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Hawk Mountain soars in conservation of birds

Photo Credit// Jamie Ratchford

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary and scientific research center dedicated
to the conservation of birds of prey. It’s also the premier destination in the northeastern United
States to view the annual hawk migration.
It is the world’s largest member-supported raptor conservation organization and works as
an international conservation training site. The sanctuary began in 1935 by conservation activist
Rosalie Edge. She was moved to action upon seeing the photographs of Richard Pough, amateur
ornithologist and conservationist. Hundreds of hawks had been killed for sport after the
Pennsylvania game commission consorted to the elimination of predatory birds during the Great
Depression.
After visiting Hawk Mountain and seeing the devastation imposed on the birds, Pough
collected the birds from the forest floor. He documented them with photographs to spread the
message of opposing this senseless act. By 1938, Edge had purchased and deeded the 1,400-acre
property to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, a non-profit organization. To this day, the
land is pristine and the hawks are free to carry on in their migratory path. Some of the birds fly to
Central America, some even as far as Brazil and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary provides a safe place
for the birds to make their long journey.
Last weekend I spent the afternoon at Hawk Mountain. Many thanks to Northampton
Community College and the National Endowment for the Arts for sponsoring the ticket. It was a
beautiful autumn day and while I only saw two raptors, the experience was definitely
worthwhile.
This time of year is the height of the Fall hawk migration. The raptor counters and
interpreters were perched with their binoculars at North Lookout, researching and recording the
seasonal patterns of the migratory flight. The peak of the Vulture, Golden Eagle, Falcon, and
Buteo Hawks occurs in October. I had just missed the bulk of it, but there were plenty of
photographs and information on the hawks at the visitor’s center. I didn’t feel like I had missed
out too much, as it was a great experience just to be surrounded by the natural environment. The
lookouts were incredibly accessible. I was concerned I wouldn’t get to experience any of the
sites, as I am recovering from an ankle sprain, but I was thrilled to discover the graded pathways.
I saw many people out to enjoy the mountains, including people in wheelchairs and I
was glad that the sanctuary had made it available to those of us who couldn’t wander out over the
rocky trails. The diversity of the visitors was also a major highlight, there were people visiting
from all over the world. The sound of each different language spoken, filled the air with a
remarkable music. We all stood, gazing in reverence at the beauty that lay before us. The
mountain scape arrested us with its striking grace.
There is still plenty of time to see the hawks in the beautifully preserved landscape.
November brings the peak of migration for Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Northern Goshawks,
and Red-tailed Hawks, among others. I will definitely make the trip again in the next month to

catch a glimpse of these majestic birds. And as soon as I am physically able to, I will be heading
back to hike the 4-mile River of Rocks Trail to get a better look at the Ice-Age boulder field,
which can be seen from South Lookout. The 1.4-mile Skyline Trail connects with the
Appalachian National Scenic Trail for those of us who enjoy an extended adventure. There are
short jaunts and extended treks, a little something for every skill level.
There is a $10 fee to day-hike or $40 to become a member and enjoy a full year of
unlimited entry, all proceeds go directly to the conservation of raptors. The visitor’s center
provides a map of the trails and plenty of additional information. The sanctuary is open year-
round. To learn more please visit www.hawkmountain.org