The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge – Hot Spot for Wildlife Viewing

“Hiwassee is the best place  in Eastern North America to see cranes”.  This was recently proclaimed by Melinda Welton, Co-Chair of the Crane Festival, which is scheduled for January 14 – 15, 2012 at Birchwood, TN.   Hiwassee is located NE of Chattanooga, between Dayton and Cleveland, TN.   When we include in the mix:  Bald Eagles, sometimes Golden Eagles, waterfowl, and other wildlife, Hiwassee is really a hot spot for wildlife viewing!  Bald Eagles are rated the most popular of all “watchable wildlife” in the U.S.

A Hooded Crane, found mainly in China, showed up at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on December 14, 2011, As of this writing of December 20, it had been seen daily.  This is only about the 3rd or 4th time for the Hooded Crane to be seen in the wild in North America.  It is with about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes, which spend the winter months there.  Three or four of the Endangered Whooping Cranes are also regularly seen there. There are only about 440 Whooping Cranes living in the wild, including approximately115 in the Eastern Migratory Flyway —  where it was reintroduced only 10 years ago.

The origin of the Hooded Crane is a mystery.  It could have crossed the Bering Sea from Siberia into Alaska, where it could have joined the annual southward migration of Sandhill Cranes.  Or it could be a yet unreported escapee from captivity.  It could remain at Hiwassee for a few weeks, or it could migrate further south, before returning north with the other cranes in the late winter.

Up to 12 Bald Eagles were recently reported on the refuge   One pair of adult Bald
Eagles can be observed in a  tree, with apparent nest,  over 1/4 mile from the primary viewing gazebo.  These two eagles can be seen with binoculars, and better still, with a spotting scope.

On December 18, 2011,  203 people from 8 states and Ecuador were at Hiwassee’s two wildlife viewing gazebos to view this intriguing mixture of birds.

Members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) often are available to share spotting scopes, especially during the Crane Festival of January 14-15.   The free Festival activities will be held at the Birchwood Elementary School, the Hiwassee Refuge, and at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park.

Activities at Birchwwood School include:   speakers, films, and children’s activities centered on the cranes and eagles,  Tennessee’s other wildlife, and the rich Native American history of the area.  Morning programs at the school on January 14 will focus on the cranes.  Afternoon programs on the 14th will include:   “Bald Eagle Recovery in Tennessee”, an entertaining portrayal of John J. Audubon,  and a live bird of prey show by the American Eagle Foundation.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)  and Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) are the primary sponsors of this annual event.  TWRA manages the Hiwassee Refuge.





About Bob Hatcher

Primary Blog Contributor, American Eagle Foundation
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