Temporary Tattoos for Long-term Conservation

By Jillian Hojsak, Summer 2018 Conservation Science Trainee

Jillian and Lindy

Jillian and Lindy

I know vultures aren’t the cutest. Despite their negative reputation, vultures are a keystone species; they play a vital role in the ecosystem as a scavenging bird of prey. My summer traineeship at Hawk Mountain in 2018 initially sparked my interest in vultures. I began researching the often-villainized creature and learned of all the risks they face, particularly Old World vultures. Through Hawk Mountain’s international network, I connected and talked with Dr. Lindy Thompson, Project Coordinator for Vulture Conservation and Research at the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa. The more I learned from her, the more invested I became.

One year later, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa myself! Through Dr. Spelman’s course at the Rhode Island School of Design, I spent three weeks in the Limpopo Province, learning about conservation and current human-wildlife conflicts. The other student artists and I generated projects that communicate or enact a conservation solution to one of the conflicts. We attended lectures regarding elephant, rhino, pangolin, lion, and vulture poaching while simultaneously learning about the local culture. Much to my surprise, our vulture lecturer was Lindy! It was great to officially meet her and speak with her about vultures, especially after the devastating mass poaching event in Botswana, where over 500 vultures were killed via three poisoned elephant carcasses.

Jillian painting the temporary tattoo on a student.

Jillian painting the temporary tattoo on a student.

My final project highlighted the intensity and personable qualities of South Africa’s vulture species. I created an online quiz for people to determine which species they relate to the most, while informing the participant of the risks that vultures face. I designed six vulture portraits to accompany each species: Cape, bearded, lappet-faced, white-headed, white-backed, and Lindy’s favorite, hooded. The concept began by acknowledging that protecting vultures protects humans. Vultures are a main defense against lethal toxins/diseases like anthrax and rabies. Furthermore, lead bullets used for hunting contaminate our own water and environment, as well as vulture blood.

A close up of a student’s temporary vulture tattoo.

A close up of a student’s temporary vulture tattoo.

We presented our projects to high school students in Acornhoek, and it was both successful and inspiring. I painted my designs on the students for three hours straight, after they took the quiz. The act of putting vulture art on our own bodies, even temporarily, symbolizes how poisons affect us as well as them. I enjoyed expanding conversations with each girl, as I painted their selected vultures. It was encouraging to see them become excited about vultures and their individual personality traits. I left South Africa feeling inspired and hopeful that art can have an impact on conservation – even if it’s just for individuals.

Inside the Arctic Blind

By Rebecca McCabe, PhD Candidate McGill University, Hawk Mountain Graduate Student

Two rough-legged hawk chicks in their nest.

Two rough-legged hawk chicks in their nest.

On the frigid tundra, the only thing between myself and the hard ground is a cushioned seat; my feet are propped up against a millions-of-years-old rock. The camouflaged blind is conspicuous against the treeless landscape but allows me to watch the birds without disturbing them. I stare through the small window, binoculars in hand, at an open cliff face where a rough-legged hawk sits about halfway down on a grassy green ledge.

Four young sit inside the nest cup, calling out to their parents “feed me, feed me.” At 10:15 the adult female swoops in and lands on the perch above the stick nest where we have our trap. She hops down to attend to her young before flying off. Less than five minutes pass before she returns. The chicks stand up and start calling excitedly. Finally, food has arrived! Their mother pulls apart the prey with her sharp bill, and within 30 seconds, it disappears into the crops of a few hungry hawks. She then returns to our baited trap but once again evades capture, and after a few nibbles she leaves to a higher perch, where she dutifully watches over her young.

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We endure over an hour of silence until the chatter of the young hawks begins once more. The female is back on the trap! For the next twenty minutes or so, I watch, hardly blinking as she climbs and hops back and forth from the trap to the nest, feeding small bits of prey to her chicks. With each leap I hold my breath, waiting for her to become trapped. Finally, after a dozen trips, her leg gets caught in a noose. I quickly radio to JF, “We got a bird!” and I leap from my seat, open the blind door, and run down the hill towards the base of the cliff. I cross the river and quickly climb ten meters up the crumbling, vertical cliff to retrieve the female who lies calmly on the ground with a noose line caught around three of her toes. I secure her wings with one hand and grab her legs with the other. Next, I carefully place her inside of a cloth bag and remove the noose from her toes, so I can head back down the cliff and up the valley to meet Dr. JF Therrien, Hawk Mountain’s Senior Scientist.

