Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 9

Creature
Feature
C The Amazing Crane Comeback
by Nancy Henderson
THE STUNNING RETURN OF THE SANDHILL CRANE TO EASTERN
TENNESSEE BEGAN IN THE 1990S AND HAS CONTINUED.
IN THE EARLY 1990S - a full century
after eastern sandhill cranes were all
but wiped out by over-hunting and
habitat loss - something miraculous
happened: The regal birds showed up
again, with many of them stopping at
Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood,
Tennessee, on their way to their wintering
grounds in Georgia and Florida.
"At that time we had about 1,000
birds," says Kirk Miles, Region 3 wildlife
manager at the Tennessee Wildlife
Resources Agency. "Then by 2000,
we had 10,000. And now we're looking
at 20,000."
The refuge has become a hot spot
for bird watchers who flock there for
the annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane
Festival, which celebrates its 24th
anniversary in 2015. At a prime viewing
area where the Hiwassee and
Tennessee rivers meet, throngs of the
long-necked birds rest and wade in
the shallow, marshy waters.
"It's a true wildlife spectacle," says
Miles, who coordinates the festival.
"All of those [20,000] birds are not
necessarily on the refuge at all times.
SANDHILL SIGHTINGS
Crane Festivals
January 17-18
Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival
Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood
Community Center
Birchwood, Tennessee.
931-484-9571; tn.gov
January 23-24 and 30-31
Nature Watch Weekend -
Sandhill Cranes
Barren River Lake State Resort Park
Lucas, Kentucky (well west of the
magazine's coverage area)
270-646-2151; parks.ky.gov.
Sandhill crane numbers in Tennessee's Hiwassee Refuge have reached 20,000.
They're actually spread up and down
the Tennessee River. But a whole lot of
them use the refuge."
The phenomenon actually happened
by accident. When wildlife
experts at the refuge started creating
a welcoming habitat for waterfowl
years ago, says Miles, "The cranes
found it, liked it and stayed there and
really outcompeted the ducks."
The refuge lies on the natural crane
flyway from the breeding grounds in
Wisconsin to their snowbird homes in
Florida. Optimal food sources, relatively
undisturbed stretches of riverbank,
and mild winters appealed to
the cranes, which began cutting their
migrations short and staying in
Birchwood the entire season to
recharge. (As many as 70,000 to
80,000 birds now travel through
Tennessee.) The population of cranes
that overwinter at Hiwassee Refuge
arrives around mid-November, peaks
in December, and remains until heading
north in February.
According to Miles, the festival is
the largest of its kind in the Southeast.
In addition to sandhill cranes, visitors
are apt to spot endangered whooping
cranes, bald and golden eagles, and
other native showstoppers during a
celebration that includes music, arts
and crafts, and other activities at the
Birchwood Community Center.
Of course, there are no guarantees
that guests will see thousands of
cranes that weekend. In one recent
year, torrential rains prompted the
cranes to spread out, diluting the
number that usually congregates at
the viewing area.
"Wildlife is so unpredictable,"
Miles says. "You might see a whole
bunch of cranes. You might see a few
cranes. It's variable."
Regardless, the sight of a sandhill
crane - standing four feet tall, with a
wingspan of more than six feet and a
bright red spot on its forehead; it's one
of the largest birds in the Blue Ridge -
is enough to inspire awe among
nature lovers. And, as Miles points
out, the refuge and viewing platforms
are open to the public all winter, not
just two days a year.
"A lot of people might find it just
as enjoyable to come on a weekday or
a weekend where there aren't as
many people and kind of have more
one-on-one time with the cranes," he
says. "Rather than being part of a big
festival, you can come and be a little
more private." 
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2015 | 9
http://www.tn.gov http://parks.ky.gov

Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Letters
From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Mill Creek Stories
Creature Feature
The Hike
Great Buys
Mountain Report
Country Roads
Creature Feature
Festivals & Events
The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Why We Travel: The Photoessay
The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
The Old Stone Chimney
Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Mountain Garden
Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 2
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Letters
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mill Creek Stories
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Hike
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Great Buys
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Report
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Country Roads
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 18
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Festivals & Events
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 22
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 24
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Why We Travel: The Photoessay
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 42
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 45
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 46
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 48
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 52
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 56
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 58
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Old Stone Chimney
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 62
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 63
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Garden
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/BRCSO21
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brcja21
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_11_12
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20170102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_201612
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20151112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20141112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20131112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20130910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20130708
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com