Sandhill Crane season opens Saturday; Viewing weekends Jan. 20-21, Feb. 17-18

   Barren River Lake has become an annual stop for migrating Sandhill Cranes. Thousands of the majestic birds visit Kentucky twice a year- in the fall as they migrate south, and in the winter as they return north.
   In addition to the annual Sandhill Crane viewing weekends, the lake will also host the inaugural Sandhill Crane hunting season.
Sandhill Crane Hunting Season    
   Kentucky’s first hunting season on Sandhill Cranes begins this Saturday, Dec. 17, and will continue through Jan.15, or until hunters take 400 birds, whichever comes first. A total of 332 hunters will participate in the first season.
   The daily behavior of Sandhill Cranes is similar to Canada geese. They like to roost and loaf in shallow water and on mudflats, and feed in agricultural fields.
   The sandhill crane is a transient visitor to Kentucky whose numbers have increased dramatically since the 1970s. A recent count of the eastern population numbered about 72,000 birds.
   Last season, 13 states in the western U.S. and three Canadian provinces had sandhill crane hunting seasons.
 “Kentucky is a return stop on the sandhill crane’s migration back to its breeding grounds,” said Rocky Pritchert, migratory bird program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Hunting activity in December and early January will not affect wildlife viewing opportunities on Barren River Lake in early February, when the largest number of birds stop over in Kentucky.” 
   Biologists believe Sandhill Cranes congregate at Barren River Lake because thousands of acres of mudflats are exposed at winter pool. Major roost areas of Barren River Lake have been closed by regulation to sandhill crane hunting, in an effort to maximize wildlife viewing opportunities. 
Sandhill Crane Viewing Weekends 
   Barren River Lake State Park
will host Sandhill Crane Viewing Weekends Jan. 20-21 and Feb. 17-18, 2012. The weekends will consist of educational sessions by Wayne Tamminga, a wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, on Friday evenings at 7 p.m. CST.
   On Saturday, participants can register for one of two trips:
– The morning sunrise trip takes guests to the roosting site before sunrise to experience the beauty of the cranes leaving the roost as they journey to nearby cornfields to spend the day.
– The sunset trip begins by viewing the birds in the cornfields and ends at the roosting site so you may view the magnificence of thousands of cranes circling overhead as they get ready to settle down for the night.
   Each of these trips will be led by naturalists from the Kentucky Department of Parks.
   Registration is $30 per person and includes the evening session, a sunrise or sunset field trip, boxed meal, and a T-shirt.
   Registration forms are available online at Sandhill Crane Viewing Weekends or by contacting Jamie Avery at Jamie.Avery@ky.gov or 1-800-325-0057.
   Note: The dates selected are based on historical records under normal weather conditions in January and at the end of February, and past trends of the cranes’ arrival in this area. Please be aware that this narrow window of opportunity can vary by several days based on weather and the cranes’ migration schedule.

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