Instead of going back to the hotel off the interstate, we decided to give the Holiday Inn Express in Dayton, TN a try. It was only about 15 minutes from the Refuge, and we had met a couple who had stayed there last night. Glad we did, too, because our room was $30 cheaper tonight! Plus, we got a King Size bed! For those of you who know my husband, Dave, you know what I mean – he’s a giant. In our queen size bed at home, he has to sleep diagonally, and I get this little triangle of the bed for me. But, in the King Size bed, I got to spread out! It was terrific! We aet dinner at Alaya’s Mexican Restaurant and I was not impressed. I think I can still taste the onions from my taco on my tongue today.
Up at 6:30am, in truck by 7:30am and its 35F. Great! 10 degrees warmer than yesterday, and NO FOG!
We got to the Refuge at about 8:10am and as we approached the observation deck, we asked “Anything?” “Yep, it flew by at 7:55am.” Shit! We had missed it by 15 minutes! We had stood on that observation platform, looking through our scopes, all day yesterday – and I mean all day. I have never spent an entire day, just standing looking through a scope and scanning 1000’s of birds before, and I sure didn’t want to do it again today! Crap! The Hooded Crane had dropped in just behind a row of corn, down into what appeared to be a swell coming off the inlet. But, we couldn’t see it.
We all trained our scopes to that spot. All 30+ of us. Then Dave yelled, “It’s up! Flying right to left”. And, sure enough there it was for about 1 second and then it dropped behind the point of land sticking out into the inlet – it was gone. A few of us were lucky enough to see it, but not many. Ugh! This is so frustrating. We really want to watch the bird, see its behavior, and really SEE it. So, again, we trained our scopes at the spot where it had dropped, hoping that it would walk up the rise on the point so that we could see it again.
The Whooper’s were there again, as well as a couple of Red-tails. We saw a few of the folks that had been here yesterday too. As I signed our names to the guest list that was circulating, I casually scanned the names on the list to see where everyone was from. A guy had driven all the way down from New Jersey, and Vic Fazio was the name just above mine. I recognized that name from the Ohio birding network. So, I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself. How cool is that? Plus, Herman Mays from the Cincinnati Museum Center was there with his 6 yr old son, Cameron. Small world, this birding community…
I rotated between looking through my scope at the spot where the crane had dropped, to scanning the weeds along the shoreline, to using my binocs to scan Sandhills that were continually taking off and landing along the back side of that point of land. Nothing. At least it was warmer today.
Then I saw a white head raise up in the weeds on the back side of the point of land. I whispered to Dave, “Hey, Dave, behind the 6 Sandhills that are eating behind the Whooper is a white head sticking up in the weeds. Do you see it?” I noticed that Vic immediately rotated his scope over to that area too. I could see a white neck and head that was much brighter than all of the Sandhills. But, I wasn’t confident and the light could be playing tricks on me. I waited, saying nothing.
Then Dave said, “That’s it!” I quickly shouted out directions to everyone on the observation deck. Then the head went down. Crap! You could feel the excitement and tension among the observers on the deck. Some had seen it, and some were still trying to figure out where to look. Voices could be heard explaining which weeds to look at. Everyone was focused on that spot. We waited, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, then the head was back up! Then gone. This was torture! We waited, increasing the zoom on our lenses to their maximum. Watching every movement of the weeds, hoping the bird would resurface.
Then it was back! Walking right up the bank and into full view! Wow! How cool was that! The camera shutters were flying! The Hooded Crane was beautiful! Elegant black with a white neck and head. Casually meandering in the weeds picking at food. High fives went around the deck! Sounds of celebration could be heard all along the boardwalk. We lingered for a good 30 minutes taking photos and hoping that just one would turn out. The bird was still a good 200 yards from us. Wow! What a great life bird!
It was 10am, and we could head home.