Rough-legged hawk with a satellite telemetry tracking unit attached.

Rough-legged hawk with a satellite telemetry tracking unit attached.

The stunning bird weighed over 1.1 kilograms and was placid as we measured, banded, and affixed a backpack transmitter. JF held the female and guided me as I slid the harness over her head and fitted the backpack to her body. We snapped a few photos, admired her beauty, and with great big smiles on our faces, we released her back onto the open tundra.

The data collected from this female and the other rough-legged hawks trapped on Bylot Island, Nunavut will help us better understand the breeding dispersal, migratory movements and survival rate of North America’s largest buteo. To learn more or to support this important research, click here or contact Dr. JF Therrien (therrien@hawkmountain.org; 570-943-3411 x104).

Special thanks to Hawk Mountain’s supporters, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the NSERC CREATE-EI program, the Polar Continental Shelf Project, Université Laval, and Parks Canada for supporting this study in the high-Arctic.

Rebecca with the newly tagged rough-legged hawk, just before release.

Rebecca with the newly tagged rough-legged hawk, just before release.

The Peaks of My Hawk Mountain Journey

By Alyssa Polansky, Summer 2019 Education Trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” These inspiring words best summarize my time at Hawk Mountain as an education trainee. I am departing the mountain having learned and experienced much more than I anticipated. All the high points of my journey helped me grow not only as an educator, but as a person. My work with the amazing staff, volunteers and trainees and all the unique experiences I took part in will help me to carry my time on the Mountain with me for many years to come.

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Some highlights of my time at Hawk Mountain were raptor care and working with the feathered educators. It was awesome to build trust with these raptors and learn their individual habits and personalities. Once we were comfortable with one another, I was able to work with them during our many educational programs. There is something magical about working with animal educators and giving people a close-up experience with the sometimes-secretive world of wildlife. It helps that these feathered educators came to the Sanctuary due to injury and can’t be released back into the wild, so they find a second chance at life here. It is a truly beautiful partnership.

Young screech owl banding with Dr. JF Therrien

Young screech owl banding with Dr. JF Therrien

Going out in the field with scientists and helping to collect real data was another enriching opportunity and highlight of my experience. I accompanied Dr. Allison Cornell and her team from Cedar Crest College as they studied newly hatched American kestrel chicks until the incredible moment when they began to fledge. I also joined Dr. JF Therrien as he banded eastern screech owl chicks and watched longtime HMS volunteer Sandy Lockerman band hummingbirds. I even tagged along with researchers, studying bats at Hawk Mountain and assisting in mist netting. I was filled with hope for these species and many others after seeing them up close and learning about their research.

Alyssa and fellow trainee Diana host an elementary school field trip with the Raptors Over the Ridge introduction program.

Alyssa and fellow trainee Diana host an elementary school field trip with the Raptors Over the Ridge introduction program.

Working with the Sanctuary’s education team and learning about environmental education was a prized aspect of my journey. Education is one the most valuable conservation tools and my traineeship only strengthened that belief. Our programs are an interactive way to reach various audiences and make learning fun in the best classroom—the great outdoors! There is no greater reward as an educator than seeing a child smile as they immerse themselves in nature.

“Evolve, adapt and fly forward” is a commonly used saying among the educators which I have come to appreciate. In education and in life, I have learned that things don’t always go as planned, but you need to persevere and overcome the obstacles placed before you.

So thank you, Hawk Mountain, for such a great experience. I know I will be back because “going to the mountains is going home,” just like John Muir said.

Leaving the Nest

By Gianna Destefani, Communications Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Gianna posing in front of the Visitor Center.

Gianna posing in front of the Visitor Center.

Last week I had my last day as an intern at Hawk Mountain. For the past 12 weeks, I’ve gotten my hands dirty while helping the Sanctuary’s conservation mission, and by that I mean I have been writing and creating content to promote events, merchandise, and letting the public know about what’s happening on the Mountain.

