Thousands of sandhill cranes — and hundreds of bird nerds craning their necks for a good view — are flocking to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Birchwood to observe the cranes' migration through Tennessee.
To celebrate this wonder of nature, the 29th Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18-19, at the Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood Community Center, 5623 Highway 60, sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The festival not only focuses on the thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate through or spend the winter on and around the refuge, it also serves as an opportunity to focus attention on the wildlife heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area.
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 the refuge for more than 60 years, which provides sandhill cranes a combination of feeding and shallow-water roosting habitat. Thousands of birds now spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.
A free bus shuttle service will be available from Birchwood Community Center to the Hiwassee Refuge and Cherokee Removal Memorial Park each day beginning at 8 a.m. No public parking is available at the refuge. The last shuttle will leave the refuge at 4 p.m. each day.
Vendors will be in Birchwood Community Center beginning at 8 a.m. Additionally, breakfast will be sold at the community center beginning at 7 a.m. both days. Lunch will also be available and the cafeteria will be open, operated by the Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council.
* An official welcome and live music will start programs each day at 11 a.m. TWRA Multimedia Division Chief Don King, also a Nashville recording artist, and the group Second Nature will perform, as will songwriter Tanner Hillis on Saturday. The Mount LeConte Jug Band will perform Sunday at 11 a.m. followed by Don King.
* Music and special programs will be ongoing each day along with children's craft activities.
* The International Crane Foundation and its whooping crane mascot, Hope, will join TWRA at this year's festival. Children can visit with Hope at 10 a.m. each day.
* The American Eagle Foundation will present its popular live raptor show at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
* Mary Feely, biology and ecology teacher at Chattanooga State Community College, will present a program at 1 p.m. Saturday on changes in avian diversity and potential invasive seed-dispersal.
* The Cherokee Removal Memorial will feature American Indian folklore specialists presenting performances, artifacts and objects used in everyday life by American Indian inhabitants in the Hiwassee River area.
* Birding experts will provide visitors with information and viewing scopes.
For more information: 931-484-9571.