Nature's Reverberations

By Rachel Iola Spagnola, Senior Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

What would a perfect day at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary look like to you? Like a page out of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the outside temperature on the ridgetop was not too hot and not too cold. The humidity was not too high, not too low, the breeze was not too strong, not too weak. You know the story –the conditions for an educational adventure were just right.

Prior to the arrival of my group, I took a sound survey by simply closing my eyes and listening to the environment. Shortly after hearing the sound of a vehicle engine approaching, I welcomed a group of folks from the Vision Resource Center of Berks County, who were accompanied by a handsome and well-trained guide dog named Winston.

We took a seat on the carpeted benches next to the bird feeder station just a few footsteps through the Visitor Center’s front doors. I gazed at the larger-than-life mural of our founder, Mrs. Rosalie Edge, as I introduced Hawk Mountain as a Sanctuary, a protected place for all animals, plants, rocks, sticks, and even spiders. I aimed to provide an extra safe place for my group, many who were visiting Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for the very first time, and some who had permanent vision loss.

To complement our discussion on raptors and help visualize the amazing animal diversity found in the Appalachian Forest, I passed around feathers, snake skins, turtle shells, and the tail of a gray squirrel, while I introduced my avian coworker to the group. Although we do not allow or encourage touching raptors, as the live bird stood on my gloved hand, I passed around a life-size plastic replica of an eastern screech owl (Megascops asio). We also felt real raptor talons and compared a feathered foot of a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) in contrast to the smooth, scaly toes of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). With the aid of real raptor wings, we listened to the noisy wing of a diurnal hawk and felt a gust of air against our cheeks.  In contrast, we struggled to hear the near silent flap of an owl’s wing and agreed that these amazing nocturnal adaptations allow owls hunt with the element of surprise.

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In addition to the owls’ adaptation of being silent flyers, we discussed the art of camouflage and how this adaptation helps many animals blend into an environment.  Our group embraced our inner facial disk by listening to several songs of common birds like the eastern towhee and black-capped chickadee with the aid of Audubon bird toys and my very own rendition of a “miniature horse and trill” of an eastern screech owl, which seemed to evoke a soft whimper from the otherwise silent guide dog Winston. I even revealed one of Hollywood’s secrets: bald eagles are actually lip synching to the impressive screams of Red-tailed Hawks when filmed in movies and television. Several folks recognized this familiar call.

Walking outdoors, we encountered a pollinator party—bees buzzing and hummingbirds humming. Okay, they don’t actually hum. The sound of those tiny wings beating is what generates the humming noise that we could hear from the thick patches of bee balm located just in front of the Visitor Center. In the Native Plant Garden, many folks commented on the warmth of the sun and fragrant aroma of blooming swamp rose. I also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to highlight Turkey Vultures as raptors who sniff out their meals with their incredible olfactory sense. We agreed to leave the smell of fresh baked bread and cookies to us and let the Turkey Vultures remain nature’s garbage collectors, cleaning up road kill.

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As we explored the pond from the deck, we listened for frogs calling and heard turtles leaving their exposed log perches for the safety of thick patches of water lilies. We enjoyed birds singing from all layers of the forest—delicate warblers hopping after insects in the canopy, catbirds curiously watching us from nearby branches, and the familiar sounds of robins foraging through the leaf litter.

Crossing Hawk Mountain Road was also a new experience for most of these folks. We navigated the crosswalk by listening for on-coming traffic, and I provided a grateful thumbs up and smile to those drivers who slowed down.  We took the Silhouette Trail one step at a time, taking advantage of the opportunity to rest at the benches before reaching our destination at South Lookout. As Winston led the way, he sniffed his way past Mountain Laurels and Rhododendroa to the flat, open area looking down toward the Kempton Valley. Once again my star students could tell they were in an open area since the sun warmed our faces and the soft, gentle breeze rocked the nearby trees. 

Although not everyone could see the view, we all felt the magic of this very special place, the birthplace of raptor conservation.

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Cyprus: An Island of Birds

Looking at the grifon vulture nest in the cliffs at Limassol

Looking at the grifon vulture nest in the cliffs at Limassol

By Rebekah Smith, Education Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Driving up a dusty incline through an ancient olive tree grove, we watched as construction workers altered one of the few remaining undeveloped areas on the island of Cyprus in order to build a new road. In Cyprus, old farmlands and wild areas are scarce; however, they serve as havens for the wildlife there, including many species of passerines and raptors.

