Where have I been? In all the years we’ve lived here I haven’t noticed the migrating birds. I mean, I’ve seen some birds flying around from time to time but never realized we live right across the Tennessee River from the 6000 acre Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge which hosts thousands of migrating birds from November thru February each year. (Local farmers grow crops to feed them!)
We’re talking about Sandhill Cranes, Whooping Cranes, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Heron, Bonaparte and Ringbilled Seagulls, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Canadian Geese, Swans, etc. If 5000 ducks, geese and swans aren’t enough to catch one’s attention, you might think 10 to 14 thousand Sandhill Cranes would be.
The Sandhill Cranes are large grey birds with red foreheads and white cheeks. They stand around 4 feet in height and watching them walk around is an interesting sight– if you’re paying attention. I did casually think, “Where are these birds coming from?” But I never checked into it.
For some reason this year was different. Maybe it’s because the window view from my desk includes Hiwassee Island Wildlife Refuge and it was rather impossible to ignore the thousands of birds in my line of sight. And also, because the birds made such a delightful racket as groups of them flew past the house on their way out of town for the last several mornings. (Not everyone found the noise delightful.)
My daughter, Ishah, and I drove down to the old Blythe Ferry river crossing last Sunday and saw a large number of birds along the river but I still didn’t think much about it. A friend, Dennis Pickard, mentioned they were migrating and I noted the information but still wasn’t too curious. I mean, birds migrate. Then Ishah and I drove to the water’s edge in the lower subdivision here and saw photographers with huge, expensive cameras taking pictures of the congregating cranes and I realized this must be an important event to somebody. And finally, my daughter, Judi, mentioned people travel here from distant places, such as Alaska, to photograph this event. So I decided I should pay more attention.
So, yesterday, when I heard the racket again, I decided to watch them. The Sandhill Cranes were indeed leaving in groups of about 25 each. I started counting as group after group took flight– sometimes 6 or 8 groups were airborne together. I estimated about 40 groups left out while I was watching. They came straight up from the river and flew past the end of our house. How cool is that?
Not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy such a bountiful glimpse of God’s providence on their doorstep. I’m thankful and plan to pay more attention now that I know Dayton is known for more than the Scopes Trial, strawberries and meth. We are a major migratory rest area for the Sandhill Cranes flying south from Canada, near Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, in the Fall and going back home to Canada in the Spring. What a blessing.