~ The 14th North American Crane Workshop ~  

The North American Crane Working Group held the 14th North American Crane Workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 12-13 January, preceded on 11 January by a social at the Chattanooga Zoo, and followed by field trips to nearby Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on 14 January and to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (near Decatur, Alabama) on 15 January. There were 70 registrants. The strong scientific program consisted of 38 oral and 14 poster presentations on North American cranes. Board member David Aborn did an outstanding job of local planning and arrangements.

Among its many purposes, the workshop is where we formally recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals who have dedicated themselves to saving cranes and crane habitat. Our group’s highest honor, the L. H. Walkinshaw Crane Conservation Award, was presented to Tom Stehn, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the only natural population of Whooping Cranes. Tom retired in 2011 after 32 years in the Service, including 29 years as Aransas biologist and 14 years as U.S. Whooping Crane Coordinator. Tom was introduced by George Archibald (International Crane Foundation and current Recovery Team member) followed by an impassioned acceptance speech by Tom. Under Tom'’s careful watch and documentation, the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population grew from 70 to more than 300 birds. His knowledge of the population through extensive surveys and observation plus his commitment to biology rather than to politics provides an example of what a true professional crane biologist should be. The current flock is a testament to his work, which we hope will be a foundation for continued protection and growth of the population. Also honored at the Workshop with a Special Recognition Award was local crane advocate Ken Dubke, retired from National Park Service and a leading member in the Tennessee Ornithological Society. He was instrumental in creating the role of Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge as a major Sandhill Crane migration stopover and wintering area and for rousing local support for Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. For many years, Ken was the lifeblood of the annual Sandhill Crane and Cherokee Heritage Festival, and it is fortunate that such a distinguished body of crane experts and enthusiasts were able to experience the popularity and impact of Ken'’s legacy for themselves.

Weather during the Workshop period was about 20 degrees F above normal, resulting in excellent field trips, both of which were coordinated with the local annual crane festivals. At Birchwood, Tennessee, the program varied from wildlife presentations to live country music; and participants were able to view flocks of thousands of Sandhill Cranes along the Tennessee River landscape at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge as well as learn the sad historical events memorialized at the adjacent Cherokee Removal Park. On Saturday, the field trip was to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, 150 miles downriver in Alabama. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes were easily visible there at close range. Although a few Whooping Cranes were present but not readily visible at Hiwassee, 18 Whooping Cranes from the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population were present at Wheeler, creating a truly memorable experience for Workshop participants and members of the local community.

Increase in size of the NACWG Board was approved at the general business meeting on the final day of workshop, and 11 board members were elected by voice vote to serve a 3-year term. A meeting of the new Board was held immediately after the general membership meeting to elect officers. Richard Urbanek continues as president, Barry Hartup as treasurer, and Daryl Henderson as secretary. The remaining Board consists of continuing members David Aborn, Sammy King, Tommy Michot, and Glenn Olsen and new members George Archibald, Megan Brown, Paige Smith, and Hillary Thompson.

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Sandhill and Whooping Cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge
Sandhill and Whooping Cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge
Participants on the Wheeler NWR field trip. Photo courtesy of Hillary Thompson and Bill ‘Gator’ Gates.
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