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Record Number of Sandhills at Hiwassee Refuge

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Wildlife Managers at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge have recorded a new high for midwinter population survey counts. Biologists estimate over 15,000 migrating sandhill cranes are using the Refuge and many are no longer flying south and are spending the winter in Tennessee. Also in the count, managers identified three whooping cranes during the survey.

“This is mostly due to milder winter weather over the past decade and hundreds of acres of corn we plant each year,’’ said Wally Akins, TWRA Refuge Manager. “The area offers the elusive birds a safe place to roost at night in and around the mud flats found on the Refuge and the historic Hiwassee Island.”

With the 15th Annual Cherokee Indian Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing Days set for February 3-4, 2007, visitors should not only enjoy large numbers of the large birds but may also see one of the most endangered cranes in the world, the whooping crane, at the event.

The whooping cranes have been identified as one bird from the 2001 Operation Migration ultralight plane led bird and two fall release birds let go with wild sandhill populations in Wisconsin. Birding enthusiasts and those who just enjoy watching wildlife have a chance to observe the cranes, golden and bald eagles, released in the area, and a wide variety of native wildlife found on this protected wildlife refuge.

OM’s Bill Lishman, former scout pilot, plans to share his experiences from teaching geese to follow ultralight planes more than a decade ago, to bring the first class of whooping cranes down the migration eastern flyway at the Birchwood School lecture series.

For more information about the TWRA’s Hiwassee Wildlife refuge this year’s event, go to tnwildlife.org or call Saundra Gilmore at 800-262-6704 from inside Tennessee or (931)-484-9571 from outside the state.
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