Heroes of Hawk Mountain

Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Tom Cade

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The raptor conservation community mourned the loss of Dr. Tom Cade earlier this year. Dr. Cade is not just a Hawk Mountain Hero, but a hero for the entire field of raptor conservation. It was an honor and a privilege to thank him personally for his many contributions by presenting him in 2008 with Hawk Mountain’s Sarkis Acopian Award for Excellence in Raptor Conservation. 

Simply put, the man was a legend. Dr. Cade was an ornithology professor at Cornell University when in 1970 he co-founded The Peregrine Fund in response to the near extinction of peregrines in the United States. At the time, there were no peregrines east of the Mississippi and only a handful in the West.

The culprit behind their decline was DDT, a pesticide that had been in widespread use since the 1940’s and caused eggshell thinning, leading to eggs breaking in the nest. When too few chicks hatched, peregrine populations crashed by up to 90 percent.

What followed is considered the largest and most organized effort in history to prevent the loss of a species and restore its population.At the time, most experts thought it impossible to breed captive birds of prey on a large scale, but under Cade’s leadership, a Dream Team essentially changed the course of extinction. The team was extensive and included falconers who had experience in raising the raptors, biologists who studied them, and volunteers, students and others who understood the implications of losing a species.

From 1974 to 1997, The Peregrine Fund bred and released into the wild more than 4,000 falcons and, in 1999, the peregrine was removed from the federal endangered species list. Dr. Cade’s pioneering work led to other breakthroughs in the field of endangered species research, and his techniques were later used on bald eagles, California condors, harpy eagles, and other species.Today The Peregrine Fund works on six continents and in more than 55 countries, leading and coordinating numerous conservation efforts globally, and Dr. Cade’s contributions are recognized worldwide.

Dr. Cade’s lifetime of work in raptor conservation and recovery left a permanent legacy for raptor biologists and enthusiasts across North America and beyond. The autumn flights of peregrines enjoyed by countless Hawk Mountain visitors,year after year, are a direct result of his foresight and hard work.

Click here to learn more about his work.

Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Fred Beste

By Mary Linkevich, Director of Development
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

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Fred Beste had a lifelong connection with nature and a love for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and stands out as a Hawk Mountain Hero for legacy to the Sanctuary and the indelible marks he made.

He and his wife Polly moved to the Lehigh Valley in the early 1980s when he joined Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds in Bethlehem, Pa, to serve as its founding president and CEO. It wasn’t long before he discovered the Sanctuary and remained one of its staunchest supporters and most passionate ambassadors throughout the remainder of his life.

He often shared the story of the day he brought their daughter Megan as a young girl and the two visited the North Lookout. As luck would have it, the winds were kind and the two marveled at the great kettles of broadwings that boiled overhead. While most visits thereafter paled in the number of birds that passed, he always said that “every day is a good day at North Lookout.”

Fred and fellow board member Minturn Wright standing outside the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

Fred and fellow board member Minturn Wright standing outside the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

I had the pleasure of meeting Fred when he joined the board of directors the same year that I joined the staff. He served more than 15 years including positions as chair of the development and nominating committees, as vice chair, and four as chairman of the board. During his tenure, the Sanctuary opened the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning, fully endowed its international training program, upgraded and expanded the Education Building, and constructed an accessible trail. He also chaired the Benefit for Birds Gala, spearheaded fundraising to build a director of education endowment, and led the charge each November to generate support for critically needed general operating dollars through our Annual Fund.

In short, he supported virtually every program at Hawk Mountain.

With his endless energy and positive outlook, one would never guess that Fred was born with a life-threatening heart condition. In fact, he outlived his doctor’s estimates by at least five years, but his very special heart stopped beating in December 8, 2018. We are comforted to know that he and Polly were able to make a final walk to the North Lookout that October. The trek could not have been easy, but Fred was determined, and never one to shirk a challenge.

Fred and his wife, Polly.

Fred and his wife, Polly.

During his lifetime, Fred made a legacy gift to help protect the view he loved so much, and those dollars helped to conserve forever 66 acres of riparian lands directly below the North Lookout. He rallied for land conservation and the need to protect the Sanctuary for generations to come, and his leadership and advocacy helped to protect at least two additional parcels rated highest need for protection.

Off the Sanctuary, Fred was an amazing human being who lived a full and wonderful life. He was a brilliant businessman with a long list of professional accolades, loved to brag about his family, and was quick to always add to his vast collection of friends. He had an insatiable quest for knowledge, a love of books and gardening, and founded a group of readers he called his Select Literate Friends. I’m honored to have been part of “SLF,” and the stories of his semi-annual two-day “Gathering” of SLFers at his home are legendary.

Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace met Fred during his interview process and had the pleasure of working with him throughout his first year on the Sanctuary.

“Fred was highly successful in both business and in life because of his perseverance and perpetually glass-half-full perspective, which now stands as a lesson to each of the staff and board members who knew him,” Sean says.

Today we remember Fred as a Hawk Mountain hero for his love of Sanctuary and his work as a tireless ambassador, leader, and supporter. 

Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Sarkis Acopian

Bold ideas require visionaries, and one named Sarkis Acopian arrived at Hawk Mountain 16 years ago. At the time, the board of directors had committed to opening a biological field station, and had even purchased 41 acres of land along the Little Schuylkill River for that purpose. What they lacked, however, was the funding to make it happen.

