Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis)
Have you heard a strange noise in the sky recently? In addition to the beautiful scenery, southeast Tennessee is blessed with an array of outdoor recreational opportunities. There are multiple large lakes with great fishing, bike trails and races, white-water rafting, hunting, hiking, rock climbing and much more. If you are an outdoor enthusiast (or even if you are not), particularly a ‘birder’, I hope you enjoy this post…..
Sometimes, when we least expect it, we receive inspiration from unexpected sources. This post is about one of those times, and Mother Nature was the source. While traveling down the Sequatchie Valley to Jasper Highlands recently I was presented with a ‘stop and take notice’ moment. The time was just after first light, on a seasonably cold winter morning. The first clue that something special was in the works was when I noticed four large birds gliding through the gray sky, angling toward a cornfield off to my left. I immediately pulled off the highway and grabbed my camera from the back seat. After quickly preparing the camera for long distance shots and lowering the window, I again focused on the cornfield in the dim light, hopeful that more of the birds had arrived or were already there. I was not disappointed. Hundreds of Sandhill Cranes were in the cornfield.
These magnificent birds stand 3’- 4’ tall and have a wingspan of 5’-7’. They are generally gray, with a red forehead and long pointed bill. The neck is extended when flying, with the long legs trailing behind…good identifying field marks. Sandhill Cranes migrate with the seasons and have several staging areas…particularly in Indiana, Tennessee and Texas. The one closest to us… the Hiwassee National Refuge on The Tennessee River…is a bit over an hour east of our location, just off Highway 60. Many times through the years I have heard their distinctive ‘chortle’ at night while walking or participating in outdoor activities…from high in the sky the sound comes floating down. They often fly in groups of 20-100, sometimes more, sometimes at elevations of 1,000’- 2,000’ or even higher. Another characteristic of these cranes is that a group will float in the air, seemingly aimlessly, in circles, over and over, before tracking in a particular direction. Why? Good question. Maybe they are receiving navigation signals? Just having fun? If you love nature, particularly the birds, I suggest you visit the Hiwassee National Refuge! Just take a good pair of binoculars, dress warmly, and enjoy the scene. There are observation decks with a great view of the cornfields and the water areas. The best months to see thousands of these birds at the Refuge are February and November.
Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think.
More soon on The Fence Post!
|Download a printer friendly version of this post|
(Alternatively you can right click on the link above and select “Save As” to download)