Last January (2017), Marcy and I enjoyed a day trip to the Hiwassee River Sandhill Crane Festival hosted in the little town of Birchfield, Tennessee. Along with Marcy and me, there were hundreds of other bird watchers queued up at the local high school to be ferried by school buses to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources viewing point. We found a certain camaraderie in cramming together on school bus seats with 50 or so other passengers, then bumping along curvy and narrow rural roads to our destination. The weather was unusually mild for January, and we were met by thousands of cranes engaged in all sorts of avian activities.

We got some decent shots last year,  but we didn’t know about an available boat tour offered by the Tennessee Aquarium until it was too late to get tickets.  We determined to not miss the boat for 2018, so to speak, so we checked ticket availability well in advance, but even so, most of the dates had already filled up!nMonday, the 15th was the MLK day holiday and we did manage to get tickets for that date.

The Sale Creek Marina launch point was nothing to write home about, but the 2 1/2 hour tour turned out to be a real treasure. In addition to a crew of three, we had two naturalists from the Tennessee Aquarium. I just don’t have enough adjectives to describe how good they are at what they do.

The temperatures were in the upper 20s at launch, and we were with the wind on the outbound part of the trip. Most of us went up top to the viewing deck and we were comfortable on the upstream part of the trip with our 5 layers of clothing. On the turn-around back downstream to the marina we were met with a brutal cold shock. This was a high-speed boat and the 15 mph breeze added to the misery.  I wondered aloud how much colder we could possibly get.
One of the naturalists standing nearby indicated that at 14 degrees, the trip two days earlier was unbelievably cold. Nevertheless, we did have a nice warm cabin and window seats to duck into when it got really bad.

I like to write these blog entries from the point of view that others may want to experience a similar trip. Alas, we were sad to learn that the aquarium has sold the River Gorge Explorer. – This would be the last day of excursions forever. (Unless they get a new boat someday.)

Enjoy the brief video and pictures below.

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I think my best shot of the day was this one of the intrepid photographer standing at her place on our boat.

Boat Captain Pete Hosemann

Naturalist John Dever

Layered clothing was the order of the day.

Birds were always just out of reach of my lens.

Marcy is serious about getting her bird pictures. The naturalists pointed out several species but the highlight was seeing maybe 10 bald eagles in addition to the hundreds of sandhill cranes.

With up to 7 foot wingspans, these white pelicans are among the largest North American birds!

Another shot of the white pelicans.

We have been trying to get a shot of a Kingfisher – they are hard to capture and the lens I was using really didn’t have a long enough reach. Getting a sharp photo of one of these pretty birds is something we hope for.

This is probably my best attempt. We still need a lot more sharpness – saving for a better lens!

We learn that V-formation flying provides a 10% energy saving. This could make the difference in success or failure in a cross-continent migration!

These bald cypress trees look dead, but they will “needle out” again in April.

We saw a lot of small flights like the ones above and below.

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  1. sgeoil

    February 10, 2018 at 9:28pm

    Some great pictures. It sounds like a wonderful excursion!

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