Saturday, 13 October 2012

Trip Report Hawk Mountain, PA

Trip Report
Hawk Mountain, PA
5 – 8 October, 2012

5 October 2012
Waterloo, ON – Allentown, PA

We left home at 07:11 under cloudy skies with the temperature reading 16°C. Our journey to the border proceeded smoothly and we arrived there at 08:58. As has been the case on recent occasions there was little traffic crossing into New York State and we were through the formalities ten minutes later and were on our way to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, our first planned birding location of the trip.
At 10:00 we stopped for a coffee at the Tim Hortons at a highway rest stop in Pembroke, NY. Miriam and I have often wondered why there is not a dedicated line for patrons who only want coffee, thereby avoiding the necessity to line up behind people ordering many different items. Someone must have been listening because at this location there was a dedicated service counter for just that purpose. Unfortunately we didn't notice it until after I had lined up in the usual fashion! But we'll know next time.
There is a clear sign on the throughway marking the exit for Montezuma NWR and we took it. Somehow or other we missed a marker, however, and took a circuitous route through the village of Seneca Falls.
We arrived at the refuge at 11:48 and by now the temperature had climbed to 22.5°C. At the visitor centre we saw only Canada Geese, a few Mallards and a single female Wood Duck. We ate the sandwiches we had made for lunch as we drove along the loop but there was a distinct paucity of birds. Other than hundreds and hundreds of Canada Geese there was not much at all and whole lagoons were entirely empty of waterfowl. It was a disappointment and a stark contrast to our experience there the same time last year when the birding had been excellent.
By 12:58 we were leaving the refuge and heading for Pennsylvania. We joined the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 15:32 and drove until 17:05 when we exited at Lehigh Valley, near Allentown.
Our accommodation for the night was an expensive Best Western Inn but the room was appropriately grand. Dinner was taken at Chris' Family Restaurant across the road from the Best Western where the food was unexceptional, but it served the purpose. Miriam chose beef/vegetable soup, and bourbon chicken on rice with broccoli. I had clam chowder which tasted for all the world like celery soup with miniscule bits of clam floating in it. Nevertheless it was quite tasty and was followed by broiled flounder and coleslaw. Dessert was included in the “package” but we passed on the pudding or jello.
We had brought a bottle of Pisse Dru from home so we opened it back in the room and chatted and drank wine. Miriam took a bath in the tub which was located near the bed. We read for a while and turned in for the night.
It bears mentioning that even though the bathroom was spacious and well appointed in most respects, there was not a vanity counter nor even a shelf on which to place anything. I recommend that a search be commenced for a new bathroom designer without delay!

Accommodation: Best Western Plus Allentown Inn and Suites Price: $208.99 including tax Rating: Four stars.

All species 5 October – Canada Goose, Wood Duck, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird.

6 October 2012
Allentown – Hawk Mountain Sanctuary – Hawk Mountain Bed & Breakfast

We were awake by 06:00, made coffee in the room and shared a banana left over from lunch yesterday. Breakfast service commenced at 07:00 and we were there promptly. There was a good variety of items available and Miriam feasted on an omelette, sausage, yoghurt and a danish pastry. I chose just sausage and yoghurt. Needless to say we both had coffee.
We checked out and were on our way by 07:39. The weather was partly cloudy and the temperature was 15°C.
It was not long before we passed a road sign pointing the way towards Hawk Mountain B&B. Had we realized that we were so close we would have opted to stay there for an extra night rather than the Best Western in Allentown.
I have to say that when we saw the first sign for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary I felt a good deal of elation. I had dreamed of coming here for many years, having been greatly inspired by Maurice Broun's account of the formation of the sanctuary and its early years, as chronicled in his book Hawks Aloft.
We were parked by 08:15 and since the Visitor Centre didn't open until 09:00 we birded in the “garden,” which in fact is an area of native vegetation fenced off to prevent deer browsing on it. The birds were very active and there was a good variety of species including Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Carolina Chickadee. It was Miriam who first detected the subtle difference in the vocalizations of Carolina Chickadee as compared with the Black-capped Chickadee we see at home.

As soon as the Visitor Centre opened we went in to purchase our tickets to visit the lookouts. We also did a cursory tour of the centre and were impressed with what we saw.
On our way to the south lookout we were joined by one of the staff, a convivial and informative young woman named Rachel. She was great company and introduced us to interns from Kenya, Spain and the United States. Best of all, however, was to see her interaction with children when we got to the lookout. It was really encouraging to see the way they responded to her questions which were carefully designed to make them think about the answers they might give. She is a credit to Hawk Mountain. Rosalie Edge and Maurice Broun would be pleased.

