Jan 12 2007
10:18 am

The Sandhill Cranes are arriving at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge (map in PDF format) on their way to Florida from their summer breeding grounds in Wisconsin and points further north in Canada. We ditched work Wednesday afternoon and went down to see them.

TWRA will host the 15th Annual Cherokee Indian Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing Days at the Hiwassee Refuge on Feb. 3 and 4, 2007. Bill Lishman of Operation Migration will be the keynote speaker.

You can go any time between now and then (we had the refuge viewing platform to ourselves on Wednesday afternoon) and see plenty of cranes. There will likely be more cranes and they will be closer to the viewing area during the festival when they cut the corn fields to draw them in. For best viewing from the platform, take a good pair of binoculars (and a long telephoto lens if you want pictures).

You may also be able to get a closer look along Blythe Ferry Road. We happened along a large gathering in a cut corn field and were able to get a close-up view.

We didn't see any Whooping Cranes, but there are reports that three have been spotted among the Sandhills.

Directions: I-75 South to Exit 27, right/West on Sgt. Paul Huff Memorial Highway to Highway 60, right/North on Highway 60 to Highway 58, right/North on Highway 58 to Blythe Ferry Rd., left/West on Blythe Ferry Rd. to Priddy Rd., right/North on Priddy Rd. to the viewing area. The route is well marked with signs along the way. (If you're coming from the South, take exit 25 and go North on Highway 58.)

Photos after the jump...

View from the Hiwassee Refuge viewing area

Corn fields in the background

In a corn field along Blythe Ferry Rd.


Landing in the corn field


Extra: A terrible photo, but it gives you an idea of how many cranes stop by Hiwassee on the way to Florida. This was taken from a platform overlooking the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers at the new Cherokee Removal Memorial Park.

mpower1952's picture

Great pictures

How long do they stay in the area? I have relatives coming in in late February. Will they be gone by then?

Be a blessing to someone today.

WhitesCreek's picture

Boss, I think the vast

Boss, I think the vast majority of these birds stay right there until time to go back north. TWRA has planted so much corn for them that they can hang out unless the weather gets really cold, which it doesn't do anymore.

They start breaking out and heading back in late Feb, early March. I love to hear them fly over the house, trumpeting as they leave us. I'm not sure what triggers their migration but some years they seem to fly at night.

Go see them if you get the chance. Be alert to the countryside for close encounters. They don't have any idea where the survey lines are for the refuge and wander all over the place. They have learned that cattle feed is mostly corn and will often be seen dining with the beefs right along the side of the road.


R. Neal's picture

Boss, I think the vast

Boss, I think the vast majority of these birds stay right there until time to go back north. TWRA has planted so much corn for them that they can hang out unless the weather gets really cold, which it doesn't do anymore.

Interesting. Did not know that.

Maybe that explains why some old lady slowed down while we were taking photos by the side of the road and started blowing her horn. She kept blowing it all the way down the road like she was trying to scare them off. Maybe they're considered a nuisance over there now? (Or maybe invading city folk are the nuisance?)

Les Jones's picture

That fourth photo from the

That fourth photo from the top is magnificent.

JaHu's picture

I agree with Les

That fourth photo from the top is magnificent.

I agree with Les, Randy. That is one nice photo! The way you captured the sun's shadows, on it's wings during flight looks awesome. Wish I was capable of taking such nice shots!

Hasn't it been a while since you've posted your Friday's bird blogging? Glad to see that you are continuing to do so.

Adrift in the Sea of Humility

WhitesCreek's picture

11 am Saturday, Feb 13, 2007

I guess the climate is getting to the Sandhills. A six bird vee just flew over the house headed up the gorge. They circled several times until they climbed up to the top of the ridge and headed north.

No big groupings yet but I'll bet they start fairly soon.

I love their sounds. It's like a cross between a trumpet and a purr.

Andy Axel's picture

Nice. I believe that I've


I believe that I've read that occasionally whoopers will join in on the sandhill flocks.

So it merits a sharp eye for those.


Dirty mouth language -- it's the new black.

jmcnair's picture


Thanks for the suggestion. Took wife and m-in-l for a road trip today, not really knowing what to expect. There were lots of birds: we saw several groups of 4-12 along 58 and B's Ferry along the way, but at the viewing site there were easily 1000 visible at the water and in the field behind us.

Ornithologist from UTC was there and said there were about 2000 currently in the area wintering over but they were hoping for a lot more after the cold weather moves through. Last winter they had some 16,000.

There were also two whooping cranes wandering along the shoreline but larger than the sandhills and very white, thus easy to spot. They're cutting corn from the north end down toward the viewing area in order to have spectacular viewing for the viewing days.

Something flushed a couple hundred while we stood there and that was impressive!


WhitesCreek's picture

Dang! you got to see the

Dang! you got to see the Whoopers...lucky you. I'm jealous.


R. Neal's picture

Glad you mad the trip, JM.

Glad you mad the trip, JM. Lucky there was a UTC Ornithologist there, and even luckier to see a Whooping Crane.

I'm jealous, too. I'll have to go back through my photos and see if I maybe got one by accident...

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