Hiwassee Island Eco-Cruise
Hiwassee Island, located in the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers, is the premium wintering observation site in the southeast for the magnificent Sandhill Crane. In North America the Sandhill Crane is second in height only to the Whooping Crane. The Sandhill Cranes are stately in appearance and gracefully beautiful in flight.
The refuge is a magnificent place to view the migrating Sandhill Cranes. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency plants fields of corn, millet, buckwheat and winter wheat inside the refuge which draws more than 12,000 cranes from November to February.
For the past few years the refuge has gotten much attention from wildlife enthusiasts when two whooping cranes decided they like it here and left their group and stayed. How funny to spot two tall towering whooping cranes amongst the sea of Sandhill cranes! The Whooping Crane population has been steadily declining and is one of the most endangered cranes in the world. A non-profit organization called Operation Migration helps to train young cranes to learn their way to their winter destinations by leading the flock with ultralight aircraft. Operation Migration has been key in the effort to restoring the migrating population of Whooping Cranes in the Eastern United States and Canada. Hopefully our two loners will return with their Sandhill family for the 3rd year!
The Blue Moon Nature Cruise is an exceptional way to view not only the cranes but also 90-100 other species of migrating birds. The refuge also boasts at least one pair of nesting bald eagles. For 3 years, our staff has been lucky enough to see this pair raise three fledglings. The nest is so large ( more than 5 feet across) and so close to the river that many times we see the parent birds sitting on the edge of the nest- you can see them with the bare eye but a glimpse through the binoculars is truly amazing.
The refuge is a great place for any outdoor enthusiast, not just for birders. This area of southeast Tennessee is a great location to spot deer, beaver, river otters, groundhogs and even the elusive bear.
For more information on visiting the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, click here.