On a hot day in mid-June, we were scanning the landscape for a flash of blue amongst the green-brown leaves of the stout olive trees. The European roller (Coracias garrulous) population within Cyprus experienced a recent decline, so BirdLife Cyprus has been monitoring the population at historical nesting sites across the island. This historical nesting site was becoming a highway. In Cyprus, the farmland is actually valuable to the wildlife, because human settlement and agriculture has existed there since approximately 8,200 BC. When farmland is lost to tourism and development, it’s a loss for the wildlife, specifically for the nesting bird species of Cyprus.

Leaving the newly forming roadway and heading toward a more narrow, unofficial path, I saw my first European roller sitting on a telephone wire. The vibrant turquoise bird made our day trip across the island well worth our time. This is just one of the many projects BirdLife Cyprus has taken on to protect, study, and educate people about the wild birds of Cyprus. From the start of the decade, BirdLife Cyprus researchers conducted surveys and searched desperately for proof of the successful nesting of griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) on the island. They finally determined that there were only six to eight individuals left.

In an attempt to prevent the disappearance of the only species of vulture from the island, BirdLife Cyprus coordinated a program with Crete, Greece, in which they captured and transported 25 vultures and brought them to Cyprus to be released in hopes that the species might regain its hold on the island. Since then, they’ve been observing the griffons closely. One pair in particular has captured the attention of BirdLife Cyprus’s head research scientist Christina Ieronymidou. Nestled in the cliffs of Limassol, we watched the pair of vultures—one huddled over their clutch while the other perched close by, scanning the cliff lined shore.

Christina mentioned under her breath that the other vultures in the colony must have headed towards the center of the island for the day in search of carrion, which is not a frequently available resource on the island, as there are only seven known species of mammals nationwide. In contrast, nearly 400 species of birds have been recorded on the island of Cyprus.

The disregard for the ecological importance of birds on the island is a cultural remnant that’s been passed down through generations. In the past, the passerines that migrate through Cyprus along with those that are natives, were a valuable source of protein when no other food was available to the inhabitants. Generations later, they are no longer a necessity for survival but rather a delicacy. During the spring and fall migrations, poachers set up mist nets and lime sticks to capture thousands of unsuspecting birds, even using call recordings to attract them. If the bird species caught is not of culinary interest, they are still killed and discarded.

This 15 million Euro, illegal operation is the source of BirdLife Cyprus’s biggest struggles. Their part in the scheme is mostly lobbying for the passing of bills that would protect the animals, although new legislations could call for decreased fines for poachers and the ability to bring already cooked birds to restaurants, making the illegal birds harder to identify. Pictures leaked of a politician partaking in a passerine dish suggest that authorities may also be involved in support of bird poaching. BirdLife Cyprus is one of the only voices on the island moving against these new legislations and attempting to protect the 150 million migrating birds that pass through the country during each round of migration.

BirdLife Cyprus claims the role of wildlife advocate for the entire island. BirdLife Cyprus works to educate the community, lobby for legislations in favor of wildlife, work closely with the Game and Fauna service on the island, and even sometimes rescue abandoned chicks.

Although BirdLife Cyprus is not a rehabilitation facility, they constantly receive phone calls about abandoned and injured birds. In most cases the birds have to be euthanized by a small animal veterinarian, as there are no exotic veterinarians that know how to treat injured birds on the island. In some cases though, such as the common swift chick (Apus apus) that was delivered to their doorstep, the birds are lucky enough to get a second chance.

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Before leaving the office of BirdLife Cyprus, I watched their Development Officer,Elena Markitani, crush the heads of some fresh mealworms and beetles purchased at a local pet store by myself and the assistant researcher Yiannis Christodoulides on the way back from the roller surveys. She gathered them in a pair of tweezers and used her thumb to open the fragile beak of the baby swift. She was trying to force-feed the chick who had suddenly decided it wanted to refuse food—a sign of being ready to leave the nest, despite the fact that it was largely underweight and could not yet fly. I later learned that the baby swift survived it’s last few days of shoebox rehab and was released, hopefully with a brighter future, thanks to BirdLife Cyprus and all they are doing to help the island birds.

As I return to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for the remainder of my summer education internship, I feel encouraged by the enthusiasm we share with BirdLife Cyprus concerning the protection of wildlife, though the ecosystems in Pennsylvania and Cyprus are in stark contrast. Looking back at the history of Hawk Mountain, I see that BirdLife Cyprus is in a similar position to our founders. Humans are driven to hunt birds all over the world, however it is also our responsibility to make sure that there remains a balance in the populations that we impact. It will take a group effort to reduce the negative impacts that humans have had on wildlife, and it’s good to know that we have allies, even on the other side of the world.

