By Joe Sills
Each winter, MSHFN features one of the Regions most unique cold weather destinations. The Reelfoot Lake area offers some of the most beautiful, natural experiences found in the Central United States. Not only is it a primary stopover for migrating waterfowl along the Mississippi Flyway, it is the wintering place for approximately 150 American Bald and Golden eagles.
These majestic birds are relatively easy to observe as they soar above the lake in their search for food. The discarded trash fish from the commercial fishing operations and crippled waterfowl that are diseased or may have escaped the hunter’s retrievers are targeted by these sharp-eyed raptors.An early start is recommended, as this is the prime hunting period for the eager eagles. A good place to begin your search is on highway 22 East just as you make the turn and get your first view of the lake. As you progress, scan the treetops at water’s edge for perching birds, as many eagles have been seen in the clump of trees behind White’s Landing. A bit further east, past Bo’s Landing, there is a line of cypress tees extending out into the lake on which you may also see resting birds. Your next stop should be at the State Park Visitor’s Center where there is an interesting wildlife display as well as information about the entire area. Attendants at the Center can inform you about the most recent sightings. You may also want to join one of the guided tours that originate here. Reservations are recommended.
Behind the Center is a flight cage where injured birds are rehabilitated before being released. There is also a boardwalk along the shoreline that presents some great photo vistas of the lake and its waterfowl. Continue east along highway 22 and onto Lake Drive as you search the trees behind the shoreline homes and camps. These are favorite perches where you can get close up pictures as long as you are quiet and keep a respectable distance so as not to alarm the birds. At Samburg, you may want to take advantage of the telescope that is set up in Spicer Park and focus on the leaning trees several hundred yards out in the lake.
Next is a little known overlook on Mount Manuel Road that goes up the bluff just past the Reelfoot National Refuge on Highway157 North. This scenic view of the Upper Blue Basin is the only one in the area where you can see for miles to the west and has great potential for a small park. Now comes an inspiring drive through the forest down the road past Walnut Log to the Grassy Island Landing. A long boardwalk and observation tower is here for wildlife viewing. This area was also the filming site of the swamp scenes in the 1998 movie “U.S. Marshalls” starring Tommy Lee Jones. All along the old Bayou De Chien you might find eagles in the treetops. There are a couple of Indian mounds here, too.
Our tour now takes us north, across the State Line into Kentucky. Take the first paved road to your left until you reach the Long Point Unit of the National Refuge. Turn left again on the recently paved road to the observation tower. This is a major goose and duck feeding area of cornfields where dozens of eagles gather to prey on injured waterfowl. Thousands of geese frequent this feeding place and are quite a sight as they spiral into the nearby fields. Next, continue west beside the railroad tracks and turn right at the intersection. Go about a half mile then turn left at the Midway Church sign. Follow this road to and up on the Mississippi Levee Road. Turn left and be observant as you traverse this gravel road. There are three eagle nests on the west side and three in the tree lines to the east. Some may be occupied or have eagles perched nearby. Go back into Tiptonville and turn left on Highway 78 to the Gray’s Camp Road and follow the signs to the Airpark where, along the way, you might catch sight of eagles in the trees out in the Lake. A new nest is located to your right at lake’s edge about two hundred yards after the turn.
After your visit to the Airpark, take time to drive through the Black Bottom Unit Refuge on the Choctaw–McCutcheon Road, a favorite Canada goose and Mallard resting area where there is another observation tower. You may see eagles anywhere along this road.
After your day in the wild, visit the restaurants along highway 22 for some of the finest “comfort” food to be found anywhere. They specialize in catfish, southern fried chicken, and country ham dinners served family style with all the traditional side items such as homemade onion rings, fries, cole slaw, and baked apples, just to name a few. Why not make it an overnight stay as the motels at Reelfoot offer extremely low rates. That way you can catch the gorgeous sunset over the Lake, late afternoon waterfowl flights, and arise the next morning to do it again!