Thursday, January 24, 2008

A WILD TRIP TO TENNESSEE

On January 13th, students in the Habitat Manipulation and Wildlife Maintenance Techniques courses traveled to east Tennessee for a three-day tour of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) wildlife management areas and refuges. Instructors Chris Graves, Dave Dudek, Shannon Rabby, and recently-retired instructor Rick Lindsay accompanied the students on the trip.

The group was quartered at the Minser Farm near Maryville, Tennessee, owned by University of Tennessee Wildlife Professor Billy Minser. Mr. Minser welcomed our group the evening of the 13th, providing an outstanding meal of “wildlife stew” served around a big bonfire, followed by a fascinating slide show and talked about his travels in Alaska and his work on a research vessel in the Bering Sea.

Early (wildlifers get up early!) the next morning, we were given a tour of Kyker Bottoms WMA and Refuge in Blount County by TWRA Refuge Manager Bill Smith and UT Wildlife Professor Dr. Craig Harper. Dr. Harper, a graduate of the HCC Fish and Wildlife Management Technology program, gave a tremendous presentation on the use of native warm season grasses to restore and enhance wildlife habitat. Refuge Manager Bill Smith explained the history of the refuge, including the creation and management of the extensive waterfowl impoundments located there. We observed plenty of waterfowl, including Northern shovelers, American widgeon, canvasbacks, black ducks, ring-necked ducks and green-winged teal. We also spotted several raptors, including the American kestrel, northern harrier and red-shouldered hawk. After a tasty lunch of wild game and rice provided by Mr. Smith, we headed to McGhee-Carson WMA and Chota Refuge in Monroe County. There we met refuge manager David Whitehead, who discussed his job and gave us a tour of the facilities and Chota Refuge. At Chota we saw hundreds of waterfowl and also spotted two bald eagles. The day ended with two very interesting presentations by UT graduate students on black bear and river otter research. Great job Ryan and Jared!

Up well before dawn on the 15th, we headed southwest to Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee. Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is a major stopover for migrating sandhill cranes and the endangered whooping crane. There we spent a full day observing hundreds of sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and even a few of the extremely rare whooping cranes. Refuge manager Jason Jackson discussed the current management of the refuge, threats to the crane population, and his experiences as a Wildlife Officer. During the afternoon, students conducted a quail census on the refuge. Fianlly, it was back to Haywood Community College, where a tired bunch arrived late but happy after a tremendously “wild” experience.


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