Raptor Reflection from Across the Pond

By Zoey Greenberg, Former Education Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Voices silenced and the sound of swishing wings flooded the blind. Our faces tilted towards the sky and I felt palpable awe take over our family as we watched magnificent birds swirl against a cornflower blue sky. We were perched on wooden benches looking out onto the sheep-peppered hills of mid-western Wales while visiting Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding Centre, a raptor oasis and primary contributor to the rehabilitation of the red kite (Milvus milvus).  

The kites took to the sky as soon as the rumbling of the “meat truck” was heard.

The kites took to the sky as soon as the rumbling of the “meat truck” was heard.

Each week the feeding center tosses out a quarter ton of sliced beef for red kites, buzzards (Buteo buteo), and rooks (Corvus frugilegus). For the price of six pounds (entrance fees pay for the on-site rehabilitation of injured raptors brought in by the public), we entered the blind of our choice and waited with the kites, gathering and perching in anticipation of man, shovel, and meat. Suddenly, we heard the rumbling of an approaching vehicle, and the kites took to the sky in a swooping ballet of excitement. As morsels were flung into the air, the birds responded in a paradox of frenzied hunger and practiced grace. They positioned themselves in a seemingly organized line, streaming towards the ground in quick succession with talons open. When successful, the kites would float up to their own pocket of air and eat on the wing, bringing a yellow foot to their curved head in an admirable maneuver of private dining.

Corvids remained on the ground, stealing morsels whenever possible.

Corvids remained on the ground, stealing morsels whenever possible.

Red kites form a pecking order similar to other gregarious raptors, and the first smatterings of meat were snatched up by the eldest birds. Eventually younger kites joined the mix, followed by cautious rooks and crows. An amusing yet primal attitude of wariness hung over the field, and as I watched it became clear that each species employed their own unique set of tricks in order to obtain each snack. The corvids remained on the ground, alert but cleverly filling their crop at every opportune moment until a fat pouch formed beneath their shiny black beak. Finally, two buzzards plopped themselves down in the middle of the commotion, ducking when swooped upon but holding their ground as they gingerly hopped about, stabbing the ground with their powerful feet.

Birds danced, and time slid away. The sun dipped below the hills as the red kites continued to cartwheel towards the ground. As I surveyed the blind, I saw unanimous tranquility in the faces of my companions, and I realized that the kites leave an impressionable mark on the many minds that watch them each day, each week, each year. However, it was not always this way. In this region, concern for raptors is a heartening step forward following an era of persecution that plagued the red kites of Wales for the better part of the 18th century.

A buzzard grabs a morsel of meat with its outstretched foot

A buzzard grabs a morsel of meat with its outstretched foot

The feeding station began in 1993 at the request of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) following an all too familiar story of decline. In the Middle Ages killing a red kite resulted in capital punishment. The birds were valued as street-cleaners due to their scavenging habits and were considered an integral part of landscape. However, by the 16th century, improved sanitation became a priority and the Tudor Vermin Acts were put into place. This legislature led to the establishment of a bounty on kites, as well as other raptor species.

As the kites became rare, egg collectors and taxidermists further contributed to a decrease in their numbers and by 1903 there were only a few breeding pairs left in Wales. By then, red kites had been declared extinct in both England and Scotland. In 1903, prompted by an impassioned letter written to the British Ornithologists’ Club, a self-funded group of landowners, farmers, and other concerned community members was created. Through pamphlets and the involvement of the RSPB, the last remaining nests were defended with the help of local army commanders, and attitudes towards the birds slowly began to shift. In 1989 RSPB stepped in and initiated an intensive reintroduction program to help the kites regain a foothold in their former range. The feeding station became part of this effort. Today, there are over 300 pairs in Wales alone.

A red kite and buzzard face off over a piece of meat

A red kite and buzzard face off over a piece of meat

These efforts have not gone to waste, and now on any given day, as thermals swirl above the countryside, residents in Wales can look up to see the sunset-colored tail of a red kite drawing circles in the sky. This turnaround should provide an uplifting parallel to those of us working on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to protect raptors, seeing as the kites of Wales were subjected to shooting pressures very similar to those that defined raptor numbers along the Kitattiny ridge for many years. Different country, similar trajectory.

