Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Women 3 Media Art Exhibit at the ACA

Athens State University
Office of Public Relations

With the start  of the new year, the Alabama Center for the Arts is hosting a new exhibition entitled 3 Women 3 Media. The show will be featured in the Center's main gallery and will be on exhibition now until February 14. The Alabama Center for the Arts is located at 133 end Ave. NE in Decatur. Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday, 8:00am to 7:30pm, and Friday 8:00am to noon.

3 Women 3 Media features ceramicist Carolyn Wass, painter/mixed media artist Gina Perciful, and printmaker Rachel Lackey.

A reception is planned for Thursday, January, 23, 2014 beginning at 5:30pm with an informal gallery talk with the artists at 6:30pm.

The Alabama Center for the Arts represents a collaborative program in art between Athens State University and Calhoun Community College. College coursework  taught at the facility will lead to Associate of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees with class offerings that include art appreciation, painting, drawing, computer graphics, sculpture, ceramics, pottery and a teaching major leading to licensure for art instructors.

Thursday, January 16, 2014



Saturday, January 25, 7:30 pm at the Princess Theatre- Decatur, AL

The brand new sing-a-long-a version of the classic film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John brought to you by the producers of Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a T-bird or a Pink Lady but never quite felt cool enough to pull it off? Well, now is your chance to don those pink jackets and let your inhibitions go for an evening where you are the stars and remember GREASE is the word…
The evening begins with your host leading a vocal warm-up before they show you how to use your free goody bag. You’ll even get a chance to learn how to hand jive. Then just sit back and watch Danny & Sandy and the gang, while singing and dancing along to the lyrics as shown on the screen.
It couldn't be easier… or more fun! Dressing up is strongly encouraged and full audience participation essential.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fesitval of the Cranes Returns to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge for Second Year

Photo by David Rainer

A day of nature walks, live raptors, and refuge tours is planned when the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge holds the second annual Festival of the Cranes. Set for January 11, 2014, the celebration of Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes will bring together experienced birders and those who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home.

Over 12,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Hosted by the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association, the Festival of the Cranes kicks off at 6 a.m. with a Sunrise Breakfast in the Visitor Center classroom. Following breakfast, Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley will lead an early morning birding walk to see cranes and other waterfowl arrive in the fields to begin their day of feeding and loafing. Breakfast cost is $5 per person and participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.

Throughout the day, the enclosed Wildlife Observation Building will offer views of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and maybe a bald eagle. There will be bleachers and spotting scopes available along with volunteers and staff members on hand to answer questions.

At 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., Joan Garland, education outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation, will speak on the efforts to restore a migratory flock of Whopping cranes to eastern North America. The Whooping crane is on the verge of a comeback after nearly becoming extinct due to human activities. In 1941, the last migratory flock was reduced to only 16 birds.

Additional activities include two showings of Hope Takes Wing, a film by and about Operation Migration chronicling the history of the Whooping crane, and two presentations by the Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center to teach about birds of prey and offer an up-close look at owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be a pizza lunch with proceeds benefitting the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association. The daylong event concludes at 5 p.m.

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is located at 3121 Visitor Center Road in Decatur. For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit or call Teresa Adams, supervisory ranger for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, at 256.350.6639.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established on July 7, 1938 by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first National Wildlife Refuge placed on a multi-purpose reservoir to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds. Covering 35,000 acres, it attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year and is home to Alabama’s largest wintering duck population. The Refuge also supports the state’s largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes. The 75th Anniversary Celebration featuring live raptors and wildlife, children’s activities, and special guest and master of ceremonies “T.R. Roosevelt” as portrayed by Joe Wiegand, is set for December 7, 2013. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources



The rattling trill of noise was baffling as I walked across the parking lot at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur recently to celebrate its 75th anniversary.

Because I hadn’t visited the refuge in winter, I didn’t realize what all that noise was until the trill with a goose-like finish started getting louder and louder. I looked in the gray skies and the mystery was solved. It was a group of six cranes floating lazily in the north wind, headed for an agricultural field for a mid-morning snack.

“Whooping cranes?” I asked one of the rangers.

“Nope, those are sandhills,” he answered. “We’ve got thousands. We’ve got some whooping cranes, too. If you look in the back field, the whooping cranes are the white ones.”

Indeed, the back field was filled with cranes, mostly the red-capped sandhill variety. The white whooping cranes, an endangered species, were easy to spot.

The crane population is only one aspect of the mission for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which provides food and rest for a vast variety of bird and waterfowl species that use the Tennessee River valley as wintering habitat.

“We average at peak in the winter between 60,000 and 75,000 ducks on the refuge,” said Wheeler NWR manager Dwight Cooley. “Almost without exception, mallards are the No. 1 waterfowl species we winter here. There has been a bit of change over the last 20 years. Gadwalls are our second highest number of birds that winter here. At one time, the American wigeon was second.

“At one time, we had 50,000 Canada geese wintering here. Now we’re lucky to get between 500 and 1,000 of the migrant Canada geese. Our geese come from Southern James Bay. There was a study done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited that looked at this. What the study found was the geese were wintering north of us for a variety of reasons, one of which was changing agricultural practices to minimum tillage and no-tillage areas. The birds are just not getting this far south any more.”

