At Lady Autumn’s Command

It’s getting annoying. The constant, imperious interruptions. Can’t a girl get some peace?

I have been promising Wild Edge readers a Finger Lakes series for weeks. But every time I try to sit down and edit the photos, something else intervenes. From outside my window, the call comes, beckoning – no, demanding.



I tried, but failed, to resist the siren song of September. October was no different. It’s the trees this time. Changing day-by-day to brilliant gold and crimson. The march of the seasons goes relentlessly on, no matter what. One ignores it at one’s peril.

Once again, I am at Lady Autumn’s command.

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141028_HNWR Autumn_2271acsWhat’s this? Has Lady Autumn been playing in her wardrobe again?

141109_Nockamixon Fall Camping_3230aIn the manner of all divas, this elusive elf has made us wait for her appearance. At last she has graced the stage. First to feel the touch of her hand were the mountains and high hills. Haycock Mountain wears Her Ladyship’s colors along the shimmering blue shores of Lake Nockamixon.

141025_Hawk Mountain_1962aHawk Mountain is similarly adorned. One can do worse than to sun oneself on an outcropping of Tuscarora sandstone, watching while raptors journey past, and vultures circle lazily over the slopes.

141025_Hawk Mountain_1840acsHere flies a courier of the autumn elf. A Red-tailed Hawk wings its determined way south on a mission of migration.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2458aHer Ladyship’s steeds soak up the sunshine on a fine autumn day.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2667acsFun Fact: The Summer Queen bedecks herself in leaves of green, while Lady Autumn chooses golden yellows, fiery reds and blood-deep purples. Yet these are in fact the same leaves. Why do they change color? Like much in life, it has to do with food. Plants use the chemical chlorophyll to make food from sunlight, a process known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color. When the day shortens and sunlight fades in fall, the chlorophyll also fades. This reveals the yellows and oranges of the carotenoid pigments, which have been present all along. In addition, some trees produce anthocyanins in the fall, which turn leaves red and even purple. Leaves are vulnerable to freezing, so to protect the tree throughout the cold winter, the leaves close their veins and fall away.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2587acsLady Autumn samples many smaller stages before she is ready to take her act to Broadway.

The theater of choice this year is the Wissahickon Valley.

A wise choice it is indeed. The slopes of the deep gorge abound with trees that can best show off her finery.

She cannot help but admire herself in the mirrored surface of Wissahickon Creek.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2638aNo unblemished mirror is this Creek. All along its course are boulders of Wissahickon schist, smoothed and weathered with time. Far from detracting from Her Ladyship’s beauty, they seem somehow to enhance it.141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2885a

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2792aAs do some creations of Man. The Bluestone Bridge was built in 1896 to carry travelers across the creek to the Lotus Inn. The old roadhouse is long gone, but the bridge remains.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2934aElsewhere, the Walnut Lane Bridge provides a more modern backdrop to Lady Autumn’s colorful dance.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2849acsNow the days grow short, and the hounds of the Winter Queen can be heard baying throughout the woods.

Lady Autumn’s entourage finds much preparation needed before the curtain closes.

141114_7D First Shoot_0058 acs copyThe smallest of her footmen searches busily through crimson raiments worn and then discarded. “There’s an acorn in here somewhere, I just know there is!”

Soon the last of Autumn’s finery, discarded along the wayside, will fade to brown, to be gathered and taken away. Not to be rushed is our Lady, though; before ceding the stage, she will have her encore, one last turn along the Wissahickon, one last dance in the gorgeous gorge.141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2745acs

Hawk Mountain

Hawk Mountain_0372a Welcome to the Endless Mountain, a long ridge known as Kittatinny that stretches 300 miles from Maryland northeastward through Pennsylvania and New Jersey into southern New York. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary sits on that ridge, and is internationally known as a premier place to watch the spectacle of fall raptor migration. Cross winds that hit face of the ridge create updrafts that southward migrating raptors use to carry them over the mountain.

On a clear fall day, with a northwest wind after a cold front, one might be treated to hawks, falcons and eagles flying past in large numbers and at close range. The day Colleen, Erika and I went to Hawk Mountain was not one of those days. It was a fun fall outing for us anyway.

Hawk Mountain Rock_0573aHawk Mountain is in the Ridge and Valley ecoregion, and is completely different from the flat Atlantic Coastal Plain of Heinz Refuge and southern New Jersey that I spend so much time in. For starters, there are hills. LARGE hills. Then there are the rocks. These range from small stones to enormous boulders. Like these at Bald Lookout (above).

