While my husband and I enjoy traveling, usually when we talk about a trip, we mean A TRIP—you know, somewhere away that takes multiple days. For example, we could travel to San Diego or to London.
What we have not done as much of is take day trips. Pennsylvania, where we live,offers a number of delightful destinations for day trips. And October is such a lovely time of year in the northeast, where leaves turning brilliant colors make a perfect backdrop for a day trip.
This week we set out for Hawk Mountain. We have been members for years, maybe even decades, but have never traveled there.
The story of Hawk Mountain is one of the power of individual effort and the need to respect and preserve nature. It began with a young man named Richard Pough who had recently graduated from college. He was a budding conservationist. Having heard of a place near Reading, PA called Hawk Mountain, he decided to visit.
At that time, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had placed a bounty prize on the heads of goshawks--$5 a head. The thinking was to eradicate any predator in the wild, including birds. (It is a huge irony that humans, the greatest predators of all time, would make such a determination to try to exterminate other predators.)
Pough* found a scene of incredible destruction—hundreds of raptors shot dead by hunters. He returned the following weekend with a camera, gathering up the dead birds which he lined up and photographed.
The photos helped galvanize other like-minded people, including a New York philanthropist named Rosalie Edge. She had the means to secure the land around Hawk Mountain. She first leased it, and 1934 she installed a warden to keep hunters away.
Within a year, all hunting there had ceased. She went on to purchase the 1,400 acres and the next year opened the Sanctuary. She then deeded the site to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which incorporate in 1938 as a non-profit organization. Today, the bulk of funding for the place comes from member support.
That makes Hawk Mountain the world’s first—and largest— refuge for birds of prey.
Why Hawk Mountain? The mountain, part of the Appalachian chain, sits right in the middle of one of the North American flyways. The sanctuary is well-developed with trails to various lookout points over the valley below.
On a clear day, such as the one we traveled on, the unobstructed view across the valley is some 70 miles. The main trail is about one third easy walking and two thirds climb over rocky terrain. One mile out to the North lookout point, and one mile back is a good walk in the woods.
We didn’t see too many raptors. The turkey vultures were out in force, riding the thermals with such ease, almost mockingly. One kept swooping in right where we were sitting as if to say “Look at me. You can’t do this.” We also saw red tail hawks, an American kestrel, and a bald eagle in the distance.
The two primary lookout points have volunteers and interns during all the hours the Sanctuary is open. They do a daily count, which you can see here. Sharp-shinned hawks, the ones most prevalent during the first week on October, were not to be seen during our trip.
*Art Pough went on to lead an amazing life as a conservationist. He helped found the Nature Conservancy. As his obituary in 2003 notes (he lived for 99 years) he served “stints at the National Audubon Society and the American Museum of Natural History… he wrote a series of Audubon guides on birds; helped to get a law banning the sale of wild-bird feathers; became one of the first to warn of the dangers of DDT; established several important preservation groups; and inadvertently established the house finch population of the eastern United States.”