While no waterfowl hunting is allowed on the 35,000-acre Wheeler NWR, Cooley said the refuge’s wintering habitat makes the hunting better throughout the state.

“The fact that the refuge attracts the largest number of ducks in the state, even though we don’t hunt the refuge, I think the surrounding areas see a lot of benefits in the waterfowl hunting throughout the Tennessee Valley,” he said.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the executive order to establish the refuge in 1938, Cooley said it was a time when the United States was trying to “tame” the Tennessee River.

“It was also a time of concern about waterfowl populations and breeding habitat in particular,” said Cooley, who has been the manager at Wheeler for 16 years. “It was really viewed as an experiment to see if wildlife could be managed in these newly developed deep-water reservoirs in north Alabama. This is a long, almost riparian type of refuge. It’s 20 miles long. It was part of the land acquired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for buffers and flowage easements when Wheeler Dam was constructed in 1936.

“As a matter of fact, in the executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt it was stated that waterfowl was the prime reason the refuge was established.”

Cooley said although the NWR system is in a period of tight budgets, the primary missions will be continued.

“For here, our priorities are waterfowl and endangered species,” he said. “We will provide recreational opportunities for residents. And we’ll provide conservation and environmental education for the public. The City of Huntsville brings every student in the fifth grade over here every year and uses the visitor center and observation area for their conservation and education classes.

“There are plenty of fishing opportunities. And we allow hunting for deer, feral hogs and small game. The deer and hog hunting are bow-only except for a two-week to 20-day season for flintlocks (primitive muzzleloaders). We follow state regulations on small game. We allow shotguns with non-toxic shot and rimfire rifles. We get quite a lot of use during the hunting seasons. And we have more and more people who are interested in wildlife photography.”

Like most everything, Cooley said the effort to enhance the waterfowl habitat at the refuge has been trial and error and has significantly evolved over the years.

“When it started, the work was primarily in the deep-water habitats in the reservoir itself with suitable plant species,” he said. “It didn’t work very well because of the depth of the water and raising and lowering of the water levels from summer to winter pools. That also involved electricity production, flood control and, early on, mosquito control.

“The managers at the time said there was one thing they could do, which was farm the areas that had been in crops when the TVA acquired it. That was aimed primarily at geese, which they knew would use those upland areas. So the farming program in the National Wildlife Refuge System really started right here at Wheeler. In fact, one of the former refuge managers, Tom Atkeson, wrote a book called ‘Farming for Wildlife,’ which was based on some of the early work done here at Wheeler.”

The habitat improvement eventually included water-control structures in the lowland areas to control the water levels to help in the planting of native vegetation with good seed production as well as row crops around the edges of the areas.

“As we flood them in the winter time, those areas are flooded to provide food for the waterfowl,” Cooley said. “In the upland areas, we farm between 3,000 and 5,000 acres on a share agreement with eight farmers in the area. We rotate between corn and soybeans, mostly. Sometimes we will plant milo and millet, but we mostly grow corn and soybeans.”

Celebrating its 75th year of existence was a lesson in persistence. The government shutdown forced the original anniversary celebration to be rescheduled. Then Mother Nature decided to send a winter blast through north Alabama for the rescheduled date of Dec. 7. Because of the weather forecast, a variety of outdoors components to the celebration were canceled. The remainder of the events was held inside the visitor center just off Highway 67.

Despite a long journey in bad winter weather, Larry and Cheryl Battson, founders of Wildlife Educational Services, made it to Decatur in time to present their live wildlife program at the celebration with a variety of native and exotic animals.

The Teddy Roosevelt Show, featuring Joe Wiegand, entertained the audience with his one-man theater show about the life and times of America’s 26th president, who was an avid hunter and explorer.

The anniversary celebration isn’t the only big event scheduled for Wheeler NWR. On January 11, 2014, the refuge will celebrate the second annual Festival of the Cranes. 

The Festival of the Cranes will include nature walks, live raptors and refuge tours. Visitors will get a chance to see some of the more than 12,000 sandhill cranes, along with several pairs of whooping cranes, that winter each year at Wheeler.

Hosted by the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association, the Festival of the Cranes kicks off at 6 a.m. with a sunrise breakfast in the visitor center classroom. Cooley will then lead an early morning walk to see cranes and other waterfowl as the birds forage in nearby fields.

Joan Garland, education outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation, will give presentations on efforts to restore a migratory flock of whooping cranes to eastern North America. Additional activities include two showings of Hope Takes Wing, a film by and about Operation Migration on the history of the whooping crane, and two presentations by Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center to teach about birds of prey, including owls, hawks, falcons and eagles. 

Visit or for more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and the Festival of the Cranes.

PHOTOS (Cranes courtesy of USFWS, David Rainer) Sandhill cranes by the thousands use Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur as wintering grounds because of the habitat and abundance of food. The endangered whooping crane also uses the refuge, which recently held its 75th anniversary celebration. As part of the festivities, the Teddy Roosevelt Show, featuring Joe Weigand, made its way through the crowd during the celebration. Larry and Cherryl Battson also brought several animals from their collection at Wildlife Educational Services, including this boa constrictor, which was so ably (yet tentatively) held by 8-year-old Carson Lemmond of Somerville.