CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – With their five-foot wingspan, brilliant red crowns and sheer numbers, the winter migration of Sandhill Cranes to southern roosts is a wondrous sight to behold.
But for birding enthusiasts, the arrival of these majestic waterfowl to the Tennessee Valley at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is as much an aural spectacle as a visual one.
Passengers aboard the River Gorge Explorer get a one-of-a-kind perspective of these magnificent birds during special Sandhill Crane Cruise eco-tours. These 2-to 2 1/2 -hour trips, which include a circumnavigation of Hiwassee Island, offer passengers spectacular views of the cranes and other birds that find refuge there, from spike-crested Kingfishers and enormous White Pelicans to rafts of ducks and Bald and Golden Eagles.
This year’s Sandhill Crane Cruises depart from Sale Creek Marina (3900 Lee Pike, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.) at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Dec. 29-31; Jan. 5-7; and Jan. 12-15.
This year’s Sandhill Crane cruises mark the last chance for guests to board the River Gorge Explorer. The vessel will end operations after a nine-year run with the last cruise on Jan. 15.
The cruises coincide with the annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, which will take place Jan. 13-14 at the refuge and nearby Birchwood Community Center in Birchwood, Tennessee.
The festival, which is hosted by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, features live music, food and animal demonstrations. But the real appeal to the 2,000 to 3,000 guests is the wildlife spectacle, which is in full view from the covered sanctuary of the refuge’s observation platform.
Cruise registration is $35 for Aquarium members and $45 for non-members. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
For registration and more information, visit www.tnaqua.org/sandhill-crane-cruises.
Photo credit: Betsy Bowden
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