On the Mountain

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.

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.

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.”

Finding Myself Among the Birds

By Cheryl Faust, Education Volunteer
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

I started volunteering at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in August 2013 after some life changing events. Being able to handle and present programs with the education birds at the Mountain has helped me reinvent myself and start a second chapter in my life. Looking back at the past five and a half years, I’ve had some real ‘stand out’ memories and lessons I’ve learned from the education birds. 

I can distinctly remember the first time my mentor, Rachel Taras (Senior Educator), and I went down to the enclosures, so I could learn how to retrieve the gray morph eastern screech owl (EASO). She was at Hawk Mountain for a year and already knew her job really well. Rachel explained everything to me in detail: how we would enter the enclosure, what we were going to be doing, and what to expect. I watched Rachel ask the EASO to get on the glove, paying attention to her timing, posture, and position.

September 2014. The first time Cheryl retrieved the gray eastern screech owl.

September 2014. The first time Cheryl retrieved the gray eastern screech owl.

The first time I asked the gray EASO to step onto the glove, she hopped on and then hopped off right away. When she hopped off, she went down to the ground and my heart sank! Rachel explained to me she was ok and we would wait until the bird was back on a perch.  I realized then that I had a lot of work to do. My efforts paid off, and after a few weeks the EASO was hopping onto my glove first approach. Working with the owl, I learned how to read those tiny raptor movements we call body language.

The next education bird I started working with was the senior red-tailed hawk (RTHA). She was already having some arthritis issues in her talons, so the decision was made that I would handle her for programs and return the bird to her enclosure, but I would not retrieve her from her enclosure. The senior RTHA was a pro and taught me several things during our short time together. One of the first things I needed to master was paying close attention to both the bird on my arm and my audience. I was good at multitasking, but this required me to broaden my awareness of everyone and everything in my surroundings. Because this bird knew her job so well, I was able to relax, which helped boost my confidence in front of a large crowd. She also kept me on my toes, helping me refine my overall animal handling skills.

Cheryl and the “junior” red-tailed hawk at the 2018 Benefit for the Birds gala.

Cheryl and the “junior” red-tailed hawk at the 2018 Benefit for the Birds gala.

When the decision was made that the senior RTHA would be semi-retired, the Sanctuary acquired a second RTHA who we referred to as “junior RTHA.” The bird was thought to be young and had a wing injury. This bird has been my biggest challenge so far, but also my most rewarding. For months I worked on a weekly basis, entering her enclosure, slowly approaching, watching her body language, and either leaving when the bird moved away or slowly approaching if she remained calm. I can still remember the feeling of exhilaration when she first stepped up on my glove; if I could have done a cart-wheel I would have! Receiving this hawk’s “stamp of approval” was well worth the time, effort, and work.

Cheryl showing the female American kestrel to a visitor at the Silhouette Trail grand opening in 2015.

Cheryl showing the female American kestrel to a visitor at the Silhouette Trail grand opening in 2015.

When I heard that Hawk Mountain was acquiring a female American kestrel (AMKE), I was thrilled!  This would expose me to some new raptor behavior because this bird was an imprint. Her disability was mental, and she was able to fly extremely well.  I was very lucky that I established a trust account quickly with the AMKE, and I was honored to handle her at the opening for the new Silhouette Trail to South Lookout. Honestly, even though I was warned many times not to, I became attached to the AMKE. When we lost her suddenly, I realized my error and learned that while it’s important to have strong trust accounts with the education birds, it’s imperative not to become attached.

These are just a few of the stand out moments and lessons I have had with the education birds. I’ve lost count of all of the amazing memories I’ve created with my fellow volunteers, staff members, family, friends, and visitors.  Volunteering for the education department has been an incredible experience; I have found myself again, reinvented who I was, and became healed by the Mountain.

Molded by the Mountain

By Adehl Schwaderer, former conservation trainee
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Adehl looks out at the valley from South Lookout.

Adehl looks out at the valley from South Lookout.

