Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Upon our return to Pennsylvania, we continued our summer of hiking in the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, near the small town of Kempton. The 1,400 acre forest was an area that local hunters came to shoot hawks in the 1920s and 30s. Over the fall and spring migrations, thousands of raptors fly over this ridge in the Appalachian mountain chain because of favorable winds and updrafts on their journey between Canada and Florida and Latin America for the winter.

This being early August, there were no migrating raptors. We did see three black vultures soaring over the ridge. Besides migrating raptors, the non-profit association in charge of the center has an education center with many environmental initiatives. They developed a trail system and so we did a 5-mile loop from one ridge to the other ridge. I hiked the trails in July 2013 and I was so happy to have my children climb the many rocky hills. Oliver had the quote of the day as he was ahead of us on the walk and called back, “Mom, you are not going to like this, but for me it is cool!” As you can see from the video, there were some parts of the trail that required minor rock climbing. It was a good total body workout.

I am encouraged reading the history of the sanctuary. The thinking in the 1920s was to get rid of all predators including hawks and other raptors. Local hunters used to shoot them in hundreds during the migration. In 1931, Richard Pough, an amateur ornithologist, collected the dead the birds and photographed them. When a wealthy New York activist named Rosalie Edge saw the exhibition, she leased the mountain and put a warden in to stop the hunters. She eventually purchased the land and formed the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. Through the forward thinking of a couple of individuals, the area today supports raptors in the their migrations and is flight of these majestic birds are enjoyed by thousands of people. I only wish she would have purchased more land to preserve even more forests, instead of the numerous farms that grow corn to feed cows.


Hawk Mountain Hike

I went for a long hike yesterday in the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, an international center for raptor conservation. The reserve is located close to Bethlehem in the Appalachian Mountains, and is called the Kittatinny (American Indian tribe Lenape, meaning “endless”) which is a pretty appropriate name as the Appalachian Trail goes right by here on its way to Georgia or Maine. This is an important flyway for migrating raptors and they come through in the thousands every spring and fall.

I am pictured above in the “river of rocks” which are these long, narrow spaces with thousands of huge boulders. It is amazing to consider that this mile long field of boulders was formed 11,000 years ago by the ice age. The intense cold of that period, loosened the rocks and they tumbled down the valley. They are sometimes called upside down rivers because of the stream of water beneath them.

The reserve has a lot of rocks! It was fun to climb and scramble over them during my 6-mile hike yesterday. The rocks probably saved the area from the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers! The area is surrounded by old farms and new “McMansions” and so unfortunately while hiking, the sound of cars and motorcycles can still slightly be heard.

I saw one raptor flying through the canopy and got some great photos of these black vultures on the East Rocks area. Vultures are scientifically classified as raptors.

It was a wonderfully relaxing day, being alone in the woods. I sweated profusely, but the heat probably kept most hikers away and I had the far reaches of the park to myself. It would be awesome to be here during the migration periods.

The Appalachian Mountains do not have the majestic quality of the Rockies, but they have a beauty and mystery in their own right. I always get recharged being in the wilderness and the hike was a welcomed respite from my doctorate classes this summer. I will definitely be back with my kids, they would love to scale the rocks!