Hawk Mountain is widely known for their amazing opportunities for education and environmental conservation students from all over the globe, but I’m here to share my experience from behind the scenes as a communication writing intern!

I was elated to get the news back in May that I had landed the internship. I have always had a love for nature and nonprofits, and public relations, and as a communication major at Kutztown University, this was the perfect opportunity to blend these loves while getting experience in my field.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first day, but all of my nerves were at ease once was in the office’s comfortable environment. The office at Hawk Mountain is surprisingly mostly women, all of whom are very smart, driven, and passionate about the mission of conservation, as are the men. I was welcomed with open arms, and worked alongside Hannah, a graphic design student from KU and we worked directly under Gigi Romano, communications specialist. Together, we created some great content for the Mountain’s website, newsletter, and social media.

Hannah Hornung and Gianna Destefani, Summer 2019 Communications Interns

Hannah Hornung and Gianna Destefani, Summer 2019 Communications Interns

While I knew I would gain some more communication skills, my time here has also given me more in-depth knowledge about the research that goes on at Hawk Mountain and the research that has spread worldwide that was inspired here. While writing articles, background pieces, and press releases, I absorbed so much new information that I would not even know about if I hadn’t worked here. From learning the dangers of lead bullets on the environment to learning how raptors are tagged and tracked all the way to South America, the pieces I have written for the Sanctuary definitely gave me a stronger understanding and newfound appreciation for the raptors that are being studied here.  

It also gave me insight on why so many of Hawk Mountain’s members and volunteers have stayed for such long periods of time. Being from Allentown, I have been visiting to hike the Mountain periodically throughout my life, but now I have a new lens to view not only the trails, but mountains anywhere. I have seen the love that people have for this place whether it be through interviewing volunteers, editing letters from the president, Sean Grace, or reading comments from dedicated visitors as well as editing articles by a conservationist from Argentina for the newsletter, Hawk Mountain News. The best part is, I see how the staff returns their gratitude for everyone through events and stewardship.

Working at Hawk Mountain has been an incredible experience, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it. After I graduate with my bachelor’s in May I hope to continue to work with nonprofits and continue doing my part to help spread awareness for whatever cause it may be. And remember; even though environmental science, research, and education is the focus on the Mountain, no one would know about it without strong communication.

Flying in Tandem

By Shannon Lambert, Spring 2019 Education Trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

I have never been very successful in shared housing situations. I have always been afraid of impeding on my roommates’ space or being too loud or generally not being compatible personalities or lifestyles. So when I came to Hawk Mountain, I was worried about living with four strangers with incredibly different cultures for the next few months. Little did I know I was about to meet some of the best friends I have ever had.

Spring and Summer 2019 Trainees posing with a hawk hand symbol at the end of spring trainee celebration.

Spring and Summer 2019 Trainees posing with a hawk hand symbol at the end of spring trainee celebration.

Living with people from all different cultures was a strange transition from being utterly confused by each other, to learning from each other, and finally blending our cultures together. When we first met, the most apparent difference was who was from independent versus group-minded cultures. The Americans mostly kept to themselves, but many of the international trainees seemed to instinctually work together for everything imaginable: learning how appliances work, cooking, even sharing laundry loads or going on a morning jog together. I had every intention of leaving them alone, afraid to overwhelm them even more with this foreign culture they are surrounded by, but they started inviting me to eat or go grocery shopping with them, insisting they had made too much to eat or needed my help navigating the aisles, and besides they wanted to hang out with me.

Lanso, Sandra, Shannon, and Colin celebrating a birthday in the Trainee Residence.

Lanso, Sandra, Shannon, and Colin celebrating a birthday in the Trainee Residence.

That’s all it took. From then on most of our meals were shared, either taking turns cooking or working together. Sometimes it was a traditional meal, other times it was a wild experiment with new foods we had discovered in the local grocery store. This was the norm for eating out too. We made a fun game of guessing what foods everyone would like best. The losing choices were swapped with a neighbor, and the winners were happily (almost aggressively!) shared so that everyone could enjoy. Our “family meals” were often accompanied with a movie night. Disney was a natural go-to since they are fun and light-hearted, and obviously we stuck with the more animal-themed choices like Jungle Book. We explored classics from other cultures as well, such as Pan’s Labyrinth. This bled its way into our car rides as well, taking turns deejaying. Music is truly a magical medium. The distance that some music has traveled is incredible: the Lanso from eastern India and I both love Creedence Clearwater Revival!

