11,000 Sandhill Cranes

We’ve had some wind, so the weather has been cool, but mostly beautiful. We had about 40° on the porch this morning. Everyone is talking about the early spring, and a lot of the talk has been about worries that everything is going to bloom and then we’ll have a late freeze as we did a few years ago. I’m told that the people at Mercier’s Orchard are very concerned, as it definitely made a problem for them last time around. All I can say is that it is nice while it lasts. Yesterday evening was one of those gorgeous nights, with the tree frogs singing, a beautiful sunset, and the full moon shining like a searchlight through the trees.

See the column below for news on the Fire & Ice Festival, and some of the activities around Valentine’s Day.

The whooping cranes have been in the news, as a few usually visit the Hiwassee Refuge in December on their way south. This year, they were actually upstaged by an Asian hooded crane, which has never been seen in the U.S. before. Its appearance drew birders from all over the country, bringing some 2,000 visitors to the refuge in December. There is some speculation that the bird got mixed into a population that breeds in Siberia and migrates to Alaska, and then followed other birds to Nebraska, but no one really knows how it got to Dayton – or Birchwood – Tennessee. And just a few days ago, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced that seven juvenile whooping cranes were transported to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, where they will be mixed with other migrating cranes. They estimate that they have about 11,000 sandhill cranes in residence at Wheeler along with seven whooping cranes, but don’t mention the Asian hooded crane. In an interesting twist, the juveniles were supposed to follow ultralights further south, but refused to do so, perhaps because of delays in obtaining FAA flight approval or because of the warm, early spring. The eastern population is now estimated at 104 birds.

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