A Celebration of Cranes

By: Melinda Dunn, President & CEO – Decatur Morgan County Tourism, Inc.

Decatur, Ala. (January 3, 2018) – Over 14,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. In celebration of these long-legged and long-necked birds, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association hosts a two day event filled with nature walks, concerts and special programs for experienced birders and anyone who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home. Set for January 13-14, 2018, Festival of the Cranes takes place at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge with the popular live raptor presentations to be held at the Princess Theater.

Now in its fifth year, Festival of the Cranes has become a popular weekend activity for families near and far. New for 2018 is a change in venue for one of the more crowd favorite activities. Due to the popularity of the raptor presentations and the limited seating and parking at the Refuge’s visitor center, the three Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center presentations will take place at the historic Princess Theater in downtown Decatur. The new location will ensure everyone will have the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful entertaining and educational program. To make it even more convenient to enjoy all the events at Festival of the Cranes, a shuttle will be available to take festival goers to and from the Wheeler Visitor Center to the Princess Theater and other areas of historic downtown Decatur for a nominal fee. Show times are set for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 13 and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 14 and admission is free.

Festival of the Cranes kicks off bright and early Saturday, January 13 at 6:30 a.m. with a breakfast in the Visitor Center classroom. Following breakfast, Dwight Cooley, former refuge manager, 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. Cost is $5 per person with proceeds benefiting future refuge programs. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.

A variety of activities and educational opportunities are lined up throughout the day at the Refuge. At 8 a.m., members of the Alabama Ornithological Society and Tennessee Valley Audubon Society will host Birding 101, a beginner course in birding. Participants are asked to meet at the Visitor Center Information Desk for a walk along the grounds of the Visitor Center.

A photography workshop with David Akoubian follows at 9 a.m. in the auditorium.

Acclaimed author, storyteller, and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis will present his Adventures with John James Audubon at 10:30 a.m. and will lead a nature hike at 3 p.m.

Flutist Michael Graham Allen will perform a free concert at 1 p.m. in the auditorium. Allen is the founder, principal flutist and composer of the band COYOTE OLDMAN. An early researcher and builder of ancient flutes of North America, he has been a professional flute maker since the mid 1970s.

Additional activities on Saturday include special activities for children to take part in from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 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 enclosed Wildlife Observation Building offers views of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and maybe a bald eagle. There are bleachers and spotting scopes available along with volunteers and staff members on hand to answer questions.

On Sunday, January 14, members of the Alabama Ornithological Society and Tennessee Valley Audubon Society will host Birding 101, a beginner course in birding at 8 a.m. Participants are asked to meet at the Visitor Center Information Desk for a walk along the grounds of the Visitor Center.

At 9 a.m., festival goers can choose from a photography workshop hosted by David Akoubian in the classroom or the Comic Mis-Adventures of Lewis and Clark with Brian “Fox” Ellis as Meriwether Lewis in the Auditorium.

Flutist Michael Graham Allen will perform another free concert at 11 a.m. in the auditorium.

At 1:30 p.m., storyteller and author Brian “Fox” Ellis steps into the shoes of Prince of Wied, Maximilian allowing the audience to step back in time. Blending history, science, art and cultural anthropology, the Prince gives us a unique view of America as he saw it in the early 1830s. Much of the text for this performance comes directly from his journals.

Additional fun on Sunday includes special activities for children in the classroom from 1:30 to 3 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 https://www.fws.gov/refuge/wheeler/ or call Teresa Adams, supervisory ranger for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, at 256.350.6639 or call Decatur Morgan County Tourism at 256.350.2028 or 800.232.5449.

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.

A variety of activities are planned in conjunction with Festival of the Cranes before, during and after the annual event. From now until January 26, 2018, the public is invited to take part in StoryWalk presented by Decatur Public Library. This is the fourth year that Wheeler Refuge and the Decatur Public Library have partnered to display the story, Because of an Acorn by Lola and Adam Schaefer, to visitors while walking along the Atkeson Cypress Trail at the Wheeler Visitor Center. The trail is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The public is invited to attend a Raising Crane Awareness program at the Decatur Public Library. Presented by Amber Wilson from the International Crane Foundation, Back from the Brink is the topic for Dec. 28 and Life as a Whooping Crane follows on Jan. 11. Both programs will take place in the library’s community room at 5 p.m. All ages are welcome.

The Carnegie Visual Arts Center plan to offer special hours the weekend of Festival of the Cranes. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. From January 13 through February 24, Spectrum: Diverse Creations of Alabama Artists, featuring Sculptor Mircea Lacatus from Huntsville, Painter Sarah Carlisle Towery from Lake Martin, Ala., Painter Susan Downing-White from Mobile and Sculptor Charlie Lucas, from Selma, Ala., will be on display.
By: Melinda Dunn, President & CEO – Decatur Morgan County Tourism, Inc.