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 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).
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Dear Mom and Dad, I went to Hawk Mountain and all I got was this lousy Turkey Vulture…
Even 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.
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!
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. Conservationists 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? http://www.hawkmountain.org/
Historical photo courtesy of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association http://www.hawkmountain.org/who-we-are/history/page.aspx?id=387