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A wing and a prayer. September 17, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters.
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When Rosalie Edge first came to Hawk Mountain in 1934, the mountain, which lies along one of the major migration routes for hawks, falcons, eagles, and other raptors, looked like a shooting gallery. As the noble birds of prey flew over in their hundreds and thousands, heading south for the winter, gunners mowed them down. It was like shooting fish in a barrel—even if you were a mediocre shot, it was impossible to miss. Photos of the time show hundreds of dead raptors strung on clothesline-long ropes held by beaming butchers.

Today, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary as we move towards 2009. Thanks to Mrs. Edge, who purchased 1400 acres, including Hawk Mountain, along Pennsylvania’s Kittatinny Ridge, to found the Association, and the dedicated conservationists and bird-lovers who have expanded and extended her vision, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is the most important raptor site in the U.S., and one of the top five on earth. Today, the Sanctuary encompasses 2,600 acres, with 8 miles of trails, a staff of 16 full-time employees, 200 volunteers, nearly 10,000 members, a marvelous Visitor Center, and the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are members of Hawk Mountain, so we get all kinds of perks, like unlimited free visits, discounts at the gift shop, and a free subscription to the quarterly Hawk Mountain News. We suggest that you check out their website, www.hawkmountain.org, where you’ll find tons of fascinating information. We love heading up there anytime we need a scenic getaway (or to stock up on nature-related gifts for friends and family), but we especially enjoy taking visitors to “the mountain.”

If our guests can barely amble along, we take them to the gift shop in the Visitor Center, then up the short, gentle trail to South Lookout, which offers a breathtaking view of the Kittatinny Ridge, the countryside spreading away beneath you for what seems like hundreds of miles, and the extraordinary “River of Rocks.” This “river” looks like a dry gravel streambed far below, but is actually a boulder field full of man-high rocks, a gift from the last Ice Age, left behind when a glacier retreated ever so slowly from the valley it had doubtless carved.

If our guests are in better shape, we take them up the mountain to one of our favorite overlooks, the secluded “Hall of the Mountain King,” and then on to the top, the North Lookout, where the raptor-viewing is best and the view of the surrounding countryside goes on forever. (Note: We consider the hike up to North Lookout to be a serious workout, and we love it. But we’re regularly passed on the trail by enthusiastic 80-somethings and families with toddlers, so don’t pass it up because it’s rocky and steep. You can do it!)

Our friends don’t tend to be serious hikers, so we’ve never had anyone want to head off on the Appalachian Trail. But it’s right there if you’re interested. There are also several charming bed and breakfasts conveniently located for out-of-town guests.

Hawk Mountain is extremely kid-friendly. In addition to the many child-oriented items in the gift shop, there’s a wonderful feeder display at the Visitor Center where, on the gift-shop side of a huge plate glass window, kids (and kids at heart) can watch dozens of songbirds, woodpeckers, and the occasional squirrel or chipmunk foraging for birdseed in a specially bird-friendly landscape on the other side of the glass. If you’re particularly taken by a certian kind of feeder, chances are the gift shop has it for sale.

Visitors of all ages will enjoy the many workshops, lectures, and live raptor showings. Our friend Ben and Silence missed the mushroom walk on September 13, but we’ve marked down the live golden eagle appearance on November 8 and one of our favorite annual events, the Hawk Mountain Art Show, featuring, of course, nature-related paintings, photographs, and sculptures and held at Cabela’s in nearby Hamburg, PA on September 27th and 28th.

In case you’re wondering why our friend Ben is posting about this now, it’s because the autumn migration has begun in a big way and I urge you all to come to Hawk Mountain if you can, binoculars in hand, and enjoy the excitement of seeing hundreds of broadwinged hawks or a bald eagle or osprey soaring by. Or, later, a gyrfalcon, merlin, or golden eagle. The fall migration season at Hawk Mountain runs from August 15th through December 15th, and the type and number of raptors changes with every passing day, week, and month.

We’re fortunate to have a good friend, Rudy Keller, who’s a volunteer there and sends us e-mail updates of really good days so we can follow along. But you can find the counts by species at the Hawk Mountain website and at the Sanctuary itself. And if you don’t know a redtail hawk from a peregrine falcon, no worries. There are always interns or volunteers at the lookouts to tell you what’s passing overhead.

Hawk Mountain is open all year, and our friend Ben and Silence enjoy going during the off-seasons, too, when the great fall and spring migrations don’t bring lots of other visitors to see the miracle of hawks, falcons, eagles, and, yes, vultures in flight. (Despite its unprepossessing appearance close up, a vulture in flight is more majestic than anything.) But the miracle of the migration is not to be missed if you can get here.

Seeing the stately progress of the majestic birds, often so high up that they run the risk of colliding with jets, takes our friend Ben’s breath away and brings an appreciative tear to Silence’s eye. The beauty, the ultimate, clean, simple beauty of it! Some of these birds are bound for South America, making an annual round trip that boggles the mind. Others will decide that Pennsylvania is far enough south and spend the winter months with us. Needless to say, we’re delighted to have them.

Comments»

1. nancybond - September 17, 2008

I’d love to be there for the migration! Get some pics for us. 🙂 We’ll soon have our own migration of Canada Geese as they form their perfect ‘V’s for the trip to warmer climes. It’s a sight that never fails to leave me speechless.

Nancy, it is fabulous! I wish you could be here for it! But yes, the flights of the Canada geese, and then the snow geese, are as miraculous as anything God ever gave us…

2. Alan - September 17, 2008

I remember the snow geese landing in the fields around our house when I was a kid. They would turn an 80 acre field white. It was incredible. (Of course we went out and shot them. They taste quite nice when properly roasted.)

They land in the field behind us every spring and fall, and it’s the most magical thing I know. Of course, the farmers shoot them, too. Let’s hope they also eat them!

3. scm - September 18, 2008

Thanks–I’ve enjoyed Hawk Mountain for years but never bothered with its history. So I’m happy to toast Mrs. Edge.
And the last time I was there I was intrigued to hear that some of the folks doing the counts were keeping track of dragonflies migrating overhead. Yes, dragonflies. Would love to hear more about this if anyone knows anything.

I think they do track insects as well as songbirds and other nonraptors, scm. I was just there today watching monarchs drift past like flakes of flame (not to mention seeing an osprey!). I’ll ask about the dragonflies.


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