Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A One Day Event for the Birds

Festival of the Cranes Returns to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge January 10, 2015.

A fun-filled day of nature walks, live raptors, and special programs is planned when the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge holds the third annual Festival of the Cranes. Set for January 10, 2015, 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. Featured presenter at this year’s event is internationally renowned storyteller and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis.

Over 14,000 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 6:30 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. A donation of $5 per person will be accepted to benefit future refuge programs. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.

During the day-long event, 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.

Acclaimed author, storyteller, and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis will be the featured speaker and will be presenting his “Crane Tales Around the World” at 10 a.m., “Birding with Audubon” at 12:45 p.m., and “Adventures with John James Audubon” at 2 p.m.

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. Children can take part in a special activity in the classroom from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. 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.

In conjunction with Festival of the Cranes, the Alabama Center for the Arts, located at 133 2nd Avenue NE in downtown Decatur, will host the inaugural juried Festival of the Cranes Art Exhibit. Featuring selected artwork from students, alumni artists and faculty of Athens State University and Calhoun Community College, the show includes a diverse collection of art forms and media that depicts cranes, birds, waterfowl, ducks, geese, raptors, eagles, falcons, wildlife and nature. The art center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and admission is free.
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 www.friendsofwheelerrefuge.org 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 and the endangered Whooping Crane. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler

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