Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crane Magic--Three Crane Species at Hiwassee

Several months ago I added the Blogger sidebar widget "most popular posts" and set it to show most popular posts in the past thirty days.  From time to time, I check it to see what people are most interested in and which posts are taking the top four positions. I'm happy to report that presently CRANES are dominating that interest, hands down!
Sandhill Crane Displaying, watercolor by Vickie Henderson

The Asian Hooded Crane appeared at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and was first reported on Dec 13th; my post on this crane has been in the top position ever since it went up on the 14th.  What is more exciting are the updates provided by Charles Murray, a long-time resident of the Birchwood, TN, community, who visits the Hiwassee refuge frequently and reports activities via the TN-bird list serve.  Below is his report from today, December 26th:

"...assists from a coyote and a bald eagle stirred up the sandhill cranes this afternoon and brought the hooded crane into view at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.  It had not been seen earlier in the day.  A record number of visitors, at least 131, were present, and four more states were added--Illinois, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri.  Twenty-eight states have been noted to date.  Fourteen different states were represented today alone.  The total number of visitors since the hooded crane was first sighted at HWR on December 13 is now AT LEAST 779!  A juvenile whooping crane was still present, along with at least a few thousand sandhill cranes and at least two bald eagles.  Several large and small flocks of ducks flew over or were in the slough at HWR as well."
---Charles Murray, Birchwood, TN

An awesome tribute to cranes!
Sandhill Cranes Landing, watercolor by Vickie Henderson (one of my favorite postures as they float in to land)

The second most popular post, having been in that position for the past several months, is my Whooping Crane Family post entitled, Happy Reunion.  The post shows my observations of a whooping crane chick reuniting with its parents after an International Crane Foundation health check and actually shows the female parent feeding the chick while the chick swims.  I attribute this post's popularity to the fact that Operation Migration is still making it's way south with the ultralight migration Whooping Crane Class of 2011, having faced one of the most difficult fall migrations thus far with lengthy weather delays.  The crew is currently on holiday break and will resume the migration again in January.  The migration's current stop-over site is in Franklin County, Alabama.
Thousands of people follow the progress of this migration, among them many students studying migration in their science classes.  The adult whooping cranes in view at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge are largely present due to ultralight migration re-introduction efforts over the past ten years.  The juveniles present, and a few of the adults were re-introduced through the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's Direct Autumn Release Program.  This program allows captive-reared juvenile whooping cranes to find their southerly migration route by following other cranes on their first migration journey.
Third in popular ranking and appearing in just the past week, my post, Sandhill Crane Hunting in Tennessee? Multiple Factors Say NO", originally posted in November of 2010. This post expresses my opinion about the sandhill crane hunting proposal in Tennessee which was successfully defeated when our Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission voted in January of 2011 to defer the proposed hunting season for two more years allowing more time to study the issue.  But why has that post inched its way to the top three rankings now?  My question was answered when I realized the highly opposed and unpopular Kentucky Sandhill crane hunting season is currently underway.

The season opened on December 17th and will continue through January 15th or until the 400 bird quota limit is reached.  Many states are now holding sandhill crane festivals to celebrate the staging and wintering of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes and more people are becoming aware of Kentucky's hunting season.
Though Kentucky has succeeded in offering a sandhill crane hunting season, the price of that victory remains to be seen.  Loss of public good-will and eco-tourism dollars may be the costly consequences of ignoring public opinion and input.  And that input was received not only from Kentucky citizens, but citizens all over the country, particularly those in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway states and Canada.  We all share the same migrating population of eastern sandhill cranes.    

Below, in the links section, you will find two insightful newspaper articles recently published in Louisville, KY and Tampa Bay, FL.  One an opinion letter, the other an article about reactions to hunting sandhill cranes, they highlight events occurring in many states as communities and state parks capitalize on the wildlife viewing opportunity provided by staging sandhill cranes, offering not only a thrilling opportunity for family education and entertainment, but an opportunity to promote conservation while bringing millions of dollars into the state's economy.  (see article links below).
The Asian hooded crane at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge has given people all over the USA, and visitors from Russia and Equador, the rare opportunity to view three crane species in the wild in one place in North America, and this is possible because the refuge is a major staging area for migrating sandhill cranes and whooping cranes in the east.  In Tennessee we have been celebrating the recovery of the Eastern Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes and the return of the endangered Whooping crane for many years.

The 21st annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, a free event for the public, will be taking place January 14th and 15th, 2012 at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and Birchwood Tennessee.  If food remains prevalent for the cranes and the winter remains as moderate as we've had thus far, you can bet we will still have three exciting crane species present for visitors to enjoy and celebrate!
Hardshell Gourd Basket by Vickie Henderson, featuring sandhill cranes and one whooping crane.

Links and Resources:

Hiwassee's Hooded Crane on NPR with video
Nashville Tennessean article Dec 29th:  Rare Crane Draws Birders from 32 states.

Make your plans to attend the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival
Directions to Birchwood and the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge
Hooded Crane is Season's Gift by Marcia Davis
Times Free Press--Rare Hooded Crane Seen

Sandhill crane and Whooping crane gourd art baskets in my online shop

Top Crane Posts on this blog:
Hooded Crane at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in TN
Whooping Crane Family--Happy Reunion!
Sandhill Crane Hunting in Tennesseee?  Multiple Factors Say No!

Shooting Sandhill Cranes?  Not in our backyard!  Tampa Bay Times Dec 31st
Tampa Bay Times--Migratory Sandhill Cranes to be Hunted in Kentucky Dec 24th
Louisville Courier Journal--pg 2, Promote Eco-tourism

Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes
Petition site:  No Hunting for Sandhill Cranes in the East with more than 3060 signatures.
All my blog posts opposing the hunting of eastern sandhill cranes

Whooping Crane Reintroduction links:
Operation Migration's Ultralight-led whooping crane migration--In the Field
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership--Direct Autumn Release Program
International Crane Foundation
My Whooping Crane Family Series


  1. I have a question. Why would you want to shoot or hunt Sandhill Cranes? What is the purpose of this? Is it because they are wild birds and fly free? It is just because they are alive and someone thinks they should be shot? I cannot see the reasoning behind shooting this beautiful bird.



  3. Makes my heart just sing, absolutely just fills me with joy to view these images and watercolours Vickie!
    I had so hoped that we might make it down for the festival, but my cousin passed away unexpectedly and the auction of the old home place happens around the same time.
    The husby said we could only make one journey, and that shall be weather permitting.
    One day...one day~

  4. The artwork of the cranes is just beautiful!! Cranes have significance in Japanese culture.


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