Located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers, Hiwassee Refuge provides spectacular winter birding. Since the 1990s, Sandhill Cranes have been wintering here by the thousands, which is certainly a testament to the incredible comeback this species has made since nearly being wiped out in the 1800s due to habitat loss and overhunting. Almost every individual of the eastern Sandhill Crane population either winters in the refuge or passes through during migration, and from November through February these cranes can be seen in dazzling numbers.
Our weekend Venture will focus on this majestic species, but there should be plenty else to look for. Every winter, small numbers of the critically-endangered Whooping Cranes are found amongst the Sandhills, and we should see an abundance of overwintering waterfowl as well. Bald Eagles winter here in good numbers, and we should be able to watch them hunt from the observation platform at the refuge. We will also be checking a few notable birding spots in the Chattanooga area, such as Brainerd Levee, where we should find an excellent variety of sparrows as well as good numbers of Wilson’s Snipe. After lunch one afternoon, we’ll even enjoy a visit to the fantastic Tennessee Aquarium for something different and to get a break from the cold and potentially windy conditions.
What Birds can we Hope to See?
Sandhill and possibly Whooping Cranes, Gadwall, Redhead, Canvasback, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Hooded Merganser and other waterfowl, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Belted Kingfisher, Red-winged Blackbird, Fox, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, and a whole lot more.