Even when we weren’t actively sharing cultures, there was still a good deal of observed experiences. Momodou is Muslim, and Ramadan happened while we were all living together. He could not eat while the sun was out, so he would wake up before dawn to have breakfast then have to wait until sunset to have dinner. Even something as simple as car horn etiquette is dramatically different in different cultures. I have always understood it to mean a driver needs to pay more attention or needs to be fussed at, whereas another trainee has always used the horn to greet friends, and yet another has always used it to say thank you if someone is nice to them on the road.

Spring 2019 trainees posing with Hawk Mountain staff in the Education Building.

Spring 2019 trainees posing with Hawk Mountain staff in the Education Building.

I think this living situation was so successful because everyone wanted it to be successful. We cleaned up after ourselves, helped each other out, and really tried to spend quality time together outside of work. These folks have become some of my dearest friends, and I don’t know how I got along without them before I came to Hawk Mountain. Although it is sad that we live so far from each other, if we ever find ourselves in a random corner of the world, we have a familiar face to call home.

The Burrow Master

By Zoey Greenberg, Science-Education Outreach Coordinator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

While owls are inherently fascinating, burrowing owls take it to another level.
— David H. Johnson, Director of the Global Owl Project

Conjure up the image of an owl with a furrowed brow, kicking soil out behind him as he digs in the dirt. He stops periodically to check for danger, excavating a burrow deep, complex, and big enough to host a mate and their future offspring. While it sounds like something out of a cartoon, these creatures do, in fact, exist. Did I mention that they decorate the outside of their burrow with firecracker wrappers and coyote scat?

Well, they do.

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Burrowing owls, Athene cunicularia, are a small owl whose historic range includes most of the grassland, prairie and desert ecosystems of North and South America, and some of the Caribbean Islands. Burrowing owls in most of the United States re-use burrows made by prairie dogs, ground squirrels and badgers rather than digging their own, providing an intriguing and unique example of a bird species benefiting heavily from the presence of a mammalian neighbor. One of the smallest North American owls, the prevalence of these charismatic birds has drastically decreased with a decline in suitable habitat and fossorial mammals.

While many formerly suitable prairies are losing owls, there is one magical place near Hermiston Oregon where burrowing owls have a success story to tell. This is largely due to David H. Johnson, or DJ,” as he is fondly called by his dedicated volunteers. David donates fourth months out of his year fighting to maintain a productive breeding ground for burrowing owls (he truly does protect owls night and day. His schedule is very similar to the species he loves). I was lucky enough to visit his site this past Spring, and the experience was nothing short of riveting.

David Johnson holding several burrowing owls.

David Johnson holding several burrowing owls.

The Umatilla Army Depot where David has set up “owl shop” covers 17,000 acres of land. Burrowing owls are natural residents here, however a complex sequence of events beginning in the 1950’s led to the eventual extirpation of a critical burrow excavator upon which the owls rely; the badger. In a nutshell, Pronghorns were introduced to the Depot, but their population soon crashed. Coyotes were blamed even though the true cause was likely inbreeding, and indirectly through a coyote control program, badgers were eradicated. Without badgers to dig burrows, the owls began to suffer from a lack of critical nesting sites. Don Gillis, the Environmental Manager for the Depot at the time reached out for help resulting in the inclusion of David, a known “owl guy.” A team was born, and in July 2008, the first artificial burrows were installed on the Depot. In spring 2008, only 3 or 4 pairs of owls were left on the Depot; in 2009 there were 9 pairs; in 2010 there were 32 pairs. Now, there are between 45 and 55 pairs breeding every year. There is no doubt that without the implementation of this program, burrowing owls would no longer be present on the Depot.  

