One of the things that really excited me about coming to Dayton, Tennessee on this trip was the chance to go to the Hiawassee Refuge.
I knew in reality that I needed to come to Dayton during this Christmas break if I was going to be able to visit at all. When school starts back, I have Augusta Tech classes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and homeschool co-op responsibilities on Tuesday and Friday. Augusta to Dayton is about a five hour trip, so the drive is a little long for a weekend. When Linda told me about the cranes over the phone last week, I knew we needed to travel NOW.
This area is one of the two main resting places for Sand Hill Cranes as they migrate south and then again north. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has put great effort into giving the cranes a good reason to stop here. There are acres and acres of corn planted all around the Hiawassee River at the refuge. Through the course of any migrating season, up to fifty-thousand cranes will pass through this area.
We drove over on New Year’s Day in the late afternoon. I was amazed at the number of birds we saw, but Dave and Linda said that the number was much smaller than just a week ago.
The Sand Hill Crane is one of the most populous of the fifteen species of cranes. But, the Whooping Crane is very endangered. In 1941, there were only sixteen left. It was expected that they would become extinct. By 2004, there were almost five hundred Whooping Cranes. They are the tallest of all birds in North America. Knowing all of this made our sighting of a Whooping Crane all the more exciting. As we stood and looked at the thousands of Sand Hills at Hiawasse, we saw a bright, white spot against the dark wintry landscape. Though he was far away, we were able to see him clearly with binoculars. And there was another birder there on the landing that had a camera with a telescope lens. It was easy to see the crane on his lcd screen.
The refuge does a great job of protecting the birds from human distraction. There is a nice landing at the top of an incline that allows for great viewing of the birds, but there is also a great distance between the birds and the landing. If I was disappointed in our visit, it was only in the fact that I had forgotten to bring my own 35mm camera from home. Though, I don’t have a lense strong enough to have brought those cranes right up into a full frame it still, would have been nice to have some better photos of the birds.
While the temps were low and the breeze brisk, we enjoyed our visit. I think I need to start a life list for Joy for bird watching. It will be nice to know that she can say that she’s seen both Sand Hill and Whooping Cranes.