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.
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.
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.