Sadly, there are still countries where shooting and poisoning raptors is the status quo, perceived as necessary management or an acceptable pastime. All of us in raptor conservation hope that one day every species will be free to roam the skies unharmed; however, our environmental history shows us that traditions die hard, and new conservation frameworks are rarely successful when forcefully imposed. Many rural communities do not have the tools, whether tangible or otherwise, to wake up one day and alter their collective opinion on raptors. As a global conservation community supporting a group of animals that does not see borders, we must be creative and recognize the role of human perception in the success of our work. Reintroduction programs may place birds back in the sky, but if they remain unvalued by locals, their success as a species will crumble.

As I watched the kites that day, a calm drifted over me. Each twist of a wing was prominent but subtle, isolated but surrounded. The birds' movements felt primitive. I was witnessing a creature that creates its own wind and defines its own sky with nothing but the biological potential it was born with. While there is a chance that supplying free food to raptors creates its own side effects, it was also clear that visitors walked away from that field with a newborn fondness for the natural beauty of the raptor world. At the end of our visit, I spoke with a staff member and instantly recognized a commonality in our awe and respect for the birds. He believes in the kite’s potential for changing minds, and we concluded the afternoon swapping raptor stories, smiles on our face and agreement in our hearts. Overhead, red kites wheeled and turned, making this world a better place one dive at a time.

From Here, I Will Soar

Merlyn at Hawk Mountain's North Lookout

Merlyn at Hawk Mountain's North Lookout

By Merlyn Nomusa Nkomo, Spring 2017 Conservation Science Trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

I was born in the golden, warm and thorny savanna plains of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe; where the grass is soet veld (sweet fields/grassland) and elephants, kudus, impala are at home and the lion is their “king." The savanna is born of fire. Successive periods of fires resulted in this beautiful ecosystem from forest to open plains; she is golden as though purified by the fire and all the life from her is tough, resilient and rough around the edges. It is beautiful to watch her at dawn when the sun comes up over her while the birds sing, when the sun goes back to her at sunset, and her sky line becomes the towering giraffes and the acacias, and when the constellations above her smile on everything as it sleeps.

Pennsylvania is certainly the opposite of home, the beautiful mountains covered in dense forests of old tall hemlock and oak trees. The valleys have perennial rivers winding around the beautiful landscape as though every scene is from a painter’s brush. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is nested in this beautiful state and is by far the best way to experience America for the first time if you are an African that loves the wilderness.

It is beautiful here, seeing the changes from just the view of your window and more so from lofty heights of North lookout as you sit on the humongous boulders and try to take it all in. Much has changed on the mountain since I first got here, and it truly has been to my joy and delight. The freezing snow I experienced for the very first time in my life when we arrived had engulfed everything in a blanket of white, even the surroundings of the mountain were in a cloud of fog and not much could be seen. However, as the days went by, the weather became more forgiving and the snow melted away. The grass was green and everything began to bloom. The sun came out and my shivers ceased and now, well now I cannot wait to go out in my shorts and hike.

I am an avid bird watcher and am so excited to be in the middle of a brand new world of birds here. Hiking was not really my thing, and, in my defense, the savannah is fairly flat grasslands, but if I have to hike up and down to see the birds here, I will.

As a bird lover, it has been such a joy, a dream come true even, to be around others like me, to talk all day about birds, oh what a joy! Others may not relate with this, but when you love raptors and birds the way I do and get the chance to talk about them in all kinds of conversations like whether it's serious talk (“sciencey talk”), casual talk, experiences talk, and even when you are making jokes, you are in bird lovers’ heaven with the saints.

I sit on the lookouts and face to the east, my mind tells me that far in the distant horizon past the ocean is my home, but my heart tells me this is my home away from home. This place so different from everything I know, but also so parallel to all that is familiar, so filled with opportunities to learn with each passing moment. This place, though not golden, is colourful beyond what I could ever have imagined. It’s ironic that one can find that his home, his place of utmost peace self discovery and growth, is a place that is the total opposite of what he/she has always identified with and has always called home. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is that home away from home for me, and I am sure many like me have come here and felt the same; this is a special place, the school in the clouds as they call it. 

Red-spotted Newt photo taken by Merlyn

Red-spotted Newt photo taken by Merlyn

Hawk Mountain has been my place of a lot of firsts. This is so exciting for me, knowing every single day is certainly going to be different from the previous, knowing I will probably see or do something I haven’t done before. This is what being alive is. In any living thing, when growth ceases, decay begins; I am fortunate to have this experience and be conscious of it. I was in snow for the first time, shaking like a leaf but loving every moment of it. I saw and held salamanders, newts, and bears for the first time in my life, wildlife that you could never find in Sub-Saharan Africa. I also rode a bicycle for the first time since I was 5 years old on those bikes with side wheels.

