Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival returns to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Birchwood

Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival returns to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Birchwood

January 9th, 2014 by Jim Tanner in Sports - Outdoors

Jake Brown, 8, looks at a group of sandhill cranes through a high-powered telescope.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Thousands of sandhill cranes take flight from a cornfield near Graysville, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Less than three weeks after the first Tennessee hunting season for sandhill cranes ended, the 23rd Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival will celebrate the big water birds as usual at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and nearby Birchwood Community Center.

Activities for the Jan. 18-19 event also will be held at the Cherokee Removal Memorial adjacent to the refuge located where the Hiwassee River enters the Tennessee, just off Highway 60.

"If you enjoy National Geographic magazine's photos and educational TV programs, then you can experience the wonder of Tennessee wildife 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," festival committee chairman Dan Hicks said in a posting on the festival's website.

"In addition to the wildlife viewing, there are also craft vendors, food, free shuttle buses and activities for the entire family."

Hicks is the Region III information and education coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which oversaw sandhill hunting for the first time in the Nov. 28-Jan. 1 late waterfowl season for 2013. About 10 percent of the maximum 1,200 sandhills were harvested after 400 three-permit packets were drawn at the Birchwood center (formerly Birchwood School) on Oct. 12.

The hunt area was confined to southeastern Tennessee south of Interstate 40 and east of state highway 56, but all wildlife refuges were off limits. The 6,000 Hiwassee refuge has become the main winter home for the sandhill cranes, and they will be out in force as usual for the festival.

The viewing schedule is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Doors will open for breakfast at the Birchwood center at 7, and shuttle buses to the refuge and the Cherokee Memorial will begin at 8 each day. Lunch will be available at the center from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m on both Saturday and Sunday, and educational programs, entertainment and children's activities will be held throughout both days in the former school.

Don King, Tom Morgan, Lynn Haas and "friends" will provide the music, and the American Eagle Foundation will put on a live raptor show each day at 2. That has become a festival staple.

State ornithologist Scott Somershoe of the TWRA will give an update on the state's golden eagle population at 1 p.m. Saturday, and TWRA biodiversity coordinator Chris Simpson will talk about the latest research on bats in Tennessee at that time Sunday. Also, Blue Moon Cruises (1-888-993-2583) is offering a nature trip on the Hiwassee River.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com