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Bud's View: Nature's air show

Lehigh Valley area residents are fortunate to have Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Township, Berks County. It's a great destination anytime of the year, but late summer and fall are the best times to visit.

There's an Emmy-worthy and possibly Academy Award-winning nature's air show going on during the next couple of months. It's time to put down the TV remotes, video game controls and head to Hawk Mountain for one of Mother Nature's real-life and unsurpassed reality shows.

The sanctuary entertains visitors from around the globe when an estimated 18,000 migrating raptors (birds of prey) pass along Hawk Mountain's rocky outcrops each fall. Many stalwart birders say Hawk Mountain is one of the finest locations in the world for observing migrating raptors.

The 78th Annual Autumn Hawk Watch, where volunteer observers count the daily number of migrating hawks, eagles and falcons gliding by the North Lookout began Aug. 15. In less than one week, this year's daily record of migrating raptors had surpassed 100.

Four broad-winged hawks were tagged in the sanctuary's new satellite telemetry study. The hawks were on the move to their winter homes in South America. The tagging allows birders to follow the hawks' journey to South America and back for the next two years on an online tracking at "Movement Maps" on the Hawk Mountain web site: hawkmountain.org.

The annual count continues daily through Dec. 15. For daily tallies, go to the "Raptor Count Page" on the Hawk Mountains website. Phone the Hawk Mountain information number, 610-756-6600, after 6 p.m. daily for migratory flight and weather updates.

Trained staff and volunteers at Hawk Mountain lookouts point out approaching birds and announce the species.

Here's what else is going on at Hawk Mountain:

"The Art of John James Audubon," through Dec. 1, Visitor Center, includes rare Audubon artifacts and hand-colored engravings.

Autumn lectures include: Lee Peterson, "Roger Torey Peterson: His Life and Legend," 5:30 p.m. Sept. 20, and "Monarch Migration: Natural Wonder at Risk," 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27, both in the Visitor Center.

Walkways are now handicapped accessible. Construction of a new amphitheater begins in November.

Work on new connector walkways, linking the amphitheater, Visitor Center, Native Plant Garden, parking lots and entrance, begins in Spring 2015.

Permeable pavers, allowing water infiltration, thus reducing storm water runoff, will be used to for the walkways.

The walkway will link the closest scenic overlook, the South Overlook, to the main trailhead. There will be wheelchair-accessible switchbacks, bench seating, interpretive signs and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant trailside restrooms.

The project is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a Berks County Community Development Block Grant.

Migrating raptors follow a reliable timetable. Decreasing daylight in late summer induces what is known as Zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness, in raptors. Ospreys, bald eagles and American kestrels are the main raptors passing by the lookouts in late summer and early fall.

Broad-winged hawk numbers begin building in mid-September. These small, round-winged hawks, like other raptors, use rising columns of air called thermals to gain altitude. Hundreds of broad-wings are often seen in a single afternoon. A record one-day count for broad-wings was set Sept. 12, 2006, when 7,800 were recorded by volunteer counters.

Mid-October offers the greatest diversity of raptor species as red-tailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons and merlins are on the move.

The raptor migrations begin to slow in November, but this is a special time when golden eagles and northern goshawks glide by the outcrops.

December is a very slow viewing time, but observers might have the chance to see a lone bald eagle silhouetted against the winter sky.

The sanctuary dates to the early 1930's when Richard Pough, an amateur Philadelphia ornithologist, heard about an area referred to by local residents as Hawk Mountain.

Pough traveled there in fall 1931 and was shocked to discover the area was a prime location for shooting raptors. Raptor carcasses littered the hillside. He returned a short time later to photograph the dead birds.

His graphic photographs, published in Bird Lore, predecessor to the Audubon Magazine, caught the attention of Rosalie Edge, a New York City socialite, birdwatcher and conservation activist. Edge visited Hawk Mountain in 1934. She soon leased 1,400 acres along the hawk migration route.

Within one year, Edge opened her land to the public who could observe birds of prey in their natural environment. She purchased and later deeded the land to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in 1938. The sanctuary has expanded to 2,600 acres and continues to operate as a non-profit organization.

When, and not if, you visit Hawk Mountain, don't miss the "Wings of Wonder" raptor gallery, bookstore and gift shop in the Visitor Center. It's best to visit weekdays during the popular fall migration season.

Don't miss the natural phenomenon that is nature's annual air show.

That's the way I see it!

To schedule programs, hikes and birthday parties: 610-767-4043; comments: bbbcole@enter.net

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&Copy; 2014 Bud Cole

PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE A group of young birders sit on a Hawk Mountain outcrop, watching for migrating raptors.