It is definitely the place you go to and don’t stay the same; it is one of those very few places in the world where you can truly feel and see yourself change and grow. Hawk Mountain has certainly made me realise that I can be better than I was a day ago, that, if I work on it, whatever it can be, I can be better at it, that curiosity is good and asking questions, however silly you think they are is important for learning, and most importantly, listening to others from all over the world talk about their experiences, is a great way to learn about the world.

Who knew, in the 1930s when all those birds were being shot out of the air, that this small rural corner of America tucked away behind the mountains in dense forest would become the launching pad of hundreds like me? Young scientists who love conservation, some who have at some point second-guessed their abilities and felt hopeless when faced with the challenge of their local situations. Like Rosalie Edge and the Brouns' believed they could bring to an end the culture of shooting in their day, just by counting the hawks, I believe too that I can be part of the force that will stop the poisoning of vultures among other ills in Africa. 

Any challenge in conservation can be overcome, perceptions, attitudes, and wrongs people do can be changed, and it is up to us to be part of the force that brings the change.

Going the Distance

By Adam Carter, Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has been collaborating with the migration watch-site in Veracruz, Mexico, operated by Pronatura, a non-profit conservation organization, to monitor the seasonal migration of millions of raptors since the early 1990’s, known as the Veracruz River of Raptors.  This collaboration has also consisted of education endeavors such as producing an educational manual and lesson plan, and other translated materials that could be used for education in Veracruz.  In 2017, the Hawk Mountain Education Department looks to collaborate in a new way, through Distance Education, in order to enhance its efforts to accomplish its mission of conserving birds or prey globally. 

This coming September, I will have the opportunity to make my first trip to Veracruz.  In addition to witnessing the southbound journey of thousands of hawks, I will also get to work with the Pronatura staff working on the ground to conserve and protect this world renowned migration.  We will be working together to create Distance Education opportunities within Mexico and Central America through transportable ‘raptor trunks’ filled with education materials to be used to reach classrooms in Mexico who otherwise may not have the opportunity to visit the site of Veracruz River of Raptors itself.  The trunk will be modeled after the existing trunks Hawk Mountain has recently created and begun shipping to different states across the U.S. The goal for the trunks in Veracruz will be to tailor them to the species, geography, and habitat unique to Mexico. 

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

One important aspect the Distance Education trunks will have in common between the two sites will be highlighting long-distance migrants like the Broad-winged Hawk.  This is a primary species for both Veracruz and Hawk Mountain and some individuals pass though both sites in the same north or south-bound journey.  This species will be highlighted to show the connection between the two sites and the importance of global conservation.  A Broad-winged Hawk curriculum has already been created in English and is available for class room use with the U.S. trunks.  The curriculum is currently being translated into Spanish for use in Mexico and in any Spanish-speaking classroom. 

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

The importance of raptor education and awareness of migration in Mexico could not be more important as it is one of the most concentrated flyways for birds of prey anywhere in the world.  More than 95% of the worlds populations of Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and Mississippi Kites pass through the narrow corridor monitored by Veracruz River of Raptors.  Each species concentrates in a narrow window of time, and daily flights can number more than 400,000 raptors.  Through continued collaboration and new efforts through Distance Education, we hope to inform and inspire the next generation of raptor conservationists, especially in Mexico.

To learn more and to help fund this important project, please CLICK HERE. As always, we are so thankful for your support and generosity. 

Keep Farmland Raptors Soaring

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

By Katie Andrews, PA Farmland Raptors Volunteer
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Since 2012 Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has been reaching out to Pennsylvania landowners and farmers to help us conserve four species of grassland raptors in decline across the state: American Kestrel, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier.

Female American Kestrel

Female American Kestrel

Participants can report sightings of the four species to the Hawk Mountain Farmland Raptor Database, install nest boxes for Kestrels and Barn Owls, improve habitat for ground-nesting Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls (e.g., leaving unmown, overgrown pastures), and encourage others to participate by distributing brochures and posters. Because farmland raptors benefit farmers by consuming rodents and insects, many farmers are happy to help and enjoy seeing raptors flying above their fields. To date we have almost 200 landowners signed up and more than 200 volunteers who report sightings of the four birds to us.

