[Bristol-Birds] Sugar Hollow Park: Crown Jewel of Regional Wetlands

  • From: "Wallace Coffey" <jwcoffey@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Bristol-birds" <bristol-birds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2012 22:08:29 -0400

 Bristol Virginia's Sugar Hollow Park: Crown Jewel of Regional Wetlands

 Surrounded by 400 acres of immaculate parklands, at the doorsteps of the 
 towering and massive offices of coal company giant Alpha Natural Resources.
 Just across the street from Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, 
 Ross, Books-A-Million, Old Navy and PetSmart, is a beautiful and especially 
 accessible wetland natural area.

 More than a thousand feet of wide, strong, boardwalks fork in many
 directions into swamps, ponds, a winding stream and across meadows
 back to lush water plants of many varieties.

A birding companion once
admonished me to listen up
and look down as I birded
trails carpeted with wildflowers.

This photo of the bright 
Duckweed, or water lentil,
merits looking down for. 
Here they are an abundant
aquatic plant which floats 
on or just beneath the surface 
of the still and slow-moving 
waters of the wetlands. 

Easter Sunday was a bit
busy for total enjoyment due
to the large numbers of park
visitors walking along the
boardwalks and winding trails.  The parking areas were full.  You can't 
well bird the wetlands in much less than an hour.  It will take 15 minutes
to walk the boardwalk at an enjoyable pace. 

Scanning tall water plants, searching among trees of the swamp 
portion and watching for Eastern Screech Owls sunning in an opening 
of one of the many well-placed Wood Duck boxes takes a bit of focus.  
The same is said for Soras which sneak quietly at the water's edge, 
running in an out of the abundant shoreline plants.  Soon 
this good habitat will attract a Blue-winged Warblers into the area.  It's
a species not often detected just anywhere in the lower reaches of
the ridge and valley region.

Ron Harrington and I compiled bird species from this area about 10
years ago when we were conducting "Birds in Forested Landscape"
inventories throughout the mountain and valley region of the area from
Hidden Valley Lake on Clinch Mountain to Mount Rogers, the Weir Dam 
to Shady Valley and elsewhere. It was an extensive survey we did for
the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

The Bristol Christmas Bird Count has this special wetlands area
within our count circle but, due to the way the many party count sectors
or laid out, we don't actually get coverage into the wetlands.  We
probably need to work on that.

Waldo Miles Retreat, located in the park, was the headquarters and
meeting place for the May 2007 TOS State Spring Meeting sponsored
by the Bristol Bird Club.

Our visitors absolutely loved meandering the wetlands and getting
lost along the stream and among its beautiful ponds.  Of course, it has
also been expanded and more boardwalk and parking added.

One unique feature of the
wetlands is the ponds which
are spread along the banks
of a clear and clean flowing
Beaver Creek.  The ponds
are teaming with aquatic 
animals and they are easy to
observe up close.

It is impressive how
accustom the
amphibians and ducks
are to visitors.  One
calming and relaxing
aspect of visiting this
site is how so many
species seem almost
oblivious to park 
visitors who pass
right over them along
boardwalks and
you can stop to
take photos.

The Sugar Hollow Park wetlands
is much wilder and remote than
this post makes it sound. 

That is not the experience you
encounter when visiting the 

It's a great place for both the
beginner and seasoned birder.

Even a Mallard sits on a railing while visitors pass within feet.

Sugar Hollow Park Wetlands is a very special place and well worth
escaping to and especially on weekdays when few people are there.
You can learn and watch birds until overcome with peace, quiet and 

Let's go birding . . .

Wallace Coffey
Bristol, TN

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