Have you seen and heard over 10,000 Sandhill Cranes at one place at one time? The vocal and majestic Sandhill Cranes are abundant from mid-November through February at the Hiwassee Refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee. Sandhill Crane viewing at the observation area at Hiwassee Refuge is unsurpassed anywhere in the Southeast. The annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival , to be held on January 19 and 20, is a golden opportunity to view the cranes, Bald Eagles, an occasional Whooping Crane and other birds with birding and wildlife experts and hundreds of crane enthusiasts. The festival is the premier crane viewing event in the eastern United States

“Our objective is to share the spectacle of these majestic Sandhill Cranes, provide a potentially life-changing wildlife experience for visitors, and build awareness for the need to provide and manage the habitat for the thousands of cranes that winter and migrate through Tennessee,” says Melinda Welton, Festival Co-chair.

Ijams Nature Center is a 300-acre lush wildlife sanctuary in Knoxville featuring miles of hiking and bike trails. Visitors have excellent opportunities to see wildlife, quiet and unhurried, in the various habitat types such as woods, meadows, ponds, quarry lake and slow-moving river. Raucous spring peepers, chorus frogs and Pope’s gray tree frogs are routinely found in any one of several Homesite ponds. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of a river otter swimming along the Tennessee River shoreline at twilight or a barred owl in the wooded lowlands nearby. Through all seasons, the Ijams’ education staff hosts hundreds of environmental and nature-related programs, camps and other outdoor activities for groups of all ages. Many are tailored toward children giving them a true hands-on nature experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.

Cove Lake State Park in Campbell County, TN offers wetland overlooks, paved and unpaved trails, and abundant wildlife year round. Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Gadwall, Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebes, Canada Geese, and other waterbirds are often present throughout the winter and viewing from the observation tower often provides intimate encounters. Paved walkways travel along the lake edge and through overgrown fields, which are prime spots for sparrows and other songbirds, while an unpaved walking path through the mature forest allows for access into the world of woodpeckers, Hermit Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, and the occasional Cooper’s Hawk in winter. Spring through fall brings a plethora of warblers, vireos, orioles, thrushes, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Swainson’s Warbler is a locally rare bird found breeding at Cove Lake State Park in spring and summer.

The East Tennessee River Valley boasts one of the premier lake views and winter bird watching on Nickajack Lake. Nickajack Dam provides parking, restrooms, and views above and below the dam where loons, ducks, grebes, and gulls can concentrate. Brown-headed Nuthatches, a local specialty, can be found year round in the mature pines along the road to the dam. Additional access points around the lake provide various views of the water, caves, and a beautiful and mostly undeveloped river gorge. In winter, Bennett’s Lake Boat Ramp is a premier location to scan for loons, Canvasback, Redheads, and the rare wintering Osprey. Marion County Park is a great place to scan the lake for gulls, cormorants, and waterfowl in the cooler months. Canvasback, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and scaup are often foraging in the shallows around the campground peninsula. Several pairs of Bald Eagles are nesting around the lake and can be seen around the lake year round.

Cloudland Canyon State Park, located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain is one of the most scenic parks in Georgia. The park straddles a deep gorge cut into the mountain, with exceptional hiking trails, spectacular views, waterfalls and a pond with a tower for viewing wildlife. Visitors to the area are likely to see deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, Red Tail hawks, fox and even bats during the seasonal wild cave tours.

Take a look at the East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide to learn more about these wildlife viewing and other geotourism adventures to have with your families during the winter months and throughout the year and find out what makes this region a National Geographic Destination. The East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, a partnership with National Geographic, is an online planning guide to a region “Where Rivers and Mountains Meet,” from the Smoky Mountains through Knoxville, Chattanooga and North Georgia.

Image courtesy East Tennessee River Valley

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