In addition to enabling the local population to prosper, the project has paved the way for unique research opportunities. David has been coordinating the investigation of over ten research questions, including topics such as mate selection, juvenile dispersal, migratory behavior, the relationship between male vocalizations and family lineages, deciphering whether burrowing owls are flea vectors, and assessing the burrow-decoration techniques of males. Next steps will ideally involve the reintroduction of up to 30 badgers. Preceding studies will aim at assessing the long-term relationship between the owls and the badgers, with an intended goal of re-establishing “natural ecosystem functions of the land,” as David describes it. In essence, putting things back where they belong.

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As is true on most breeding grounds, there are seasonal influences on the population dynamics of the Depot, resulting in good and bad years. Severity of weather, availability of small mammals, and ages of individual owls are such factors. Even considering difficult breeding seasons, through a well-established banding protocol David has found that there are new owls arriving to the Depot, fueling a diverse gene pool and proving that the site factors into a more holistic picture of burrowing owl populations in the West. Each year, roughly 25% of females and 15% of males on the Depot are “new” birds. There are also many returners, with the senior bird being a whopping eight years old. David considers any burrowing owl older than six years to be a “grizzled old timer.” By banding individuals on the Depot, new information has been gleaned about the personal life histories, lifetime reproductive success, and the collective contributions of this population to the species status as a whole.  

David speaks of burrowing owls fondly, saying they “live short, intense, and dangerous lives at the top of the food chain. They are truly driven by nesting success, and undertake absolutely amazing, ingenious, and significant feats of ecology to advance their lives.” He also points out that they offer us an enhanced visibility into the world of owls since we can observe them more readily than other species. There are also notable benefits to burrowing owls being on the land. They control deer mice populations, virtually ridding the Depot’s troop field areas of the rodent and therefore reducing the presence of hanta virus. Without top predators like owls, trophic cascades can occur within ecosystems in which one level of the food web is suppressed, resulting in consequential trickle-down effects. Burrowing owls deserve a place within the desert ecosystem, and as a top predator they occupy a critical position within a complex and beautiful food web.

Zoey holding a burrowing owl chick.

Zoey holding a burrowing owl chick.

After several days involved in the project, I could see why every volunteer’s eyes sparkled while holding these birds. David has cultivated an owl oasis where not only is quality science achieved, but people are simultaneously invited to share in the delights of discovery and become a contributing character to the story of the owls. David emphasizes that his project, while focusing on ecology, also addresses the ways in which owls factor into myth and culture, what he calls a “deep-time human-owl relationship.” Burrowing owls have historically been viewed as having direct connections to the underworld for reasons that are deducible (living underground), yet there is another element to owls that pulls us in. Is it their all-knowing large eyes? Their eerie yet amusing vocals? Their nocturnal existence?

For David, the allure of the burrowing owl stems from the countless ecological insights and complexities that are discoverable by looking at the landscape as they do. For me, owls symbolize a unique predatory mindset, defined by an attuned relationship with prey that I can only dream of understanding. Owls possess this, and something else…a mysterious twist on existence that strikes a chord, perhaps due to their imperceptible presence even when they are sought.

David looked me in the eye and told me he would fight for owls until his last breath. This verbalized commitment forms a cloak of hope over the Depot, and paints an optimistic outlook for a species that may sit under the radar, so to speak, but deserves a home just like us.

David would like to express gratitude to the US Army, Oregon National Guard, and the many, many volunteers who have helped make this owl study so successful.

Zoey releasing an owl into a burrow at sunset.

Zoey releasing an owl into a burrow at sunset.

Photos compliments of the Global Owl Project.

Wonderful and Wild: Volunteering at Hawk Mountain

By Sandy Lockerman, long-time volunteer
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Gary and Sandy at South Lookout

Gary and Sandy at South Lookout

My husband and I started volunteering in the fall of 1991 and have enjoyed it, learned from it, and cherish all the memories that have been made during these 28 years.

I had been hawk watching for a couple of years with my husband, Gary, and we had joined Hawk Mountain as members.  When I learned that there were volunteer opportunities, I thought it would be a great way to both be on the Mountain and to help educate the public.  I had a degree in environmental education but was not utilizing it at that time. So after an interview with the then Volunteer Coordinator, Sue Wolfe, we settled in for what we never thought would be almost 3 decades of volunteering.