Hawk Mountain_0800a From South Lookout we could see the River of Rocks below, a geologic feature that looks like water but is actually an Ice Age boulder field.

Hawk Mountain_0515aThe Lookout Trail was easy at first, well-groomed and relatively flat. Along the way we spotted a few small birds, including this Hermit Thrush (above) and a Tufted Titmouse (below), who was not giving up his leaf toy without a fight.Hawk Mountain_0491a

Hawk Mountain_0637a After Bald Lookout, the trail became much more rocky and challenging. There’s lots to see along the way, though, and stopping to look is a great excuse to catch your breath. The variety of mosses scattered among the stones made for an interesting vignette (above). A lot of the rocks like this one (below) are covered in lichens.Hawk Mountain Rock_0422a

We finally arrived at the North Lookout, and here I learned a valuable lesson: camera and binoculars go INSIDE the daypack at Hawk Mountain while on the trails. I overbalanced on a boulder and sat down VERY hard. I was lucky, just a scraped shin and bruised bum, but I could have done some significant damage to my equipment.

Okay, folks, we’re here and ready for the Raptor Show!  Apparently the hawks didn’t get the message. On this day, the birds that flew over the ridges were so far away as to be no more than specks. The official spotters, who were armed with scopes, told us that we saw Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and even a Golden Eagle, but they all looked like little black dots to me.

Hawk Mountain_0721a  Dear Mom and Dad, I went to Hawk Mountain and all I got was this lousy Turkey Vulture…

Hawk Mountain_0715aEven the hills were shrouded in mist, muting the brilliant fall color and making landscape photography difficult. Nestled in among the trees were some farms and little towns, just visible through the haze.Hawk Mountain_0822a

Of course, within ten minutes of leaving North Lookout, the sun broke out and the sky turned brilliant blue. No doubt the hawks were laughing at us hapless humans. I think even this little chipmunk was laughing at us. But we enjoyed the day, so we had the last laugh!Hawk Mountain_0789a

 CONSERVATION PIECE: During the Great Depression, the Pennsylvania Game Commission paid $5 for each hawk killed, which led to the widespread slaughter of raptors. Hawk Mountain was a popular place to stand and shoot hundreds of passing hawks for sport. Dead hawks at the SlideConservationists began to oppose the killing, and one ornithologist recovered and photographed the abandoned carcasses. Those photographs reached a New York activist named Rosalie Edge, who in 1934 leased 1,400 acres on Hawk Mountain and immediately imposed a hunting ban. The next year she opened Hawk Mountain to the public to watch the hawks migrate. She then purchased the land and gave it to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in 1938. Hawk Mountain has been a wonderful place to witness the marvel of migration ever since.

Want more information?

Historical photo courtesy of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association 



The Search Continues

Hawk Mountain_0399a If you would seek Lady Autumn, you must tackle the quest with tenacity. Her Ladyship will not show her brilliant colors in places that are easy for you to attain. Slow treks over rocks and steep slopes may well be the order of the day. And you may be left with bruised legs, bruised bum and bruised ego at the end of that day.

Was it worth it? You be the judge. Hail the Queen, wearing a misty veil on Hawk Mountain.Hawk Mountain_0804aHawk Mountain_0362aHawk Mountain_0704

HNWR Fall_0981aIf you would seek Lady Autumn, you must practice patience. Her Ladyship is not to be rushed. She will sample the many garments and baubles in her wardrobe over days and weeks before she achieves perfection in her raiment.

You must be willing to wait for her; she arrives in her own time. But when she does, what a show she puts on!

Hail the Queen, fashionably late at Heinz Refuge.  HNWR Fall_0940a HNWR Fall_0878aHNWR Fall_1129a

Marsh Creek_1999If you would seek Lady Autumn, you must not dally.  Her Ladyship does not linger long in her best adornments. Tarry even a little and you will be met with only bare branches and leaf-strewn paths.

Fear not. If you are willing of heart, even you, O Couch Potato, may find some lingering tokens of her presence.

Hail the Queen, playing peek-a-boo at Marsh Creek State Park. Marsh Creek_1178a Marsh Creek_1567a

Have you seen Autumn?Marsh Creek_2015a

Coming up: Hawk Mountain