23rd SANDHILL CRANE FESTIVAL
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be among organizations set to host the 2014 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival to be held on Jan. 18-19 at the Hiwassee Refuge and in the community of Birchwood. This will be the 23rd anniversary for the event which will run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.
The Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is a celebration of the thousands of sandhill cranes and numerous other waterfowl and shorebirds that migrate through or spend the winter on and around the Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood. It is also an opportunity to focus attention on the rich heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area at the near-by Cherokee Removal Memorial. The Memorial recently dedicated a new addition to the park with the placement of a memorial wall displaying the 1835 Cherokee Nation censes.
“If you enjoy National Geographic magazine’s photos and educational TV programs, then you can experience the wonder of Tennessee wildlife by watching not only thousands of sandhill cranes, but also see endangered whooping cranes, bald and golden eagles, and a variety of other native wildlife species at the Hiwassee Refuge,” said Dan Hicks Region III I&E Coordinator and festival committee chairman. “In addition to the wildlife viewing, there are also craft vendors, food, free shuttle buses, and activities for the entire family.”
“The Festival continues only with the support of conservation minded organizations. We thank Olin-Chlor Alkali Products for sponsoring the event along with this year’s partners, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Tennessee Ornithological Society, Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council (Birchwood Community Center), and Cherokee Removal Memorial,” Hicks added.
This year’s State Ornithologist, Scott Somershoe, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, will present an update on the status and research concerning Tennessee’s golden eagle population on Saturday; and, on Sunday, TWRA Region III Biodiversity Coordinator, Chris Simpson, will present a program on Bats in Tennessee (research update).
Beginning in the early 1990s, the recovering population of eastern sandhill cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Refuge on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. TWRA has been managing this refuge for over 60 years for waterfowl, and the cranes found a perfect combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. Now as many as 12,000 of these birds spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.
Along with the opportunity to view the birds during the festival, special programs will also be held each day at the Birchwood Community Center (formerly the Birchwood Elementary School).
The Birchwood Community Center will be a focal point during the festival. The center will host vendors, programs, food in the cafeteria and parking for shuttle transportation to the refuge. In addition, overflow parking will be available at Birchwood Baptist Church. Shuttle buses will run continuously from the school and church throughout the day to both the refuge and Cherokee Memorial. The refuge will only be accessible by shuttle bus with the exception of handicap parking and event workers’ permits.
The American Eagles Foundation, based in Pigeon Forge, will make its popular presentation featuring a raptors show that features birds of prey that have undergone rehabilitation, but cannot be released back to the wild.
Musical performances will include Nashville recording artist, Don King and Friends. Area traditional music authority, Tom Morgan, along with Lynne Haas and Ray Branham will perform traditional folk and bluegrass songs.
The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial will host Native American performances and demonstrations on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Hiwassee Refuge, located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers, comprises about 6,000 acres and offers the ideal habitat for migrating bird species. The Birchwood Community Center is located only three miles from the wildlife-viewing site at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on Highway 60 between Dayton and Cleveland. The Cherokee Removal Memorial is found just to the side of the refuge near the Tennessee River.
Blue Moon Cruises is offering a nature cruise on the Hiwassee River during the festival. For more information and to make reservations, call 1-888-993-2583.
A childrens arts and craft booth will be operating during the festival at the Birchwood Community Center. For more information, go to www.tncranefestival.org or www.tnwildlife.org , under “For Wildlife Watchers”.
Click Here for Directions to The Festival
Why do We Celebrate?
It is only since the 1990s that tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes have been migrating through and wintering in Tennessee, and no other wildlife gathering in the state compares to seeing thousands of these birds, with a magnificent 6-foot wingspan, cruising overhead! A few Whooping Cranes usually accompany the Sandhills and Bald Eagles are regularly seen from the gazebo at the Hiwassee Refuge.
A rare Asian Hooded Crane, normally seen only in Southeast Asia, China and Japan, apparently “took a wrong turn” and joined Sandhill Cranes wintering at the Hiwassee Refuge during the winter of 2011-2012, bird experts say, drawing over 2,000 curious birdwatchers from 42 states and 7 countries along with it. He’s not been seen this season but you never know what will fly in to Hiwassee.
Our objective is to share the spectacle of these majestic birds and provide a potentially life-changing wildlife experience for visitors. We also want to build awareness for the need to provide adequate habitat and management for the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that winter and migrate through Tennessee, as well as for the Endangered Whooping Cranes that regularly accompany them.
—Melinda Welton, Festival Co-chair, 2012 & 2013