Our first job was at the Trail Entrance Gate, which at that time was where the admission fee was collected.  It was an intensely foggy October day but visitors kept coming, paying and then disappearing into the fog on their way to South Lookout. It was great to greet the visitors and learn about where they were from and why they were coming to the Mountain.

When it was not the migration season, I would help in the Bookstore and Gary would tinker in the shop and do whatever Sue asked him to do, he even became a Greeter.

Sandy presenting a Raptors Up Close program with the red-tailed hawk.

Sandy presenting a Raptors Up Close program with the red-tailed hawk.

Soon, the education staff learned about my training and degree, and I moved into the programming aspect of the Mountain.  I presented the History Talk, then the Name That Raptor Talk which was held at that time up at the Slide. Soon I settled into my present job presenting the Raptors Up Close Talk with the live non-releasable birds of prey.

By this time I had obtained employment as an environmental educator at Wildwood Park in Harrisburg.  This is a park operated by Dauphin County. But I couldn’t give up Hawk Mountain. There was a story to tell the visitors and I needed to help tell that story.  I still do even now that I have retired.

I will always be in awe of the beauty and wildness of these raptors.  They are educators, too and when the audience gets to see and hear about their adaptations and migration marvels, I know that I have given them a peek into a world that they only see from a distance. I worked with one particular red-tailed hawk for 21 years, she was a magnificent individual, and I tried at every talk to emphasis that species’ role in the environment.

When I talk with new volunteers I try to emphasis to them that some of the Mountain’s visitors only get to come there one time.  And it is up to us to make that visit a memorable one.  And to get to know the other volunteers is all part of the experience of the Mountain.

Another aspect of volunteering is getting to know the international trainees and interns who come to the Mountain.  Seeing our country through their eyes, learning about their countries and learning about the work that they are going to carry on in their countries are all immensely rewarding.

If you get the opportunity to volunteer at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, by all means, do it. Learn about the wonderful history, meet the knowledgeable staff and dedicated volunteers. You won’t regret it.

Ridgetop Rachel and the Wing Watchers Raptorthon

By Rachel Iola Taras, Senior Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

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Ridgetop Rachel and the Wing Watchers kicked-off an inaugural Raptorthon migration along 30 miles of Kittatinny Ridge at the Blue Mountain Ski Area parking lot located at Little Gap in Carbon County in Pennsylvania. Along with an adopted Char-Wills German Shepard Luna and a sprinkling of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary staff, volunteers, friends and family – we celebrated migration connectivity and our shared love of place, the importance of supporting organizations like HMANA, and protecting natural places like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Warming up our binoculars between the Poconos and Greater Lehigh Valley, we confirmed our migration path towards the beautiful Kempton Valley in Berks County. I had the privilege of encountering my feathered professional coworkers earlier in the morning: our red-tailed hawk, great-horned owl, and eastern screech owl. They support conservation because their lives depend on it!

Across the Lehigh River, we traveled into Lehigh County and spotted several turkey vultures gliding on thermals just above the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Simultaneously, North Lookout Hawk Migration Counters Paul Heveran and Bracken Brown made the one-mile journey up the trails at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, less than 20 miles east. Conservation Science and Education Trainees perched on the sandstone boulders scanning the Kittatinny Ridge learning hawkwatching techniques from Paul and Bracken. With the official start of our Spring Migration Count a day away, visitors were hopeful for early arrival migrants.

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The Wing Watcher mobile road survey through the Kempton Valley included countless corvids like crows and common ravens as we migrated to our first stop at Wanamaker’s General Store for a fueling of locally made beverages and delicious deli options – for seed and plant- eating herbivores and raptor-like appetites alike. With crops full, we migrated to The Nesting Box dairy store along the open farmlands of the Kempton Valley. We licked our homemade ice cream cones faster than a peregrine stooping on a pigeon while scanning for farmland raptors such as American kestrels and northern harriers. A quick visit to Dietrich’s Meats located off interstate route 78 showcased four generations, including family matriarch Verna who recalls the days of hawk shooting along the ridge. Finally, the Wing Watchers landed at the Kempton Hotel to toast our shared Raptorthon experience prior to ascending Hawk Mountain Road to join Paul, Bracken, and Raptorthon supporters at North Lookout.

