Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

By Gigi Romanospring 2017

A mere mile-long hike brings visitors to the top of Hawk Mountain's North Lookout, where they can take in 200-degree panoramic view of the Blue Mountain and local valleys below. Soon the lush green of the Kittatinny Ridge will return, and with the change of the Hawk Mountain vista comes the migrating raptors that fly past each spring, returning from their winter vacation. 

Beginning on Saturday, April 1, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary's counters will take their place in the counting pit atop North Lookout, awaiting the migrating hawks and eagles. The Spring Migration Watch and daily migrant raptor counts will occur daily through Monday, May 15.

The sanctuary’s professional conservation staff will help to make a Hawk Mountain visit enjoyable and accessible to people of all demographics, allowing for a diversely informative experience for all. The scientists, counters, volunteers and trainees stand ready in the Visitor Center and along the lookouts, eager to share raptor and wildlife information as well as the story of Hawk Mountain.

A Bit of History

In the late 1920s, Hawk Mountain gained popularity among hunters when the northern goshawk began to migrate through the area, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission offered $5 a bird in an attempt to control the goshawk population. This particular hawk was also considered to be a “vicious killer” by local farmers, who saw it as a threat to their livestock.

The hunting of hawks increased substantially as hunters shot down any and all hawks migrating past Hawk Mountain, hoping to hit enough goshawks to bring home the money. Eventually, nearby conservationists began to express concern. Richard Pough, a conservationist from Philadelphia, visited the Mountain and took photos of the mass hawk slaughter. In 1933, Pough presented the experience before the Hawk and Owl, Linnaean, and National Association of Audubon societies. In the audience was Rosalie Edge, founder of the Emergency Conservation Committee.

Edge was immediately inspired to take action. She leased the property previously owned by the Keystone Lumber and Supply Company in 1934 and later purchased the surrounding 1,300 acres of land in Berks and Schuylkill counties. She then established the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association.

Hawk Mountain became the first wildlife refuge for birds of prey established globally, and it also pioneered the first monitoring of raptor migration patterns, making the Hawk Mountain annual Migration Count the oldest in the world. Over time, the popularity of sanctuary visitation grew, and many found an appreciation for the hawks and the stunning views.

Many volunteers contributed as a fundamental part of data collection and visitor services. Maurice Broun and his wife, Irma, respectively, were the first to fill these roles, and were essential to the early success of Hawk Mountain.

What’s Flying Today

Today, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s committed visitor, operations, education and conservation staff, along with about 200 volunteers, works to make the mountain a welcoming and educational destination. Whether visitors are there for the views or the hawks, the experience is designed to be wholesome and impactful.

Throughout the year, and especially during the migration seasons, Hawk Mountain offers a variety of educational programs, lectures and workshops on-site to engage visitors in the importance of raptor conservation. The sanctuary also offers similar events covering various nature topics of importance, such as native Pennsylvania bees and local rattlesnakes. The programs often focus on conservation efforts and how visitors can get involved. The education staff, along with the help of interns and trainees, offers programs tailored to people of all ages and interests, which are usually free with the purchase of a trail pass or membership.

Interested readers can find Hawk Mountain’s upcoming events at www.hawkmountain.org/events.

Spring Migration Hawkwatch

Hawk Mountain invites visitors to look for returning raptors and other migrants during its annual Spring Hawkwatch, held daily from April 1 through May 15 at the sanctuary’s famous North Lookout. The trails, as always, are open from dawn to dusk and require a membership or trail pass to enter.

During the count, staff, trainees and volunteers are stationed at the lookouts to help visitors spot and identify raptors, including broad-winged hawks, red-tailed hawks, ospreys and bald eagles. Migration typically peaks in mid to late April, especially on days with southerly winds and cloud cover, when counts of more than 100 birds may be seen.

Beginning in the 1960s, the sanctuary has monitored the spring raptor migration, reporting an annual average of 1,063 raptors. Since 2000, conservation science trainees have regulated the daily count at the North Lookout during the second half of the spring migration, using the training of experienced volunteers and staff to learn migration count techniques. The trainees come from all over the world, bringing their global experience to Hawk Mountain for several months, and then return to their home countries with new conservation and research skills.

In conjunction with the count, spring weekend programs are held every Saturday and Sunday.  Volunteers and the international conservation trainees often lead these programs and stay at the lookouts to interact and offer help to any visitors.

The available weekend programs cover a variety of raptor observation basics and offer guests a unique and beneficial education opportunity while visiting the sanctuary. Hawk Mountain maintains a schedule of four programs each day, including Binocular Basics, Raptor Trapping and Tracking, Name That Raptor, and the sanctuary’s signature free live bird program, Raptors Up Close!

Connect to Nature

While the 1-mile hike to North Lookout is the most popular, Hawk Mountain offers several other trails varying in difficulty and length, and the Lookout Trail itself includes alternative routes to the top.

The Lookout Trail includes eight overlooks in addition to the main South and North Lookouts, and adventurous hikers can choose to take the Escarpment or Express trails to the top. The newly opened, ADA-accessible Silhouette Trail offers an alternative route to South Lookout and features life-size raptor silhouette displays, adding an additional interactive aspect to the hike.

There are also the River of Rocks trail, a rough and rocky 4-mile hike that encircles the boulder fields just below South Lookout, and the Skyline Trail, a difficult path along the ridge top that requires four-point scrambling and connects to the Appalachian Trail. The Golden Eagle Trail connects these two.

A loop of any of these trails plus the Lookout Trail can take up to three to four hours. Having the ability to customize the experience allows any hiker to find satisfaction along the trails. For more trail details, visit www.hawkmountain.org/hiking.

Although Hawk Mountain's 8-plus miles of trails are open year-round, migration season brings in the many volunteers, families, hikers and birders awakened by the returning wildlife and warming weather. Some members have returned to the mountain for decades, keeping the tradition alive amongst generations.

Hawk Mountain offers an opportunity for breathtaking views, unique wildlife education and a day among nature. For information on raptor research, visitor services or how to support the sanctuary, visit www.hawkmountain.org or call 610-756-6961.  

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