We were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains just a few weeks ago, so it’s shocking to see the devastation from the wildfires in places where we stood so recently. We had an increasing amount of smoke from the wildfires in the region as we explored the park, and even more so when we headed down to Chattanooga to visit boating friends for the Veteran’s Day weekend.The Tennessee River level was down quite a bit due to the long drought, and everywhere we looked was hazy with smoke. We came to see our friends as well as the mass of sandhill cranes arriving – some resting on their way farther south and some to spend the winter. So many sandhill cranes come to the Tennessee and Hiwassee River area that the state hosts a huge festival for them in January. We arrived just in time for the first mass of birds to arrive.We scouted a few places by car, but the best access to the birds was by boat – and our friends were generous enough to take us along for an overnight aboard so Carol and I could hunt for birds with our cameras.We anchored the big boat and headed out in the skiff, with Richard and Jim paddling us quietly close to the birds. Cranes were everywhere!! Overhead……in the marsh……pointing to the sky and calling……putting their “landing gear” down…
…and best of all – “dancing”!Wild turkeys appeared on the far shore, and a number of little killdeer were grazing and doing tail displays while the cranes surrounded us.Cruising farther up the Hiwassee we found flocks of coots and white pelicans, as well as more clusters of cranes.As the sun was setting we spotted a nice hawk or golden eagle flying by, roosting in a nearby tree.The haze from wildfire smoke made our throats a bit raw, and it made the sunset feel moody.We were so happy to see all those cranes – our timing was great since they were just beginning to arrive, and our friends report that there are many more in the area now. The birds mean a lot to us since we only get to see the sandhill cranes in southeast Alaska for a two-week period in the fall and spring as they migrate. We have so many tall mountains that the flocks fly very high, though we can hear their odd calls when they fly over.
For the people of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina – we just hope some steady rain will fall to quench the wildfires and help the region recover from the drought.
I have thoroughly enjoyed your pictures of the sandhill cranes! I absolutely love these birds and have so many memories of my young son and his grandfather hand feeding them at their home in Venice, Fl. I also know full well what you are saying about the smoke from the fires as we live in Greenville, SC and had several weeks of the smoke here in the upstate. We are so saddened by how much of the beautiful area and the people that live there were devastated by the fires and very thankful it has ended.
I have been following your blog in my research and dreaming of a Defever. We have enjoyed it very much!