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 Enter Mr. Acopian, the most visionary conservation benefactor Hawk Mountain has ever known.

 Then Director of Conservation Science Dr. Keith Bildstein met Mr. Acopian in 1997, during the launch of A Field Guide to Birds of Armenia, a publication that Mr. Acopian spear-headed and had sponsored as part of the Birds of Armenia Project. Two years later, he supported a Hawk Mountain conservation science trainee from Armenia, and in early 2001, he sponsored an in-flight osprey carving for the Wings of Wonder Gallery at the Visitor Center.

 Later that same year, he called Keith to ask about the future of raptor conservation at Hawk Mountain, and Keith described for him the ambitious plans to build a facility that trains young raptor biologists from around the world, and that serves as a global hub for raptor conservation science. Mr. Acopian immediately grasped the potential and asked Keith to summarize in a letter the ideas and costs.

 “Only one page, not two,” he said to Keith.

Sarkis Acopian and Dr. Keith Bildstein check out the construction site.

Sarkis Acopian and Dr. Keith Bildstein check out the construction site.

 One week later Mr. Acopian committed the funds needed to undertake the Sanctuary’s bold agenda. Within two months, site preparation was well underway. On September 7, 2002—less than two years after Keith’s phone conversation with Mr. Acopian—the building was dedicated, the first class of trainees had arrived, and the Acopian Center was in use.

 And it didn’t end there. In 2003, Mr. Acopian provided funds to initiate a major research project using satellite telemetry to study turkey vultures. The study has since uncovered new information about their migration behavior, expanded to include black vultures and the endangered hooded vulture, engaged new conservation partners in North, South and Central America, and provided tools to teach trainees about the use of this important research technique. The following year, he endowed the directorship in conservation science at the Sanctuary, guaranteeing that Hawk Mountain will forever attract high-caliber, world-class leadership for its programs in raptor conservation.

 Thanks to Mr. Acopian and his outstanding generosity and vision, Hawk Mountain had the infrastructure necessary to double its conservation science training program, attract the most talented scientists for collaborative projects, and to emerge as a global leader in raptor conservation. More than 220 young conservationists from six continents have lived and learned at the Acopian Center, and its seminar room has hosted numerous international workshops, which in turn have resulted in several ongoing and international collaborations. More than 300 visiting scientists have used the facility, including seminar speakers for the current trainee classes.

 The Acopian Center continues to serve as a launching pad, not only for new careers in raptor conservation science, but also for new ideas, and for that we thank the late Sarkis Acopian. In the course of his lifetime, he set an example for all who enjoy a life of privilege, and he labored to make a positive change in the world. His distinguished commitment and his contributions to overall environmental health, not just here at Hawk Mountain, but all over the world, will no doubt leaves an extraordinary legacy for humankind.

Heroes of Hawk Mountain: Warner Berthoff

Warner witnessed Hawk Mountain’s Miracle Day on September 14, 1978, when counters tallied a record 21,448 broad-winged hawks. Here he proudly displays his “I was here” t-shirt.

Warner witnessed Hawk Mountain’s Miracle Day on September 14, 1978, when counters tallied a record 21,448 broad-winged hawks. Here he proudly displays his “I was here” t-shirt.

Some people simply embody the spirit of Hawk Mountain, and such was the case with Warner Berthoff. Warner first visited the Sanctuary in the 1960’s, and returned, year after year, to soak in the view from North Lookout, chat with his Mountain friends, and enjoy the flight, which with any luck included good kettles of broadwings.

It was in the late 60’s that he met “Broadwing Charlie” Gant, who would become a life-long friend. “In 45 minutes, my dad learned more about broadwings than he could have read in a year of book learning,” laughs his daughter Rachel. The two hit it off and, going forward, always met at Hawk Mountain each September.

Dr. Laurie Goodrich, who coordinates the count and spends much time at the lookouts, recalls that Warner would coordinate by phone to make sure the two arrived on the same day, which may have been the only time they saw one another all year long.

“Warner would always arrive first and ask, 'where is he?' and 'did anybody see him yet?'” Laurie laughs. “Then all of a sudden Charlie would show up, and all would be right in the world. They’d settle in on the north side under the trees and talk non-stop, even when the birds started to move. They’d look up at the birds, and then go back to talking,” she says.

And so the years passed, with Warner making the 340-mile ride to Hawk Mountain to climb the North Lookout. He made his last hike in 2016 at age 89 with his son and daughter at his side.

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“He easily could have watched broadwings from Massachusetts, but he always came back here,” says Laurie, who looked forward to his annual arrival as much as anyone.

Warner died on August 28, 2018, but he lived a full and beautiful life. He was a professor emeritus at Harvard University, where he taught English and American literature for more than 20 years. He was a brilliant thinker and sought-after academic whose visiting professorships took him from Sicily to Berkeley to Poland and beyond. He enjoyed his friends and family, along with many other hobbies and interests. Hawk-watching was but a small slice of his life, but it’s the one we knew and loved.

Like others, Warner demonstrates that Hawk Mountain isn’t just a place on a map, but a community of friends brought together by a love for this place, the birds overhead, and the work we do. He reminds us that Hawk Mountain is truly a sanctuary, not just for wildlife, but also for the soul.

We thank Warner for sharing more than 50 years of friendship, and his family for sharing him.