In our first two years we were supported by a DCNR PA Wild Resource Conservation Program grant, but in recent years we have sustained our efforts with the help of volunteers and donations from individuals, area businesses, and other birding and conservation organizations.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Anyone with an interest in this project can get involved! Report your sightings or help us man a table at local fairs and public events. We would like to expand our outreach to farming communities across the state, so help with distributing brochures and nest box plans or posting posters, installing nest boxes or attending agricultural fairs in your county with a table on farmland raptors is always welcome.

To read more on the project visit the Farmland Raptor Website. You can read descriptions of all four species, download copies of the brochure and newsletters and access the online sighting report form.

For more information: www.hawkmountain.org/farmlandraptors

Contacts: Farmland Raptor Volunteer Katie Andrews at farmlandraptors@gmail.com

 Dr. Laurie Goodrich: 570-943-3411 x106 or Goodrich@hawkmountain.org

A Day in the Field Searching for Goshawks

Photo by Rebekah Smith

Photo by Rebekah Smith

By Rebecca McCabe, Graduate Student,
& Zach Bordner, Broadwing Field Assistant
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

With our backpacks on and GPS units in hand, we set out on an early Friday morning to begin our quest for the ‘Gray Ghost’ aka the Northern Goshawk. This is the first time Zach and I have searched this tract of forest along the Kittatinny Ridge.

Becca and Zach surveying and recording data in the field. Photo by Rebekah Smith. 

Becca and Zach surveying and recording data in the field. Photo by Rebekah Smith. 

We begin by making our descent down to the valley floor where a stream flows through a thick corridor of rhododendrons and hemlocks. We cross over to the opposite bank and start our climb up the North facing slope, where the habitat changes dramatically with the elevation, from lush riparian vegetation to large hardwoods and an open forest floor. The sounds of the early morning songbirds pulsate all around us.

We spend the next four and a half hours hiking off-trail on varied terrain, zig-zagging up and down,  jumping from rock to rock. In between watching our footing, our eyes scan the trees looking for nest structures. We jot down observations in our field notebooks and GPS any stick nests we come across.

Photo by Zach Bordner

Photo by Zach Bordner

One in particular looks good so I walk around it looking for a good place to prop the scope up for a closer look. As I was setting up the scope Zach comes across a log under a tree where a pile of feathers lay. He calls me over and we investigate the scene. A plucking perch and a stick nest less than 50 meters from one another, a good sign indeed! Unfortunately, our excitement quickly dwindled as we scoped the nest with no signs of recent activity.

We continued to search the area surrounding the old nest structure and plucking perch but had no other signs of a Goshawk let alone another raptor. We started our journey back to the car, a little defeated, but intrigued by the habitat and the possibility that the Gray Ghost is somewhere in this forest. 

YOU can help support this important project by purchasing a Northern Goshawk t-shirt! A percentage of the proceeds will help fund our research and conservation efforts. 

For more information about our Pennsylvania Goshawk Project, visit hawkmountain.org/PAGoshawkProject

Spring Migration Wrap Up: Breaking Records!

Last day of the count, featuring conservation science trainee Tamara Beal. Photo by Rebekah Smith, education intern. 

Last day of the count, featuring conservation science trainee Tamara Beal. Photo by Rebekah Smith, education intern. 

By Gigi Romano, Communications Specialist
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

The official Spring 2017 Migration Hawk Watch at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has come to a close. With this season, which runs from April 1 to May 15, we saw record numbers and plenty of flourishing wildlife from the lookouts. 

Our counters, volunteers, and trainees have done a respectable job counting all of the passing raptors, a total of 1222 migrants! The spring conservation science trainees have finished their time up at the Lookouts, but they're time has not concluded yet; you can still catch them on the trails willing to share their accrued raptor knowledge.

This spring migration, Hawk Mountain saw a continued trend from the fall: breaking species count records! We saw a new high record amount of bald eagles, 75, and golden eagles, 8. The total tallied broad-winged hawks also tied the past record amount, 642. The highest one-day count was on April 23, when 302 broadwings soared past the lookout. The last raptor of the count was an osprey. 

And with that, another successful spring migration is in the books! Make sure to check out our Dunkadoo profile to see up-to-date visuals of all of the spring count data, and you can see the final count numbers of all of the spring count by visiting our Raptor Count page.

While the official count has ended, the fun atop the Mountain never does! Visit our event calendar at hawkmountain.org/events to see what you attend this summer and fall. We can't wait to see you soon, and the Autumn Hawk Watch will come before we know it. 

