Those looking for winter entertainment have the opportunity to scout for local wildlife through a Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge winter crane tour.
Melissa Perez from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge said that crane tours are typically offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the fall and winter months, depending on staffing, weather and other factors, because these are usually the best times to see both the cranes and other local wildlife.
“Fall and winter are typically the best times for a few reasons,” Perez said. “We tend to be able to see more wildlife due to the dying back of the thick vegetation; we have the opportunity to view migrating winter bird species; and, most importantly, the fall and winter seasons offer minimal disturbance to the critically endangered Mississippi sandhill crane.”
Perez explained that the tour season ends in late winter or early spring, as this coincides with the start of nesting season for the cranes – this minimizes any potential disturbance to the birds during a very important and vulnerable time.
She added that crane sightings are not guaranteed on these tours, as they are critically endangered with only about 120 individuals left in the wild.
“While it’s typical that we do see at least a few cranes on any given tour, we often see other wildlife such as bald eagles, white-tailed deer, rabbits, turkey and many different species of migratory birds that are often difficult to spot in other places,” Perez said. “It’s also a great opportunity to go ‘behind the scenes’ with a staff member and see the pine savanna habitat, which is also rare.”
The tours are suited for all abilities, from the beginning wildlife watcher to the advanced birder. They last about two hours, and the refuge encourages participants to wear layers for comfort. Due to the length of the tour, though, it may not be suitable for very young children.
“A crane tour is a unique opportunity to see one of the most rare species and habitat types on the planet,” Perez said. “They are free of charge and a great way for a family to spend a morning enjoying all of the unique natural wonders the Mississippi Gulf Coast provides.”
All crane tours begin at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located at 7200 Crane Lane in Gautier. The tours depart at 8 a.m., and reservations are required.Crane Tours for the month of January will be held on January 6, 10, 17, 20 and 24th. For more information or to make a reservation, please call 228-497-6322 ext 101. For upcoming tour dates (and other programming at the refuge) visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/