When I am interpreting or teaching about wildlife, people often ask me a lot of difficult questions. Out of all the questions I have been asked, the ones that I find hardest to explain are why I know so much about the natural world, how I became interested in birds (of all things), and how I found out about a career in environmental conservation. These are difficult questions to answer because I do not have one clear, summarized response. Who I am today and how I got to where I am now was shaped by every experience I have had leading up to this point in my life, including my time at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. So, when someone asks me this, I wish I could paint a picture of all the people and places that have shaped who I am.  Now, I finally have the chance!

I first found out about Hawk Mountain as a junior at Robert Morris University, and I jumped at the chance to spend the summer working for the education department. I applied for the Heuer Education Intern position, and that experience opened my eyes to the world of avian conservation, molded my professional direction, and changed the way I view my own potential.  

Adehl with the other trainees on a cultural trip.

Adehl with the other trainees on a cultural trip.

Before starting my internship, I was very apprehensive. It was my first time traveling to a completely new place to work, and I had very little knowledge about raptor conservation. Thankfully, none of my worst fears came to fruition. Within my first week of working for Erin Brown, HMS Education Director, I felt settled into my new position, comfortable in the trainee residence, and had many exciting goals to conquer over the next four months. I spent the summer leading educational programs and guided hikes, collaborating with the conservation scientists to create educational videos about their projects for classroom use, and also had the opportunity to learn the basics of raptor care.  That summer I also spent time with international trainees and college research interns from all over the United States. We were living, working, and spending free time together and became close friends as a result. I learned so much about different cultures, environmental conservation in different parts of the world, and was able to see how having an open mind can allow you to learn new things about others and yourself.

Adehl practicing raptor care with the Sanctuary’s red-tailed hawk.

Adehl practicing raptor care with the Sanctuary’s red-tailed hawk.

My time as a member of the education team taught me numerous skills required to be an effective team player, and I learned firsthand that enthusiasm and drive outweigh nervousness and self-doubt. I followed their example, and when I felt nervous about leading a program or unsure of a decision I was making, I would let my excitement and passion shine through to ease my mind.

This support and insight was what pushed me to continue to work towards becoming a better educator. From the moment I arrived at Hawk Mountain, Erin made me feel welcomed, helped me navigate my new role as an intern, and was genuinely excited to add me to the team. She would go out of her way to expose me to new experiences, include me in decisions, and listen to each idea and suggestion I had. Her trust and encouragement helped me challenge what I thought I was truly capable of as an educator.

Rachel and Adehl posing with a “tagged vulture” educational tool.

Rachel and Adehl posing with a “tagged vulture” educational tool.

Rachel Taras, Senior Educator at HMS, is one of the most positive, enthusiastic educators I know! Before her, I didn’t know it was okay to let your audience know how excited you were about the topic you were explaining. When making decisions, she thinks critically about the situation so that the outcome is positive and beneficial for everyone involved. She helped me understand that open communication and following through with responsibilities is essential for the health of the birds and her patience and thorough training allowed me to complete raptor care tasks with ease. Being Rachel’s mentee boosted my confidence and taught me how to greet every obstacle with a smile.

Adam Carter, another HMS educator, showed me how to use my powers of observation to engage my audience. If I knew my audience’s interests, I could go off script and give them the best experience by tailoring my focus. He encouraged me to let people know who I was and reminded me that I had too many important things to say to be worried about other people's perceptions of me. “Normal is boring, Adehl!” His words of reassurance really helped me, and I continue to remember them when I feel unsure of myself.

Adehl holding a recently tagged black vulture.

Adehl holding a recently tagged black vulture.

I loved my first experience at HMS so much that I couldn't resist returning to the Mountain, this time as a conservation science trainee. This allowed me to dive into the research side of avian conservation. From helping Dr. JF Therrien in the field banding American Kestrels, watching Dr. Laurie Goodrich and her team attach satellite telemetry units onto broad-winged hawks, and having the opportunity to hold a black vulture with David Barber, all of these moments sparked my interest in pursuing more opportunities in raptor research. Learning the importance of the big picture when considering a research idea or conservation issue from Dr. Keith Bildstein allowed me to feel more capable in future research opportunities. All of the scientists were supportive, engaging, and helped make my first research experience an influential one.

