[Bristol-Birds] spoonbill discovery opens new window of opportunity

  • From: "Wallace Coffey" <jwcoffey@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Bristol-birds" <bristol-birds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2010 23:58:32 -0400

Phipps Bend "nature trail," as posted on Bristol Birds Net, is a
site that needs quick and close monitoring.  As a major wader
stopover location, it is probably little known to most of us.  At least
if we knew that and well understood it, did we simply ignore
the possibilities?  I think we never knew much about the waders.
Of course, it might not be a regular occurring event.

The occurrence of 10 waders there this last weekend and the
many Hawkins County records set are simply amazing.  The 38
Great Egrets are a county record as well as 8 Little Blue Herons,
3 immature White Ibis (and/or 2 or 3 Glossy Ibis depending on how
the final determination of identification is decided) and  Snowy 
Egret pretty much rewrote the Hawkins County record book.

It has long been known as a good waterfowl viewing area. 
The nearby fields previously had wintering Short-eared Owls.
In Oct 1977, it was the start of a construction site for a nuclear 
power plant but TVA took it off the table before much was built 
and the agency scraped the project in Aug 1982.  It was on a 
1,018-acre development where Rick Phillips has found evidence
of the Common Raven nesting in one of the project's old unfinished 
concrete structures. TVA still owns the old structures.

Much of the site is owned by Phipps Bend Joint Venture out of Rogersville,
and also appears to be in association with the Industrial Development
Board of the City of Kingsport. The Phipps Bend Industrial District
is a joint venture between the City of Kingsport and Hawkins 
County. The Joint Venture has an estimated 900+ acres which
includes the ponds along the river.

Some 315 acres was the Phipps Bend Refuge and 
located along the Holston River in Hawkins County near
Surgoinsville and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources
Agency.  The agency's agreement expired and I don't think
TWRA ever renewed.  It was the site of many managed deer

History will have it that Thursday, Aug 19, 2010 at 10:37 PM,
Brent Harris of Kingsport wrote Dave Worley and Don Miller
an email informing them of the Roseate Spoonbill and 
attaching a photo.  He used an old "earthlink.net" email address
for Miller and it was not received by Miller.  Worley passed
it to Bristol Birds Friday as soon as he read it .   Rack Cross,
who works in Kingsport, got the message Friday and 
quickly rushed to the site.  He was quickly reported the exciting 
spoonbill and waders.  

It appears that, within the coming year, TVA is going to
build an $800+ million gas-fired steam turbine power plant on
the site to satisfy the requirements of a law suit brought against 
TVA by the state of North Carolina due to pollution from the 
coal-fired John Sevier Steam Plant downstream at 
Rogersville. TVA lost the suit and the terms of settlement
required TVA to replace the John Sevier plant in 2012.

A federal judge in 2009 ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority 
to clean up pollution from four coal-fired power plants that are 
affecting air quality in North Carolina. 

The ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg 
in Asheville, N.C. orders TVA to clean up emissions from four 
of its coal-fired power plants within 100 miles of North Carolina: 
Widows Creek in northeast Alabama; Bull Run near Oak Ridge, 
Kingston plant in eastern Tennessee's Roane County, where 
the disastrous coal ash spill occurred.

In the photo the red line indicates the approximate area
of the Phipps Bend ponds which are often called "lakes" 
by some.  They are man made and along the Holston
River which is shown adjacent to the line.  The yellow
line indicates the approximate route of the trail that
is along the ponds.  No motor vehicles are allowed
there by the public, as I understand, but Rack Cross did
go in on a bicycle to save time when he was checking on
the spoonbill.  I suspect other arriving birders were on

I have birded there on foot and by automobile back when 
the area would be opened for scouting deer hunting
sites in the 1990's.

I have never been aware that these ponds were 
habitat used by such a diverse group of waders
and that the numbers were so high.  I suppose this
was not just a recent phenomenon due to the heavy
rains and migration fallout.  Perhaps this is a more
regular occurrence than we knew anything about.  I
have never seen such an extensive post of birds
there as Cross and others shared.  It suggests that
the numbers of herons, egrets and ibis migrating
along the Holston River is much larger than we 
expected but there is not enough significant habitat
over much of the area to stop and hold them.

In a sense, this is much like Rankin Bottom which
unlike Phipps Bend, also features a vast shorebird 
habitat. Rankin is at the confluence of the Nolichucky 
River and French Broad River on upper Douglas Lake.  
The Holston River eventually flows into the French 
Broad not far from Knoxville, TN and so there is some 
possible influence of birds moving in this extensive upper
Tennessee River watershed.

Hopefully, birders can stay with this site during the
October and November migration period to see what
there is about this site before possible construction of
the new power plant limits our window of opportunity. 

Let's go birding . . . .

Wallace Coffey
Bristol, TN

JPEG image

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