Aldo Leopold, the father of modern day wildlife management, wrote about the Sandhill Cranes saying “When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird.  We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.” The fossils of a bird with identical structure to the Sandhill Crane has been carbon dated to have lived 10 million years ago making the Sandhill Crane the longest surviving bird on the planet. Standing at over 4 feet tall and having a wing span of over 6 feet, the Sandhill Crane is one of the largest birds found in the Eastern United States. They are gray in color with a long neck, long legs and a long pointed beak used for probing in the soil for seeds and insects.  The Sandhill Cranes also have a distinctive red patch on their forehead which is larger on the males.  During breeding season, the cranes will increase the blood flow to this area on the forehead creating a bright red color to attract their potential mates. They usually live in areas with large open fields and shallow water.  Their primary food sources are seeds, insects, and benthic macroinvertebrates. 

Every year, these magnificent birds migrate from the Prairie Pothole region of the upper midwest and southern Canada down to gulf coast.  While in flight, the Sandhill Cranes call constantly. These calls can be heard from over a mile away and help the cranes keep their flight pattern. They typically fly in a V formation and can be easily distinguished from Geese by the long legs trailing behind them. Starting in 1990, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) began a program to make Eastern Tennessee a stopover location for these migratory birds.  One of the locations chosen was the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Birchwood Tennessee.  Here a flock of some 80,000 Sandhill Cranes will stop to rest and feed during their migration South.  TWRA plants this area every year in corn to supply some of the food needs and with shallow water nearby this creates an ideal location for the Cranes to rest.

Mixed within these large flocks of Sandhill Cranes there exists one of the most highly endangered birds in the United States.  The beautiful and majestic Whooping Crane is learning to migrate with the Sandhill Cranes.  There are only about 450 Whooping Cranes in the wild and about 160 in captivity.  These birds are slightly larger than the Sandhill Cranes and have bright white plumage.  When they started the recovery program in the 1940’s, there were only 21 Whooping Cranes left alive due to habitat loss and hunting. The Whooping Cranes were taken into captivity and bred.  Since there were no wild Whooping Cranes left, when they were released, they didn’t know how or where to migrate.  Scientists used an ultralight to guide the cranes during the migration and made the trip with the natural migration of the Sandhill Cranes.  These birds have since learned to migrate with the Sandhill Crane flocks.

Want to learn more about these amazing birds? Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center in partnership with Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) will be hosting a day of learning about the Sandhill Cranes on January 20, 2018.  We will start the day with Dr. David Aborn.  Dr. Aborn is the Ornithology professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and has been involved with Sandhill Crane research at the Hiwassee Refuge for years. Starting at 12:00pm, he will give a brief history and discussion about the Sandhill Crane population that migrates through Tennessee. We will also provide an opportunity to view our captive Sandhill Cranes up close.  At around 1:30pm, we will board a tour bus and begin our trip out to the Hiwassee Refuge.  We will be met at the observation platform by members of TOS who will provide the use of their spotting scopes and be available to answer questions about the Sandhill Cranes. At approximately 4:30pm, we will board the tour bus and make our way back to Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center.  This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn about and enjoy these magnificent birds. 

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Posted by Corey Hagen

We All Need Nearby Nature

December 27th, 2017

Thoughts on where we're headed in 2018.

I wanted to let you know about some exciting developments here at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. As you may know, I joined the team in October as the new President. My start in outdoor education came during college when I had the opportunity to work with youth at a summer camp in Mentone, Alabama. Working every day in nature feels like a natural continuation of that work, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here.

Our educational mission is more important than ever. This year, our staff worked with over 16,000 students who now better understand the connection between the choices they make and their local ecology. Our environmental educators provide these students with a welcome diversion from (and application of) their textbook learning. I recently tagged along on a site visit and it was amazing to watch an auditorium full of elementary kids light up with wonder and awe in the presence of a live barred owl.

While we have much to teach, we also have much to learn. Over the course of the few months I’ve been here, I’ve been on a listening tour, collecting information, opinions and yes...plenty of gripes.

I have come away with a deep respect for how many of you consider this landscape a special place for reflection and escape from the worries of modern life.

Photo by Jeff Guenther

I’ve heard that your yards are like a mini Reflection Riding, populated over the years with native plants from our sales. I’ve heard many of you who enjoy having dogs with you (on a leash) for your walk or run. The families I’ve spoken to who use our canoes appreciate avoiding the hassle of transporting their own boats. But many of the people I’ve spoken with have no idea what treasures await here. “Hidden gem” is a common term I hear to describe this place, but remaining hidden won’t allow us to continue the important work we have to do here.

We face a massive challenge! Kids and adults alike increasingly experience pressures unknown to previous generations.

Constant notifications and mobile connectivity have driven us to distraction, causing or exacerbating issues like nervousness, anxiety, ADHD and depression. We are increasingly disconnected from nature, and our quality of life suffers as a result.

But we know the solution…

As Florence Williams explains in The Nature Fix, a book I recommend to everyone I meet:

We all need nearby nature: we benefit cognitively and psychologically from having trees, bodies of water, and green spaces just to look at.”