It took these people saying yes, giving me guidance and room to grow, to help me realize my true potential. My experiences on the Mountain painted a clear picture of the type of organization I wanted to work for in the future, helped me understand my professional goals, and allowed me to connect with people from different backgrounds through raptor biology. I gained the confidence to pursue a career I love and the knowledge to be an effective teacher and researcher. Without this foundation, I would not be the naturalist, educator, or scientist that I am today.

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Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Ben Olewine IV

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It was a fortuitous twist of fate when in the 1990s Ben Olewine, IV signed up for a multi-day field trip on forest management and the effects on birds and their habitats. The excursion connected Ben with then- chairman Cliff Jones, who ultimately persuaded him to consider service at the Sanctuary.

Soon after, Ben joined Cliff on the board of directors, served on the science and education committees, and quickly developed a strong belief in the power of Hawk Mountain and its international Conservation Science Training Program.

“I saw the value and the impact,” he explains, “and Hawk Mountain demonstrated that a relatively small organization can make a global impact.”

Ben believed in the vision and reach of this critically-needed training, as well as the need to support trainees after they leave Hawk Mountain.

“Young people come to the Sanctuary, are trained, and go home, but often they need seed money to start their own conservation projects and careers. Hawk Mountain needed to help get them started,” he explains.

 With his family, Ben did just that. With his father, the Harrisburg-based wholesale food giant and beloved civic leader and philanthropist, Ben Olewine III, Ben and his family established the Benjamin Olewine IV Project Soar Awards using funds annually from the Olewine Family Trust.  

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Since 2003, Ben and his family have faithfully provided support for seed grants, and Hawk Mountain each year uses the funds to jumpstart careers in conservation for the best and brightest graduates. Adrian Naveda, for instance, immediately returned to Venezuela to launch a turkey vulture monitoring program (pictured), while Karen Aghababian and Vasil Ananian studied Levant sparrowhawks in Armenia. Matias Juhant studied molt and migration behavior in South American raptors, while Corinne Kendall of the United States monitored the movements of East African vultures in the Great Rift Valley of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

A businessman by nature, Ben enjoyed an illustrious consulting career in business development and marketing for some of the world’s most iconic brands, but his heart has long since been held by conservation and, in particular, bird conservation. In fact, following his “retirement” from his business career, Ben spent nearly ten years on the board and as treasurer of BirdLife International, where he focused on conservation philanthropy and spent several months abroad each year as part of his “volunteer” work.

Hawk Mountain is proud that Ben considers the Sanctuary and Project Soar a priority, so much so, that he made plans to ensure the funds continue in perpetuity. Recently, Ben shared his intent to name Hawk Mountain the benefactor of an IRA that will provide Benjamin Olewine IV Project Soar Grants for generations to come.

“I know the training program is effective and I know that Hawk Mountain is cost-effective. This support provides a tremendous bang for the buck, in terms of what can be accomplished. It will make a tremendous impact.”

Ben Olewine with Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace stand outside the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

Ben Olewine with Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace stand outside the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

Home Among the Hills

By Karissa Elser, Education Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Karissa at South Lookout as a child.

Karissa at South Lookout as a child.

Hiking up to North Lookout on my first day, as a summer education intern, wasn’t the first time I made that journey. It probably wasn’t even the 10th time. I have been able to make the journey countless times because I am lucky enough to call Hawk Mountain Sanctuary my backyard. Since I live in the small town of New Ringgold that you can see from North Lookout, Hawk Mountain is no stranger to me.

Yet, this summer, I got to make the drive up Hawk Mountain Road everyday to experience this place from a whole new perspective. Being the “local” intern this summer, I was already aware of the River of Rocks bolder fields and the incredible views from the lookouts. However, I wasn’t aware of the world-class research that goes on at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. From the Farmland Raptor Project to working globally with other scientists to butterfly migration to educating kids, this special place that I have grown up going to my whole life is the leader in all the techniques and practices I have been studying while at West Virginia University.

Karissa holding a recently tagged American kestrel chick.

Karissa holding a recently tagged American kestrel chick.

