Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hiwassee WMA, Meigs County, Tennessee 2016

This time of year sandhill crane congregate at the Hiwassee Wildlife Management Area in a corner of Meigs County, Tennessee, north of Chattanooga. This congregation is so significant that the local folks have organized a festival around it. At festival time you won’t find a place to park at the viewing area. We drove down during the week just to avoid the crowds and to pick a good day to be on the road.

We counted roughly 900 crane in the observable area in front of the viewing stand. Other estimates are ten times this. The country side is of course slightly hilly and along the lake there are inlets and creeks and byways that hide more than you can possibly view.

Chickamauga Lake, is formed from the Tennessee River at Chattanooga and intersects the Hiwassee/ Ocoee Rivers at this particular wildlife management area. Fortunately several points of land and river basins offer some kind of protection which also I suspect means good fishing and good hunting. This is small-farm land with nice roads and a few miles between places.

Only recently did TWRA open up a very limited lottery based system to hunt sandhill crane. There had been plenty of outcry against this last year but it looks like the resistance has died down. TWRA is to be commended for setting aside the money to provide this sanctuary. The property requires farming and harvesting to make it attractive to the crane. And to the birdwatchers! The viewing site is a platform with limited parking and no facilities. You get a good view but it helps to remember that over yonder hill rise or inlet could be another one-hundred crane.

I am among the lucky just to spot a sandhill crane. To see so many in one spot is even more lucky. It is worth the drive from Johnson City to Cleveland and back in one day.

To top it all off, we sighted a dozen white pelican. This is a western bird which we have also seen in  coastal South Carolina in August but it has been a while for sure since one showed up in upper East Tennessee. That was the more surprising find. Add in a bald eagle, things started to improve. Bonuses: cormorant, great blue heron, ring-necked duck.

Also, it is worth your time to stop for moment and visit the Trail of Tears Memorial, just down the road a mile from the viewing site. Meigs County is to be commended for keeping this memorial open to tourists interested in one of the more monumental and tragic events in American history. Up the Tennessee State Route 60 in Dayton is another monument to American history, the Rhea County Court House, home of the famous Scopes Trial of 1925. Down the interstate in Chattanooga are the Tennessee Aquarium, the Hunter Art Museum, and the world famous Tow-Truck Museum!

My thanks to Roy Knispel for going along and taking pictures. The crane viewing at Hiwassee is a rare event and I'm always glad to have gone.

You get off I-75 at Cleveland and there are plenty of places for fuel and food. The square made up of the lake, I-75, and Chattanooga have plenty of places to explore and other members of the club have found some good spots for birding.


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