By Jessica Mozo
After taking a bald eagle tour at Reelfoot Lake in February 1993, Nancy Moore realized a life-change was in order.
“I was in my 40s, and it seemed like all of a sudden my eyes opened, and I started seeing birds,” she recalls. “I fell in love with Reelfoot. It’s the most pristine area for birding in Tennessee, and it intrigued me.”
Two years later, Moore convinced her husband Tom to move to Tiptonville from their home in Lewisburg.
“My husband didn’t know what to think,” Moore says. “We came and spent a weekend here, and he looked around. Then he said, ‘If you really want to do this, I’ll support you.’ ”
The Moores partnered with another couple to purchase a 1930s lakefront building that was formerly a fishing clubhouse. Together they turned it into Blue Basin Cove Bed and Breakfast.
“It’s a neat old building that’s built on stilts, and there’s a glassed-in porch that’s the breakfast room,” Moore explains. “This isn’t a typical Victorian bed and breakfast. It’s more for the outdoor person.”
This place is for the birds
It’s certainly for the person who loves birds. Reelfoot Lake’s position along the Mississippi Flyway brings in birds of all kinds of feathers.
“I see birds that shouldn’t even be here,” Moore says. “And storms always bring in odd birds.”
Once she spotted a Eurasian wigeon, a duck with a dark reddish head that comes from Siberia and Iceland and is sporadically seen along North America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts. She says she commonly sees ospreys and Prothonotary warblers, which both nest in the area around the lake.
“Mississippi kites are fairly common here too, and they’re a neat bird,” Moore adds.
Her favorite of all the birds is the least bittern, a heron with a long neck and bill that’s often difficult to spot because of its camouflage color.
“They’re hard to find because they’re a really secretive bird,” she says.
Visitors flock to Reelfoot Lake in January and February to catch glimpses of bald eagles.
“We have 14 nesting pairs here all the time, and last winter we had approximately 125 eagles here,” Moore says. “They’re very easy to find – it’s amazing. The state even does bus tours.”
Bald eagle boat tours
Moore often takes her guests out on pontoon boat tours to get a closer look at the eagles and other birds.
“I recently took some photographers out who wanted to photograph an osprey nest,” she says. “I photograph birds too, and I take birding trips. Last year, I went to Maine, California, the Smokies, Hilton Head and Minnesota.”
Eventually she plans to decorate her five bed and breakfast units with her bird photography.
March through June is the busiest time of year at Blue Basin Cove. Fishermen are regular visitors in addition to bird-watchers, thanks to the abundance of crappie and blue gill Reelfoot Lake offers. The bed and breakfast even has its own bait shop and boat rentals.
“We get a lot of vacationers, photographers and even honeymooners,” Moore says. “One couple that likes to fish came all the way from England. After they went fishing, we had a fish fry for them that evening.”
Moore is now the sole proprietor of Blue Basin Cove – she bought out the couple they opened it with, and her husband died two years ago. She says these days her favorite thing about running the business is the location, of course, and cooking breakfast for the guests who gather around her table.
“It’s nothing fancy – just home-cookin’,” she says. “It’s not a Danish and coffee – it’s a full breakfast. I do bacon, eggs, toast, sausage gravy and biscuits, pancakes, French toast and omelets.”
In the winter, bald eagles are visible from the breakfast table, and hummingbirds swarm the deck in spring and summer.
“I love looking at that lake every morning when I wake up,” Moore says. “God created Reelfoot, and it’s marvelous. Sharing it with people is what makes life worthwhile.”
Interested in becoming a bird-watching hobbyist? Start with a pair of binoculars and a good field guide.
“That’s the beginning,” Moore says. “Then you just have to get out and bird.”
You can find resources about birding in Tennessee and meet others who share your interest through The Tennessee Ornithological Society, which has more than a dozen chapters across the state that hold regular meetings and field trips.
Start by documenting birds in your own back yard, writing down their physical attributes and the sounds they make. You may even want to sketch or photograph them. Documenting birds that nest near your home will give you good practice for future bird-watching trips.
Moore says the best places to bird are near water sources such as lakes and rivers.
“Radnor Lake in Nashville is great, and the Smoky Mountains are great,” she says. “Also Pickwick Dam, the Big Sandy area, Paris Landing and anywhere along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.”