My tail feathers twitched in delight to see so many supporters cheer and chip us on in the name of conservation. Together, new and familiar faces fell in love with the Kittatinny Ridge all over again. Officially at North Lookout, we tallied a total of 31 avian species with 11 raptor species including both turkey vulture and black vulture, angler of the raptor world, osprey, farmland raptors including 5 northern harriers and 7 American kestrels, 15 accipiters including 10 sharp-shinned hawks, and 5 Cooper’s hawks.

Rachel, trainees Momodou and Sandra, and young hawkwatcher Cooper.

Rachel, trainees Momodou and Sandra, and young hawkwatcher Cooper.

Speaking of Cooper, one of many superstar Wing Watchers was a 10-year-old birding-obsessed student named Cooper Diehl from Whitehall. Cooper dedicated his entire day to spotting birds, promoting raptor conservation, and learning as much as possible about conservation history, raptor identification, and opportunities to keep learning about birds. Cooper documented his entire Raptorthon experience on his YouTube channel inspiring others to take an active role in pursuing their passion for birding and beyond!

Similarly, 8 red-tailed hawks inspired conversations about adult vs. sub-adult plumage, as we were rewarded with 2 red-shouldered hawks and 3 merlin, providing a satisfying variety in raptor species for our inaugural Wing Watcher Raptorthon.  Finally, our national symbol, a Bald Eagle, amazed the crowds with recognizable field marks. Over 1000 visitors explored the Sanctuary thanks to unusually warm temperatures, blue skies, and gentle breeze – perfect conditions for hiking, admiring the viewshed, and making new friends.

Thanks to you, we raised over $2000 for raptor conservation. Fifty percent of what we raised goes to support HMANA and fifty percent supports Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for a comprehensive raptor conservation victory.

Winged Adventures and Migration Tales

By Pat Dumandan, Spring 2016 Conservation Science Trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Pat sitting atop boulders at South Lookout during her traineeship in 2016.

Pat sitting atop boulders at South Lookout during her traineeship in 2016.

All animals have their own stories to tell. As someone who plays favorites, I particularly enjoy the sagas of our feathered friends. Conservation science has been particularly useful in helping us peek into their lives, from learning about their family dynamics, to understanding the decisions they make when moving about their territories and across the globe, to keeping us informed about their numbers.

Estimating raptor abundance is especially tricky, because they are secretive species. Luckily, most of them have annual plans to seasonally move back and forth from their homes, following more or less a similar route each way. This allows us to see them altogether and effectively assess their population status. So, when we actually think about it, long-term raptor migration monitoring studies tell us about the adventures of migratory raptors in a human-dominated world.

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Knowing that humans are architects of ecological communities, I am intrigued by how our past intentional or unintentional actions have affected migratory raptors. A few months ago, this idea was fueled by a great mentor and the former HMS Director of Conservation Science Dr. Keith Bildstein, who encouraged me to work on this for my master’s thesis. My graduate research at Boise State University is now focused on gaining insights of how human-environmental changes have influenced the composition and abundance of migratory raptors over extended time periods.

Fortunately, I am able to go on this “winged” adventure and implement this project using the largest raptor migration count dataset worldwide, which is maintained by Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (HMS) and was generously shared to me by one of my raptor conservation heroes and current Director of Conservation Science, Dr. Laurie Goodrich.

Dr. Laurie Goodrich and Pat posing in the Acopian Center Trainee Offices.

Dr. Laurie Goodrich and Pat posing in the Acopian Center Trainee Offices.

As a former conservation science trainee, this is both exciting and humbling, because I get to work on an amazing multiple-decade dataset, which is a luxury for wildlife researchers, and also because I get to  work on it alongside my mentors at the Mountain.

During the last few months, I sleuthed historical data by trying out different statistical tools and reading relevant articles written more than 50 years ago.  By doing so, I developed a deeper appreciation for natural history and realized how far along quantitative ecology has gotten. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed being behind the desk, crunching numbers and doing non field-based work. Since I got the taste of fieldwork, I did not think that being “domesticated” in the office would suit me, but somehow I got over it and realized that making sense of data collected over time is equally fun and more challenging, even.