 

Bridging the Gap of Research and Education

By Kirsten Fuller, Education Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a dynamic organization that uses educational programming in conjunction with scientific research to promote raptor conservation.  As an education intern at the Sanctuary, I am proud to have completed a project that bridges the gap between these two distinct areas.  Using my credentials in biology and education, and with guidance and support from various scientists and educators, I created a curriculum for high school students, which highlights scientific data collected by the Broad-winged Hawk Project at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.    

Kirsten with her Broadwing Curriculum, right before presenting it to the Hawk Mountain staff.

Kirsten with her Broadwing Curriculum, right before presenting it to the Hawk Mountain staff.

During my time as an intern at Hawk Mountain, I was also a student completing my bachelor's degree in education at Rowan University, and was enrolled in a writing intensive course structured around unit development.  This turned out to be incredibly helpful for creating the Broad-winged Hawk curriculum.  One topic heavily discussed in this course was the current reform in science education.  Modern science teachers are expected to use an inquiry approach to teaching in tandem with technology in order to inform students about the nature of how science is conducted and how scientific discoveries have developed over time.  A lot of the elements I learned from this course I was able to apply to the development of the curriculum.  This made sure the curriculum is applicable in high school classrooms using these modern teaching approaches. 

The curriculum is focused on a Broad-winged Hawk caught in New Ringgold, PA named Abbo.  She was fitted with a satellite-tracking device in July of 2014, and was released to make her migration south.  Broad-winged Hawks are known for making long migrations, on average between 8,000 and 10,000 km, from their breeding grounds in Eastern forests to wintering grounds in South America.  Abbo migrated from her nesting site in Pennsylvania all the way to Brazil, and then back to Pennsylvania, where she chose a nest that was less than 30 km from her nest the year before.  Points accumulated by satellites were collected in a database and then easily displayed on Google Earth Pro for visualization.  This is the technology that students and teachers will use to complete activities in the curriculum.

Kirsten's Broad-winged Hawk Curriculum for teachers, along with accompanying worksheets. 

Kirsten's Broad-winged Hawk Curriculum for teachers, along with accompanying worksheets. 

In the curriculum, students explore the complete ecological profile of Abbo, the Broad-winged Hawk.  Through a series of questions and guided instructions, students analyze and compare the ecology of the nesting grounds in Pennsylvania and the wintering grounds in Brazil, explore the migratory route taken by Abbo, and think critically about the conservation and preservation issues involved with this long-distance migrant.  Content in the curriculum is applicable to many national and Pennsylvania State Standards for high school science education. 

One aspect of the curriculum that I found really important was informing students of the way ecological research is conducted.  I wanted students to understand how data about a species can be collected, and then how that data can be used to determine factors about that population.  This is how we can begin to bridge the gap between research and education;  by incorporating real-life scientific studies into traditional high school curricula, educators are able to hopefully inspire the next generation of biologists.  I plan on using these techniques when I am a student teacher next fall. 

Upon accepting the education intern position at Hawk Mountain, I was nervous about the challenges that I would encounter in my attempt to translate Broadwing migration data into an activity that is relevant in high school science classrooms.  I am very excited to see it successfully implemented in the near future.

I don’t have a photo with all of the people who helped me complete this project, however seen with me to the left are Wouter Vansteelant and Zoey Greenberg, who both made my experience at Hawk Mountain fun and memorable. I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend time working for Hawk Mountain, and for all of the encouraging and knowledgeable people that helped me complete this project. 

* This curricula with another on the black vulture was created with support from the Pennsylvania Wild Resources Conservation Program and other donors.

In Quest of the “Blue Hawk" on the Blue Mountain

By Dr. Laurie Goodrich, Director of Long-Term Monitoring
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Hawk Mountain straddles the Blue Mountain, aka Kittatinny Ridge, which runs 150 miles from New Jersey almost into Maryland and forms a highway for migrating birds.  As the southernmost ridge of the Ridge and Valley province, the Blue Mountain seems to mark a border in Pennsylvania’s landscape and nesting bird communities, as it provides a large swath of forest on the periphery of a highly fragmented landscape to the south.

Northern Goshawk in flight. Photo by Holly Merker.

Northern Goshawk in flight. Photo by Holly Merker.

 In 1890 B.H. Warren (Birds of Pennsylvania) reported the “Blue Hawk” or Northern Goshawk  (Accipiter gentilis) as one of the most rare, and most maligned, raptors nesting in Pennsylvania.  A large forest hawk, the Northern Goshawk has always been rare across the state, nesting primarily in large, mature, and mixed conifer-deciduous forests away from human activity.  It was most often reported in more remote, less populated northern counties of the state even a century ago.  “Maligned” because people disliked the Goshawk’s penchant for eating grouse, rabbits, squirrels, and other birds and regularly shot them on sight until legal protection was enacted in 1960s.

