Bud's View: Raptors delight
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, atop the Appalachian Mountains west of Kempton in Albany Township, Berks County, and East Brunswick Township, Schuylkill County, is one of the best locations in the world to observe migrating raptors.
Described as "Nature's Greatest Air Show," approximately 18,000 migrating raptors (birds of prey) are said to pass along Hawk Mountain's rocky outlooks between Aug. 15 and Dec. 15.
The 2,600-acre sanctuary also draws hikers looking for exercise and families who visit to take in the experience at 1700 Hawk Mountain Road.
This year marked the 77th Annual Autumn Hawk Watch where observers count the number of migrating hawks, eagles and falcons gliding by the North Lookout, about one mile from the Visitor Center.
The sanctuary recorded its one millionth raptor Oct. 8, 1992.
Hawk Mountain is very user-friendly. The South Lookout, approximately 100 yards from the parking area, has smooth, wide trails.
For those with limited mobility, an all-terrain wheelchair is available at the Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis. A golf cart transports persons with disabilities to South Lookout during autumn weekends.
The sanctuary's history dates to the early 1930's when Richard Pough, a Philadelphia amateur ornithologist, heard about an area referred to by local residents as Hawk Mountain.
When Pough visited the area in fall 1931 he discovered an area where raptors were shot for sport. Raptor carcasses littered the hillside.
Pough returned a short time later to photograph the dead birds. The photos were published in Bird Lore magazine, predecessor to Audubon.
The photos caught the attention of New York conservation activist Rosalie Edge. She traveled from New York City to Hawk Mountain in 1934 and later leased 1,400 acres along the hawk migration route.
Edge hired a New England bird enthusiast, Maurice Braun and his wife, Irma, to guard the property. The shooting stopped almost immediately.
A year later the land was opened as a sanctuary where the public could observe the magnificent birds of prey in their natural environment.
"The time to protect a species is while it is still common," Edge stressed.
She purchased and deeded the land to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in 1938. It has expanded and continues to operate as a non-profit.
The outstanding Appalachian Mountains ridge location includes scenic overlooks, eight miles of valley and mountaintop trails, plus the gorgeous changing colors of the fall season. By the way, you can rent a pair of binoculars at the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center, with its "Wings of Wonder" raptor gallery, bookstore and gift shop is the best place to start your visit. The center is open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. year-round, with the exception of autumn's peak migration period when it stays open one hour later. Trails are open from dawn to dusk.
Don't despair if you can't tell one raptor from another. Staff members and trained volunteers at the lookouts announce the specific species and approaching birds.
Many of the migrating raptors follow a reliable schedule. Late summer is the time when ospreys, bald eagles and American kestrels are the most likely raptors observed. The decreasing daylight hours in late summer induce zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness, in raptors.
Many colorful neo tropical songbirds fill the morning skies as they continue their flights to their winter homes in Central and South America.
Broad-winged hawk numbers begin to build in mid-September. These small, round-winged hawks catch rising columns of air called thermals to effortlessly gain altitude as they pass by the sanctuary's rocky outcrops.
If your timing is good, you may see hundreds of broad-wings in a single afternoon. On Sept. 12, 2006, counters recorded 7,800 broad-winged hawks, the largest one-day count since 1978.
The greatest diversity of raptors (16 different species) is in mid-October when Hawk Mountain's fall foliage colors are at their peak. On clear days, visitors are treated to a first-hand reality show when red-tailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks glide by, often at eye level. This is also the best time to see northern harriers, peregrine falcons and merlins.
Migration slows down in November, but this is a special time when dedicated observers see golden eagles and northern goshawks.
Although few birds fill the December sky, visitors still enjoy hiking to the North Lookout for an occasional glimpse of a lone bald eagle or to soak in the solitude of the early winter season.
Hawk Mountain is a great destination anytime of the year.
That's the way I see it!
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary directions, information: email@example.com, hawkmountain.org, 610-756-6961
To schedule programs, hikes and birthday parties: 610-767-4043; comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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© 2013 Bud Cole