nashville’s Walden. Spring migration begins in mid-April and continues until the third week in May. During it, 27 warblers are possible in a day, plus vireos, tanagers, orioles, thrushes, and flycatchers. Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Wood Thrush, Wood Duck, and Barred Owl are regular, while Mourning and Connecticut Warblers are reliable. April is also the time for a spectacular wildflower show.
Radnor Lake offers equally fun birding in fall — a decade ago, the park hosted a MacGillivray’s Warbler from the west — and in winter, when at least a dozen waterfowl species are present along with the occasional Common Goldeneye and Surf Scoter. — Richard Connors
Richard Connors is a photographer and past president of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. He leads nature-photography workshops and teaches beginning birding classes.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Oak-hickory forest, lake, hills, and ridges.
Main trail mostly flat with some steep side trails. Closed road on south side of lake wheelchair-accessible, although it is uphill to get to lake. Handicapped parking spots at lake.
238 species. Spring and fall: warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting. Summer: Wood Duck, Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers, Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Acadian Flycatcher, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. Winter: Ring-necked Duck, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Horned and Pied-billed Grebes, Winter Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Rusty Blackbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper.
When to go
Weekly bird walks on Wednesday mornings in spring and fall led by Nashville chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. Educational programs presented year-round by park staff. Guided canoe floats offered monthly. All-terrain wheelchairs available. Visitor center has restrooms, water, recent-sightings book.
State park. No fees. Trails open 6 a.m. until dark year-round. Visitor center open 8:30-4 Monday through Saturday, 9-5 Sunday.
Best birding along dam and on north side of lake on Lake Trail. Spotting scope not required.
For more info
Bells Bend Park
On Old Hickory Blvd. in northwest Nashville. Fields, pastures, and woodlands. Yellow-breasted Chat, Prairie Warbler, Northern Bobwhite.
10 miles north of Bells Bend Park. Deep woods, hollows, ridges, and a creek. Warblers, flycatchers, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrush.