Monday, November 11, 2013

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, Pennsylvania

                      "The time to protect a species is while it's still common."
                                                                                                 --Rosalie Edge
Hawk Mountain is located under the Atlantic Flyway, a
principal route for migrating birds.

         “Eagle, high over Five. Sharpy coming in over Owl’s Head.” 
          Dozens of pairs of binoculars rise, their owners heeding the command to scan the skies over the above-named ridges.  The directive sounds like code for incoming missiles, but the raptors filling the sky today are not military but avian—a majestic Golden Eagle and a sleek Sharp-shinned Hawk.  

Birders search the skies above ridge "Five", hoping
to catch a glimpse of an Eagle.

The view from North Lookout.

          I’m part of the crowd seated on the rocks of North Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania.  We gaze skyward at the soaring birds, the tranquility of this moment belying the carnage which occurred here 80 to 100 years ago.  During the first decades of the 20th century thousands of migrating hawks, eagles and falcons were gunned down—injured and killed for fun by so-called “sportsmen”.  Horrified by reports of the wanton slaughter, New York socialite Rosalie Edge leased these woodlands in 1934 and stationed wardens in the area.  Ms. Edge invited the public to visit and to bird-watch; four years later Hawk Mountain became the world’s first refuge for birds of prey. 

Hunters in the early 1900s traveled to the mountain
along old horse-and-wagon trails.
This ledge is only 100 yards from the roadway, providing a
veritable shooting gallery for the hawk slaughter.
          Before leaving our rocky perch to hike the 1.1 mile trail back to the Visitor Center one more directive is issued from the Hawk Mountain intern staffing the lookout today:  “Incoming, directly overhead.”  It’s a Merlin, dive-bombing the owl statue standing guard over the spectators at North Lookout.
         Today it’s birds—not bullets—flying overhead, and the only shots being taken are photographs.  Thanks to Rosalie Edge the rolling ridges surrounding Hawk Mountain Sanctuary remain a safe haven—for both humans and raptors.

A spotting scope is trained on peaks "One" through "Five".

           Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is located in southeast-central Pennsylvania, near the Appalachian Trail.  Every day during the fall migration a staff member is stationed on the lookout to conduct an official bird count and to help visitors with raptor identification.  
          Crowds can be prohibitive on weekends during fall color season (most of the month of October).  November is my favorite month to visit the North Lookout.

Learn more about Hawk Mountain by visiting their website:

Two tales of one trail.  The top photo was taken on the North Lookout
trail in September of 2013.  The bottom picture was taken on the
same trail in November of 2008.  If you're dressed for
the weather, November offers great views and no crowds.
(Bring along a thermos of hot chocolate.)


  1. Wonderful! It’s so gratifying to know that in today’s world Hawk Mountain is only graced by photographer’s snapshots rather than disgraced by hunter’s gunshots!

    That’s quite a contrast in your ‘Two Tales from One Trail” photos! November can be such an erratic, inconsistent month in terms of snow, and overall weather conditions.

    Thanks for sharing this!


  2. Hi John,

    Yes, it certainly is wonderful to have a refuge to visit in the mountains of PA during the fall hunting season—a place where the wildlife (and the people) are safe from any stray bullets.

    You're right about November being temperamental. It's best to be prepared for anything and to go with a "devil-may-care" attitude!

  3. Hi Rita,

    Yes, I'm about 3 weeks behind in my email, but finally catching up. I saved your posts as a treat to enjoy when the crush of work subsided.

    What foresight Rosalie Edge had - a conservationist mind at a time when, as you note, people were more likely to shoot guns than photographs.

    From the photos, this is an amazing sanctuary, and you had great weather and clear skies for your visit.

    Thank you for sharing this spot.

    BTW, I don't think I ever asked: How many U.S. states have you visited in your sojourns?

    All best,

  4. Hi Vickie,

    It's good to be busy, isn't it? But it's also nice when the workload eases off, and I'm happy that you saved my posts as treats for your "downtime"!

    Rosalie Edge was a giant in the field of conservation, especially considering it was the 1930s. Not that they don't deserve praise, but the conservationists of the 1960s seem to have overshadowed Ms. Edge's achievements.

    Eastern PA enjoyed spectacular weather the last week of September; it was a great time to visit.

    I have been to all 50 states—my 50th state was Hawaii in 2005. Since then I have been re-visiting a state each year and exploring parts of that state I haven't previously been to. It's been fun!

    1. All 50! That's an accomplishment! I'm not sure I'll ever be able to equal that. Maybe when I retire…with a camper van and a faithful dog to enjoy the hiking trails with. :)

    2. Hey Vickie,
      I like your dream of taking a camper van and a faithful dog to explore the 50 states—sounds like an ideal retirement plan!