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Currently, I am amidst the process of refining a breakpoint model which would help me determine the “breakpoint” year/s (i.e., when a change in the abundance and diversity of the migratory raptor assemblage is observed) and hopefully, would best describe HMS raptor count data. Once I successfully fit an appropriate model, I can then identify which main threat to raptors (direct persecution, habitat change, and environmental contamination) caused shifts in the assemblage structure. This would help fill in the knowledge gap of how large-scale disturbances influence larger aggregations of animals.

With the continued support of the generous donors of HMS and the Project Soar Grant, I am able to stay in the United States to work on my project during the summer, under the direction of my adviser, Dr. Todd Katzner, and Boise State professors who are in my thesis committee.

These days, I find it thrilling whenever the models I run converge and when I do not get error prompts. As silly and nerdy as it sounds, I feel the same rush as when I spot a huge flock of migrants coming in whenever I get these little wins, analyzing over 80 years of HMS count data. I am very excited to complete this project so I can share a raptor migration tale to the world that is filled with lessons we should have learned from our previous mistakes that have contributed to biodiversity loss, and hopefully find a happy ending with the formulation of effective raptor conservation strategies moving forward.

Following a New Path

By Riley Davenport, Spring 2019 Education Trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Riley (right) and the other spring education trainee Shannon (left) hiking up the Lookout Trail.

Riley (right) and the other spring education trainee Shannon (left) hiking up the Lookout Trail.

This past spring, I was one of the education trainees at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. This was my first time working in a non-formal educational environment, as well as my first time ever working closely in environmental education. As you can imagine, coming from an art education background from my undergrad, I had no idea what to expect heading into this internship.

Throughout my traineeship, I was lucky enough to have worked with both the education team and the communications team. I used my experience in graphic design to create flyers and educational materials to be shared with the public, and I also tapped into my experience as an artist to paint our logo downstairs in the Wings of Wonder Gallery. With the education team, I shadowed, assisted, and even led several programs during my time here at Hawk Mountain.

Riley shows an off-site group the adaptations of a raptor talon.

Riley shows an off-site group the adaptations of a raptor talon.

I had the opportunity to lead several guided hikes with groups of all ages and backgrounds, taught sample lessons to educators during our Growing up Wild and Project WET teacher workshops, and went to multiple job and internship fairs to further our outreach into the local community. I learned about raptor care and the hard work that goes into caring for our amazing education birds, and recorded data on our programs and guided groups, just to name a few things!

Some of my favorite highlights of my time at HMS include going to the Barn Nature Center during our first week to observe educator Andrea teach a program and fellow intern Shannon and I got to go into their bird enclosure for a feeding (and a few weeks later we joined Jamie and the international trainees back at the Nature Center to participate in their ropes course!). Several weeks ago, I joined some fellow interns and the Pennsylvania Game Commission to band peregrine falcon fledglings. This opportunity was one that I have never experienced before and one that I will never forget.

Riley holds a recently banded peregrine falcon fledgling.

Riley holds a recently banded peregrine falcon fledgling.

Not only was this opportunity at Hawk Mountain a chance for me to gain more education experience, but I was exposed to raptors and conservation science for the first time in my life, and believe me when I say I was an absolute sponge, absorbing all I could.

This summer I have accepted a position as a seasonal environmental educator at the Wildlands Conservancy in Emmaus, PA, and I look forward to incorporating my experiences that I have gained here into this new opportunity. After obtaining my degree in art education and working in the field immediately after graduation, I felt that I hadn’t made the right decision about my career path, but after looking at education through a different lens at HMS, and being given the opportunity to teach people about something that has been a lifelong passion for me, my perception of education and my future on this path has dramatically changed.

I am beyond grateful for Director of Development Erin Brown and Communications Specialist Gigi Romano for helping to make this opportunity come to fruition. Being an Education Trainee at Hawk Mountain has been a catalyst for me, and I look forward to following this new path to see where it takes me.

In the words of Rachel Carson, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”