We have 317 acres of nature just waiting for you to experience, every day if you’d like.

Here a few ways we’re working to connect YOU with nature in 2018:

  • Remaining open and providing events throughout the winter season.

  • As always, offering members year-round access to the park from dawn to dusk.

  • Expanding our popular Taylor Talks, adding themes like “Hike with a Hawk.”

  • Prioritizing adult education, adding a new lecture series.

  • Continuing popular programs like the native plant certification course.

  • Strengthening partnerships and programming with important local groups like Wild Ones, Tennessee Ornithological Society, American Rhododendron Society and others.

  • Maintaining our status as a Level IV arboretum, the highest available certification.

  • Continuing to care for and host research on behalf of our endangered red wolves.

  • Launching a new docent program to further engage volunteers  and enrich the visitor experience.

Photo by Jeff Guenther

We intend to take this place from “hidden gem” to “crown jewel.” We’ve taken some important first steps, but we can’t do this alone. As we close out the year and look forward to what’s next, we need your help. Please consider joining or renewing your support today.

For existing members, gift memberships support our mission while sharing the benefits of nature with someone you love. Or, consider sponsoring a child who can’t afford to visit; $13.50 per child covers transportation and lunch.

You can extend your impact year-round by becoming a sustaining supporter with an automatic monthly charge, allowing us to prioritize your contribution to the areas of greatest need.

We hope you’re as excited as we are about where we’re headed. Your tax-deductible year-end gift will ensure that we can continue to connect people with nature, all year long.


Thank you, 

Mark McKnight, President

Posted by Mark McKnight

More times than we would like to admit, we get home from work and realize the commute idled by as we thought about the things we did, things we needed to do, and things we needed to think about. Our brains are capable of going on auto-pilot, even unintentionally, while we do day-to-day things that don’t require conscious effort. Though this is not necessarily an issue for some, there are ways to combat these kinds of shallow thought processes using mindful techniques, methods, and tools. Mindfulness is particularly useful on walks, as many people use exercise as a form of catharsis. 

Remember that while it seems beneficial in the moment to think through your list of pertinent chores and responsibilities while taking time to decompress, it’s more important for your mental health to stay in the moment. But don't worry if you can't control all those pesky thoughts - mindfulness practices are not about stopping thoughts completely. A lesson many people teach in mindfulness practices is the car analogy. Imagine you’re sitting by a busy road. Any thought or feeling that arises is a car passing by. Say you start thinking about what to do for dinner. So instead of spending 10-15 minutes self-discussing your options: where to go, what to get, what to make, etc.; acknowledge the thought, let the car pass, and bring yourself back to your walk. Don’t try to go out of your way to stop the car, and definitely don’t get in it. 

Remember, you’re an observer on the side of the road. If you have trouble doing this on your own, there are great online resources like the HeadSpace App which slowly trains your mind how to sit on the side of the road and watch cars on its own.

To be mindful on your walk, it is important to ground yourself. This is a technique people with anxiety use to help stay focused on the world around them rather than their thoughts. Try to think of something in the field of each of your senses. Check in with these periodically. 

Start with sound. Close your eyes and count how many birds you can hear. What do your footsteps sound like on the pavement or trail, on the crunching leaves? Then move on to sight. Count how many colors you see. How many people can you see? 
What can you smell? Flowers, dirt, freshly cut grass? 

Move onto touch. This is what I have found to be the most helpful as you can use what is closest to you! There are two ways to experience this sense. What you feel and what you touch. Notice how your feet feel in your shoes, how the air feels on your skin. Is it cold or warm out? Are you tensing your shoulders, eyebrows, hands? These are things you feel. What do different tree barks feel like on your fingertips? What’s the difference in texture between a fuzzy leaf versus a glossy leaf? These are things you touch. 

Running through your senses, even if you don’t spend a lot of time in each one, is a great way to bring yourself back to your walk, without taking a detour in other thoughts. 

Many of us find it hard to stay focused and present. A good way to combat this, especially if the lack of concentration stems from outside noise, is with ambient sound or music. To a new listener, it sounds boring and non-directional; that’s the point. It isn’t designed like much of the music we hear today, which often encourages us to dance or feel certain emotions. The purpose of ambient music is to create a space to think between notes, without letting personal thoughts come to the forefront. Ambient music can take some getting used to, but allows the listener to experience his or her surroundings from an unbiased standpoint, which is  when trying to stay mindful. The way the music tends to move encourages deep breath, which is something we don’t often associate with our thoughts but the two can be entirely dependent on each other. You can try out a ton of ambient playlists on Spotify and YouTube, or with sound apps.

If you’re completely new to the realm of mindfulness, be patient and find what methods work for you; it may be beneficial to slowly incorporate different exercises one by one on your walks. When using these techniques, methods, and tools, remember mindfulness is a practice not a perfect, meaning it will take time and mental strength to get used to this way of thinking. However, if you're able to achieve a sense of clarity and tranquility with mindfulness, you’ll find value in it that not many people have the discipline to find.

Posted by Rosie Lee

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