The Hooded Crane in Hiwassee NWR

The sky was still completely dark.  It was 6:50 AM and we were standing in the Philips 66 parking lot at the intersection of 58 and 60 in Cleveland, TN.  Bland Liz, Doug Koch and me. We were waiting for Tommie.  She was driving a lime green Prius so I figured we couldn’t miss her.  Tommie Rogers had kindly volunteered to lead us to the Hiwassee NWR observation deck in the dark.  As we opened the doors the calls of hundreds of Sandhill Cranes greeted us.  This is one of the true “Calls of the Wild”.  Put it in the same league as Wolf, Loon and Grizzly Bear.  There were several hundred Sandhills right in front of us at the bottom of the hill.  More began to fly in to the area in front of us, usually alone or in groups of two or three.  Birders began to shuffle in as well.  Lamarr Eddings, one of my blog readers had come to meet us.  Daniel Jacobson showed up as well. He’s number two on the Tennessee life state list, but WAY BEHIND number one.  Better pick it up a notch Dan!  By 8:15 AM it was a beautiful clear sunny winter morning.  Al of a sudden Tommie literally grabbed me and dragged me over to her telescope “Look in the scope!  Look in the scope!”.  I took one look and there it was.

Hooded Crane With Wings Out (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

A stunningly handsome crane indeed. And it was right in front of us!!  I yelled to Liz and Doug, “She’s got it! She’s got the Hooded Crane”. A whole lot of shaking and hugging ensued.  By 9:00 AM we were back in the car and heading east towards Cape Hatteras, 700 miles away.

Tommie Rogers and JWV Celebrating

"Bland" Liz Southworth, Doug Koch and JWV Celebrating

So I’m now at 742 species. Of course the Hooded Crane will need to be accepted by one of the state committees before the ABA Checklist Committee will accept it.  Until its been accepted or rejected I’ll keep it on my list as a provisional bird.   Of course I think that it’s a wild bird but I clearly have a stake in this decision.

Derb Carter has made a compelling case for the providence of the crane on Surfbirds. Here is the link:

What I will comment on is that recently I heard a disbeliever stating that it’ hard to explain how our Hooded Crane covered the distance between the Siberian breeding Sandhill Cranes and those Sandhill Cranes that winter in Hiwassee? Please let me present a logical explanation to that question.  We know that each fall Siberian breeding Sandhill Cranes pass through and stage at Jasper-Polaski southeast of Chicago.  One famous example is the family group of the Common Crane mated to the Sandhill Crane with two hybrid young.  This group was first seen in the fall at Delta Junction near Fairbanks, AK among a large flock of Sandhill Cranes returning from their breeding grounds in Asia.  The family group was later seen at the Jasper-Polaski staging area south east of Chicago.  In fact the same family group was relocated the following spring on the Platte River. Now Hiwassee NWR is only 550 miles as the crane flies to the southeast. The Sandhill Cranes that winter at Hiwassee breed in the upper Midwest. On their southbound migration they too stage at Jasper-Polaski.  It is not such a stretch of the imagination to picture this Hooded Crane migrating southeast with the Siberian Sandhill Cranes and staging at Jasper-Polaski then getting mixed into a flock of Hiwassee Sandhill Cranes and flying the relatively short distance to the Hiwassee wintering grounds.

Anyways tomorrow will be the last pelagic trip of the year. Stay tuned it should be a lot of fun.


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14 Responses to The Hooded Crane in Hiwassee NWR

  1. Kevin Breault says:

    You’ve had a great run, John, and thanks for a most entertaining and informative year–among the best vicarious birding ever, a major accomplishment well beyond the numbers.

  2. Gloria Nikolai says:

    I’ve been with you vicariously for awhile and love the discussions, comments and photos. What a great adventure! Continued good luck to you!

  3. Mike McClintock says:

    Go John Go !

  4. Nick says:

    What a joy to see cranes in any case! Good luck with the Skua! Myself, I’m off to see about that Smew today, which was holding fine through Wednesday late afternoon. Thanks again for the inspirational blog.

  5. Hans Pohlmann says:

    Hi John,
    even from across the Atlantic (the Netherlands) we’re following your Big Year. This blog is being read by a whole lot of Dutch birders, as ‘Big Year-ing” is quite popular here. Off course on a completely different level: the country is only a glimpse of the size of your birding area….

    We kicked some geese, Smew’s (finally one was found) and a couple of Skua’s across the Atlantic to help you :).
    Keep it up in the last days and hours……

  6. Good going John! 4 more (or so) to get….

  7. Writer says:

    provenance, not providence

    Though I guess for your purposes, it was providential that the bird was present, whatever its provenance.

  8. Congrats John! Beautiful Crane. GOOD LUCK on the pelagic – get that skua!

  9. Tommie Rogers says:

    It was such fun seeing you, Liz, and Doug at Hiwassee. We were very fortunate to find the Hooded Crane so quickly. There is nothing more exciting than birding and especially, seeing a new species with others who share your enthusiasm. I’m kicking myself for not going to Hatteras to look for the Great Skua.
    Good luck with the search!
    Hopefully, I’ll see you all again next year in pursuit of some feathered treasure.

  10. Aaron Brees says:

    Hi John,

    Re: the Indiana Common/Sandhill pair with the hybrid young. Was something published documenting those various sightings (AK, NE)? I thought I remembered that they were reported in Quebec prior to showing up at Jasper-Pulaski. Also I was wondering where the information on Siberian Sandhills staging at Jasper-Pulaski comes from–BNA doesn’t seem to support that.

    Thanks and good luck the rest of way!

  11. Duane Nelson says:

    Way to go John. I’m glad you kept going when things got tough.
    Your comments on the origins of the Hooded Crane and the role of record’s committees bring back memories of two Colorado birds that faced the same test: Red-backed Hawk and Baikal Teal. Neither was accepted, though both might have been valid birds (I was on the “inside” back then, so I’m not pointing fingers). I think record’s committees may be more open-minded now than 20 years ago.

  12. Jay Stormer says:

    I have had a great time following your blog since I found it a couple of months ago (and shortly after seeing The Big Year movie). Good luck with the final push.

  13. Pingback: New Big Year record for North America? Birdwatching Blog » ChatterBirds Birdwatching Blog

  14. Mike Prince says:

    Of course the Hooded Crane will need to be accepted by one of the state committees before the ABA Checklist Committee will accept it. Until its been accepted or rejected I’ll keep it on my list as a provisional bird

    We’ve taken the same view on BUBO Listing: whichever way it goes it’s a cracking bird! (Have personally just been seeing thousands of Common and Demoiselle Cranes in northwest India!)

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