Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary and scientific research center dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey. It is 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 are flying 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 has 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.