To take advantage of one of the area's most striking natural displays — the gathering of 15,000 to 20,000 sandhill cranes at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge during the birds' annual migration south — Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center is organizing a trip to the refuge Saturday, Jan. 20.
The deadline for nonmembers to purchase tickets is Wednesday, Jan. 17.
This is Reflection Riding's first time doing an event involving the sandhill crane migration, said President Mark McKnight.
He has attended the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival at the Hiwassee, and said the festival often gets a lot of coverage — after the fact. McKnight said he has often heard people say they wish there were more tours offering opportunities to see the birds during the month they spend in the area.
The Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer offers tours from the local area, but those have often sold out in the past, McKnight said, and late last year the aquarium announced that the boat will be sold after this year's crane tours, so they won't be available next year.
The nature center's tour falls after the festival, which this year is set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 13 and 14, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at Birchwood Community Center.
"It's a really awesome sight to see that many birds of that size in one place," McKnight said of the gathered cranes, which average around 4 feet tall. "It's crazy to see if you haven't before. It's a bucket list kind of experience in Chattanooga."
Reflection Riding's tour will meet at the arboretum Jan. 20 at noon. Guests will hear a short talk about the birds from Dr. David Aborn, ornithologist and associate professor of biology, geology and environmental science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Attendees will also have the opportunity to view the two sandhill cranes in the nature center's wildlife exhibit at close range before taking the hour-long bus ride to the Hiwassee to view thousands of the birds in the wild.
Participants will spend a couple of hours viewing the cranes, and members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society will be on-hand with spotting scopes to allow people to get a closer look, said McKnight. The group will then head back to Reflection Riding, arriving around 5:30 p.m.
The cost of the tour is $80, or $60 for members of Reflection Riding or the Tennessee Aquarium.
Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center is at 400 Garden Road and can be reached at 821-1160. To buy tickets, visit tinyurl.com/SandhillReflection.