Even though I was technically an education intern, I was always being invited to help tag black vultures or band American kestrels with the conservation scientist and trainees. There are some things that can’t be taught in a classroom, and getting to work along biologists at Hawk Mountain, such as J.F. Therrien, Laurie Goodrich, and David Barber, were some of those experiences. Since all the biologists and researchers at the Sanctuary have expertise in different fields of study, I felt lucky to have been able to have conversations with each of them about what they are accomplishing.

Karissa assisting a young visitor during a Wee One’s program.

Karissa assisting a young visitor during a Wee One’s program.

As an education intern, I spent most of my time working on the top of the mountain, leading excursions with groups of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Being able to share your knowledge and passion for conservation with children and adults, who may live in cities or might not know about the power of preservation of raptors, other wildlife, and ecosystems found in the Appalachian area, is the greatest feeling. You can learn a lot from mistakes you make. Watching the way that educators Erin Brown, Rachel Taras, Andrea Ambrose, and Jamie Dawson work with kids and through kids taught me about how I aspire to be as an educator.

Hawk Mountain has taught me how to work with a community of scientists and educators from various backgrounds. This notable place has provided me with an immense amount of hands-on research and fieldwork, and it reminds me every day why I study and strive to be a better scientist and educator. I have been so fortunate to work at a place that my 10-year-old self would visit on those fall days to watch the migrating birds with my school group. I never would have anticipated that I would have a chance to work at a place that I have always considered my home among the hills.

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Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Cyrus Klingsberg

Cyrus at Hawk Mountain's South Lookout, which is ADA-accessible via the Silhouette Trail.

Cyrus at Hawk Mountain's South Lookout, which is ADA-accessible via the Silhouette Trail.

Today we're honored to introduce Hawk Mountain Hero Dr. Cyrus Klingsberg, whose generosity of spirit and financial resources made the vision of an accessible trail go from concept to reality.

A retired senior scientist at the Department of Energy, Cyrus has published dozens of articles and lectured abroad, but during his downtime, he and his late wife Vera enjoyed nature and the movement of birds. The two were long-time Hawk Mountain members.

“Vera was the ‘real’ birder,” he laughs, and while her favorite species may have been the tiny chickadee, she also loved to monitor the southbound movement of raptors. That is, until mobility issues held her back and left her sitting inside the Visitor Center.

“That’s when I became her eyes,” says Cyrus.

“I would visit the Lookout, make observations, and then report back to her what I’d seen and heard. I always wished she could have joined me.”

After her death, Cyrus learned about the idea of an accessible trail that connected visitors to the South Lookout and wished that such a trail had been available for his wife.

“Accessibility is such an obvious need,” he said at the time. “An accessible trail would open the Sanctuary to a whole group of people,” he added. People like Vera.

A year later, Hawk Mountain opened its first accessible pathway since its founding in 1934. The grand opening was held July 26, 2015, on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Joining Cyrus in funding this project were the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Berks County Commissioners through the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Schuylkill County Commissioners, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Alfred A. Douglass III and Family also provided funds to upgrade the Laurelwood Niche as an accessible outdoor learning space.

But it was Cyrus who launched the campaign, put plans on the fast-track, and essentially sealed the deal.

The 900-foot-long trail is wide enough to allow for two wheelchairs to pass one another and bends in a wide, graceful arc through the forest at a grade that does not exceed 8.3%, keeping the slope below the federal guidelines for national parks. Other enhancements include benches for rest every 100 feet, accessible trail-side restrooms, upgrades to the Laurelwood Niche outdoor classroom, and improvements at the South Lookout viewing platform.

In 2016, the trail was renamed the Silhouette Trail to match the trail-side gallery of life-size, in-flight raptor silhouettes. A brochure describing each is available at the trail entrance, and the exhibit changes twice a year. 

The following year, the Sanctuary received the International Trail Accessibility Award during the annual International Trails Symposium held every other May. The award recognizes a trail project that successfully integrates accessibly into its design and construction.

Accolades aside, there’s no doubt that the trail has connected more people than ever before with nature, which was always the overarching goal. For Cyrus, though, it was always about Vera.

“I’m glad that I am able to support the work of Hawk Mountain in a way that lets me honor the memory of my wife at the same time,” he says.