Limited engagement to see the Sandhill Cranes - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Limited engagement to see the Sandhill Cranes

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It was a sell-out crowd Friday aboard the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer as nature lovers were hoping for front row seats to see the Sandhill Cranes. More than 60 people, young and old, had their cameras ready. The destination; the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, about 45 minutes north of Chattanooga.

Audrey Schmidt-Davis, only eight years old, and her family drove here from the Atlanta area. She says it was worth the trip.

"I think it was great!" she exclaims. "I saw maybe 100 or more Sandhill Cranes."

Just a fraction of the thousands that typically come here each winter, mainly from Wisconsin. They fly to other parts of the country, too, but have made a name for themselves here since the early 1990s.

Most of them don't go any further south.

"A lot of that is because of the habitat, the mud flats, the refuge area, the protected habitat," says John Dever, a naturalist at the aquarium.

He says the cranes aren't doing much more than taking a vacation.

"A lot of rest and relaxation," adds Dever. "Feeding. It's a great feeding habitat for them."

Loretta and J.P. Pawlus are like birds of a feather. They met each other through the Audubon Society years ago while living in Texas. Now they live near Knoxville. Since falling in love with each other they've fallen in love with the Sandhills of east Tennessee.

"I think it's amazing how they return to this same place each year," says Loretta. "That's fascinating, I think, to see that birds can do that, and fly all the way."

If you want to catch the sights and sounds of these beautiful birds before they head back north, get your ticket soon.

"Their numbers start to thin out substantially at the end of this month. They'll really thin out into February," says Dever.

For information about the boat tours and ticket availability, visit this link . For information on the Sandhill Crane Festival, visit here . For more details on the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge go to this site . The observation platform there is open year-round for free!

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