Rankin Wildlife Management Area
Rankin WMA, 1,255 acres, is composed of islands and floodplains that are submerged during the warm season impoundment of Douglas Reservoir. In late spring, summer, and early fall, the area consists of mudflats, open shallows, and both inundated and dry floodplain forest. The area is approximately 65% open, treeless floodplain; 25% black willow/buttonbush/cottonwoods; and 10% mid to late mixed floodplain forest. Virtually the entire area is under 1'-15' of water from mid-May through July. Maximum ground exposure lasts roughly from mid-October until late March. The amount and proportion of habitats vary with the reservoir level. Lake elevation ranges from about 995' to about 950'. Migratory shorebird habitat is most extensive from 988 to 978'; no mudflats are found above 992'.
This is the premier site in East Tennessee for warm season waterbirds. Common to abundant birds found at Rankin Bottoms during the late summer and early fall include:
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret (often 200 or more)
- Black-crowned Night-Heron
- Semipalmated Plovers
- Least, Semipalmated, Western, Pectoral, Spotted, Solitary, and Stilt Sandpipers
- Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs
- Short-billed Dowitcher
- and several species of swallows.
Regularly occurring but less numerous species include:
- Snowy Egret
- Little Blue Heron
- White Ibis
- Peregrine Falcon
- Black-bellied Plover
- Ruddy Turnstone
- American Avocet
- Willet, Spotted, Solitary, Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers
- and Caspian Tern.
Rarer species seen include:
- American White Pelican
- Reddish Egret
- Wood Stork
- Glossy Ibis
- Piping Plover
- Black-necked Stilt
- Marbled Godwit
- and Ruff.
The majority of Tennessee's ducks and geese have been found here in winter, along with Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swan, and a variety of sparrows. Gulls and terns can be also numerous on upper Douglas Lake.. In all, there have been a total of 89 waterbird species documented. Rankin Bottoms holds and attracts full complements of species dependent on mudflats and forested wetlands. There are at least 3 active Osprey nests within the wildlife management area and several additional ones nearby. Bald Eagles appear regularly, as many as 3 in one day.
Other breeding species include:
- Prothonotary Warbler (20 nesting territories 2004, 40 nesting territories 2005)
- Willow Flycatcher
- Yellow-throated Vireo
- Warbling Vireo (uncommon in East Tennessee)
- Orchard Oriole
- Baltimore Oriole
- 4 species of woodpeckers (including Red-headed)
- and Eastern Kingbird.
Best Months and Seasons for Viewing
Late spring, summer, and early fall.
Best Time for Viewing
Shortly after reservoir level has dropped.
How to Get There
From the west on I-40, take I-81 north at the I-40/I-81 junction. Exit I-81 at Exit 4 and head east on TN 341. This exit is 4 miles north of the intersection of I-40 and I-81, about 35 miles east of Knoxville. After following TN 341 for 3.6 miles, turn south (right) onto US 25E. Turn east (left) in 4.5 miles onto Rankin Hill Road. This intersection is after you cross the US 25E bridge over Dutch Bottoms; see below for instructions on birding this area. After 3.8 miles, you will reach the intersection of Rankin Hill Road and Hill Road (coordinates 36.05303 N, -83.21597 W). Turn left to enter the main Rankin Bottoms area or right to approach Rankin Bridge. Alternatively, to avoid the narrow and curvey Rankin Hill Road, continue on US 25E for 5.3 miles, turn left onto Industrial Road, and follow the directions in the next paragraph.
An alternate route to Rankin Bottoms is through Newport. Take I-40 Exit 432B - US 25E/70 towards Newport. After 2.6 miles, turn left (north) at a stoplight onto US 25E-N. After 0.8 miles, turn right (east) onto Industrial Road. Drive 5.4 miles to the intersection with Rankin Hill Road. Rankin Bridge (see below) is immediately to your right, and the intersection of Rankin Hill Road and Hill Road is about 0.3 miles to your left.
If approaching from the northeast on I-81, take Exit 8 and head south on US 25E for 6.5 miles to the bridge over Dutch Bottoms. Then follow the directions in the first paragraph of this section.
BOAT LAUNCH LOCATIONS: TWRA boat ramps are located at Rankin Bridge (off of Industrial Rd.), Leadvale (on Leadvale Rd, east of 25E, 2.4 miles north of Walters Bridge), and at Walters Bridge. See TWRA Boat Ramp access link below.