During the 1980s, the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas recorded 120 possible or confirmed nest locations.  But by the 2000s despite greater birder effort, the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Pennsylvania (2012, A. Wilson, D. Brauning, and R. Mulvihill authors) reported nesting goshawks had declined by 28% with only 86 sightings or nests.   Recently, goshawks disappeared as a nesting bird in Maryland as well  (D. Brinker, pers. comm.) suggesting a range retraction or regional decline with reasons or causes remaining as elusive as the bird itself.

Eager to learn more about the distribution of goshawks, Hawk Mountain garnered  a small grant from the Kittatinny Coalition and PA DCNR in 2017 (from Kittatinny Ridge conservation initiative led by Audubon Pennsylvania and Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and a grant from the Pennsylvania DCNR Wild Resources Conservation Fund to Penn State University.  I and a small group of ornithologists and volunteers began a search for signs of nesting goshawks in Pennsylvania. 

One goal of the effort is to try to revisit many of the 100 plus historical nesting territories to see if goshawks still can be found nesting and/or  to document habitat attributes or other factors relevant to their presence or absence.  Is the habitat still suitable for goshawks?  That is just one of the questions we want to answer.  The four historical nest sites reported along the Kittatinny Ridge and several areas on the ridge with large unbroken forest are the main priority for Hawk Mountain efforts this spring.

April 12 7:45 am. 

Rebecca inspects a stick nest.

Rebecca inspects a stick nest.

Overcast with heavy clouds portending drizzle. My first day afield searching for goshawks.  Myself, Rebecca McCabe, and Zach Bordner, a team who has worked for four years studying nesting Broad-winged Hawks, another forest denizen, set out from our vehicle armed with GPS units, tick spray, food and water, binoculars, and our cameras in a quest to revisit a remote historical nest site along the Kittatinny. 

After hiking more than a mile we encountered an adult broadwing being chased by crows and jays through the trees.  Nearby we found several old stick nests, reminiscent of old nests of broadwings.   We examined each nest with our binoculars to see if there was any sign of recent use.  Rebecca spotted a few new sticks in one nest and possibly a feather,.. but no other signs of recent use, so she marked it in her GPS unit and we continued on.  

Forest cut on Kittatinny Ridge.

Forest cut on Kittatinny Ridge.

Drizzle started at 8:40 am but we continued undaunted.   When we reached the coordinates of the historical site, we found a nearby 10-year old forest cut, spanning more than 15 acres but still edged by older forest. Since goshawks can hunt forest cuts, we were not dissuaded.  We circled the thick 10-year old vegetation and continued down slope to a dirt access road and found another, larger forest cut. A red-tailed hawk circled above, not a good sign for seeing goshawks here but the birds could have moved.  After consulting the map we moved farther east towards a large ravine cut by two to three streams.  We hoped to locate mature, more remote forest possibly with a mix of conifers.  During the hike we spot several birds, chickadees, a Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Towhee, Pileated Woodpecker, and hear a Pine Warbler singing in the distance.

After lunch we continue along stream and begin to see occasional hemlocks mixed in with the oak and maple trees, perhaps a good sign!  However, our optimism shortly dies as we discover the ravine forest abruptly ends at a newer forest cut extending for more than 50 acres.  Our hope for possible goshawk habitat near the area quickly waned.  With aching feet we hike back several miles to the vehicle. Six hours and 11 plus miles of forest hiking later, a good workout! 

Our report  for this site will suggest the habitat appears no longer suitable for goshawks with forest canopy changes, redtails observed, and other evidence of more frequent human activity.  However, as Dave Brinker, well-known goshawk researcher, reports, goshawks can shift territories in response to such disruptions.

Our drive home was full of speculation about which nearby secluded forest blocks to search next.   Last summer we three had a good look at a goshawk nest when visiting the Allegheny National Forestin northwestern Pennsylvania with researchers Dave Brinker, Don Watts, and Scott Stoleson.  The image is riveted in my mind.  I was struck by the wild nature of the bird as well as their vulnerability.   If we find any nest sites along the Kittatinny Ridge, the sites will remain secret and locations only reported to state agencies so they can be protected from disruption. 

The “Blue Hawk” may no longer inhabit the Blue Mountain but we searchers are not giving up hope just yet.

To learn more about the goshawk project in Pennsylvania, visit www.pabiologicalsurvey/goshawk.