Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will hold its first Festival of the Cranes, a one-day event filled with refuge tours, up-close viewings, workshops, live raptors, and nature walks, January 12, 2013, kicking off a year-long celebration of Wheeler’s 75th anniversary. The celebration of Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes will bring together experienced birders and those who would like to learn more about birding while providing opportunities to learn about the cranes and other wildlife that calls the Refuge home.
Over 11,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Hosted by the Wheeler National 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. A $5 donation is suggested and participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.
Throughout the day, the enclosed Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Observation Building, complete with bleachers and spotting scopes, will offer views of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and maybe a bald eagle. Volunteers and staff members will be on hand to answer questions.
Acclaimed author, storyteller, and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis will be the special guest and featured speaker and will be presenting his Adventures with Audubon. His portrayal of Audubon will enchant participants with stories from some of the wildest places on Earth. At 9 a.m., he will host Bird is the Word writing workshop. In this participatory workshop, participants will learn tips for effective journaling, how to use poetry to help write clearer and more exciting essays, and how to turn field notes into publishable articles. At 11:30 a.m., he presents Bird Tales: Stories and Songs from Many Cultures, a blend of his lifelong love for birds and traditional folktales from different cultures. Through poetry and song, legends and facts, a celebration of all things crane is planned for 2:15 p.m. when Ellis presents Crane Tales Around the World. At 4 p.m., Ellis (as John James Audubon) concludes the day-long event with a recap of his tales from his travels and travails.
Additional activities include a showing of Hope Takes Wing, a film by and about Operation Migration chronicling the history of the Whooping crane; Raptor Trek! Alabama’s Premier Live Bird of Prey Experience featuring owls, hawks, falcons, and a Bald Eagle presented by Becky Collier of the Alabama 4-H Center; and children’s activities centering around the importance of cranes in Japanese culture. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association will sponsor a pizza lunch. A $5 donation to the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association is suggested. The day-long 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 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. 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 October 5, 2013. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler.