Visit To Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Worth The Trip

August 19, 2018

Even in the pitch-black darkness of predawn, the telltale rumble of crossing railroad tracks and the mist rising off the Schuylkill River indicate to visitors they are just minutes away from reaching their destination. They are winding their way to the top of the Blue Mountain, where the visitor center parking lot and hiking trails of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary await them. For visitors living in central and Northeastern Pennsylvania, these trips to participate in a Sunrise Hike require little effort other than self-disciple and dedication. For visitors such as Marissa Hipp, however, traveling to Hawk Mountain during the early morning or late night hours requires a true commitment. Hipp, who is a resident of western Maryland and involved with several women’s hiking organizations, drives north for a trip that lasts slightly more than three hours through the night on Interstate 81 to arrive at Hawk Mountain before daylight and get on the trails to view the sunrise. Hipp usually makes the trip alone, but she knows the rewards of welcoming a new day atop Hawk Mountain are worth more than can be measured. Listening to the excitement in the tone of her voice when talking about her experiences visiting Hawk Mountain during a recent outdoors writers conference in Maryland served as a reminder — not that it was needed — to several writers from Pennsylvania how fortunate they are to live within the shadow of the mountain. “I can’t wait to return there for the upcoming season,” Hipp said. “There have been so many amazing sights that I’ve seen over the years, and the trail system is well maintained and an attraction onto themselves.” Although the annual Autumn Hawk Watch at Hawk Mountain opened last week and will remain open until Dec. 15, Hipp and other veteran visitors know the best opportunities to see migrating raptors are still six to eight weeks away. Most visitors who come for the primary purpose of seeing and photographing south-bound flights trek to the North Lookout. However, reaching the South Lookout is a shorter walk and also offers the opportunity to see a variety of birds of prey. “In the weeks leading up to the official opening of the Hawk Watch the crowds begin to get larger, especially on weekends,” Hawk Mountain information specialist Gigi Romano said. “Now that the count is officially underway, staff members, trainees and volunteers are stationed at the lookouts to help visitors spot and identify raptors. “Most commonly seen are broad-winged hawks, kestrels, vultures, ospreys and bald eagles. An average 18,000 raptors pass each autumn, and daily counts are posted throughout the season at www.hawkmountain.org. “Veteran visitors come equipped with binoculars and a full daypack to spend the day at North Lookout to enjoy the beauty of the colors in the autumn foliage, as well as viewing, photographing and recording the type of raptors seen. Those with small children often prefer the closer South Lookout, which can be reached using the wheelchair-accessible Silhouette Trail.” During the fall migration, there are weekend programs beginning Sept. 1, and continue through Nov. 4, that are free for members and those with paid admission. During September and October, there are several Saturday programs featuring speakers who will give talks on their experiences and expertise as part of the Autumn Lecture Series, and information about these programs is available at www.hawkmountain.org/events. Although the count of 17,015 raptors in 2017 was disappointing overall, falling below the 10-year average, there were some highlights. A high count of 4,019 broad-winged hawks was recorded Sept. 17, for the ninth-highest single-day count; 16 golden eagles were recorded on Nov 10; and 12 peregrine falcons were recorded on Oct. 7, both of which were the fourth-highest count in Hawk Mountain history. “When people asked why the low counts for so many species, I told them there was likely not one cause, and we think for some species it was the weather,” Romano said. “For late migrating species, such as northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk and golden eagle, the above average temperatures and lack of snow cover to the north may have allowed them to remain on territory.” Trails at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and access is free for those purchasing memberships, which are available online and at the visitor center. Daily trail fees apply for non-members, with reduced rates for seniors and children age 12 and younger. Memberships and trail fees help fund the programs and conservation work done by the staff at Hawk Mountain and are tax deductable. No matter the cost, a visit to Hawk Mountain is an experience that is priceless and too close not to enjoy. Contact the writer: wildlife@timesshamrock.com

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