As we learned more about the international scope of the intern programme the breadth of its educational character impressed itself upon us. What better way to foster international conservation of birds of prey than to have interns from all corners of the world spend time at Hawk Mountain?
We only stayed at the South Lookout for twenty-five minutes, anxious to make our way to the fabled North Lookout. We did see an Osprey, three Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk and a Turkey Vulture, as well as various passerines.
On our way to the North Lookout we both commented on the number of “regular” people, including children, making the climb. We are used to being at hawk watches patronized by only dedicated raptor enthusiasts. It is very encouraging to see that the general public is interested in learning about birds of prey, and it is a testament to the work of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary that they have been able to cultivate this kind of widespread participation.
At the lookout we, and anyone else with even a passing level of proficiency at hawk identification, shared every bit of knowledge we could with parents and their children. We had a great conversation with a father and son team in which the young boy had become interested in birds and had convinced his father to bring him to Hawk Mountain. The boy knew more than the father about birds of prey but the father was anxious to learn. We were able to tell him that what he was calling Turkey Buzzards were in fact Turkey Vultures, and we explained to him the correct use of the term buzzard and how it relates to buteos. He was attentive, grateful and demonstrably interested. When we learned that his son did not even have a field guide, we cajoled him into agreeing to buy one at the Visitor Centre. The boy is well on his way to a lifelong interest in ornithology; perhaps we made a convert of his father too.

The lookout was everything I ever imagined and more. It was not lost on me that I was standing exactly where Maurice Broun, Roger Tory Peterson, Joe Taylor, Tom Cade and other legends of raptordom have stood before.
Our very first bird was a Peregrine Falcon, flying eyeball to eyeball, twenty metres away from us. This is the stuff of hawk watchers' dreams. It's hard to convey the sense of exhilaration I felt. Before the day was out we would have similar views of three other peregrines. A Merlin put on a flight display to awaken the senses of even the most listless observer. It was a rivetting performance that left us awestruck. The predominant species was Sharp-shinned Hawk and it was rare that one of these accipiters was not coasting by. Ospreys were migrating, there was a single Broad-winged Hawk and a regal adult Bald Eagle, and a male and a female Northern Harrier. Various passerines filled in the gaps when no hawks were visible.
There was a great contingent of counters who called out every passing bird so that even the the youngest novice would know what species was being tallied.
A couple of rainy intervals threatened to curtail our visit, but they didn't last too long and we stayed at the lookout until 13:45.
When we arrived back at the base we again birded the garden and were rewarded with lots of activity. We also went inside the Visitor Centre to watch the feeders for a while.

At 15:50 we left the sanctuary to head for our B&B. It was about a twenty minute drive and we were greeted by Jim, our outstanding host. We were shown to our room and then returned to the common room where there was a variety of drink and snack items available twenty-four hours per day. Jim had told us there was a bottle of Yellow Tail in the fridge and that we should “knock ourselves out." We both enjoyed a glass of wine, imbibed to the rhythm of Ravel's Bolero while we chatted with a friendly couple from New Jersey.

Jim made a reservation for dinner at the Stony Run Hotel and we left before 17:30 since they had requested that we arrive before 18:00, Saturday night being their busy night, and they were booked solid. The location is a “quaint” old building serving German food, with even greater emphasis than is normally the case due to Oktoberfest celebrations in the area. Miriam opted for pork Wienerschnitzel on which the coating was too moist and it was a little bland. It was accompanied by red cabbage and a cucumber salad, both of which were very good. My selection was Schweinhock which was very agreeable, with red cabbage and a rather pedestrian potato pancake.
The interior of this establishment was either marginally tacky or “interesting” depending on your point of view. We noticed a small plate under our table and were about to pick it up when we realized that it was underneath one of the table legs to stabilize the table!
We returned to our B&B, read for a while, and were in bed by about 21:00.

Accommodation: Hawk Mountain Bed and Breakfast
Price: $153.70 including tax Rating: Four stars.

All species 6 October – Turkey Vulture, Western Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Raven, Carolina Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Common Starling, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, House Finch, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco.

7 October 2012
Hawk Mountain B&B – Hawk Mountain Sanctuary – several local areas – Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

We were awake early so we showered and left to go for a walk before it was fully light. Even this late in the year and in semi-darkness we were serenaded by Carolina Wrens, a wonderfully uplifting sound.
As light superseded dark we could see that, true to the weather forecast, dark clouds glowered from above. As for birds we did not see a great deal but it was an enjoyable walk with a couple of Grey Catbirds mewing at us.
We did see the most tasteless and offensive Halloween adornment I have ever seen in my life (see picture). It made us shudder to look at it. Such lifelike depictions of lynchings are not funny, nor acceptable, under any conditions.

Back at the B&B breakfast was underway and we went in to pleasant odours and hot coffee ready and waiting. Mozart's Haffner Symphony was playing softly in the background. Places were already set and we had a slice of melon while Jim prepared waffles and sausage. It was very good indeed.
Given the weather we doubted that we would be visiting the lookouts today but we decided to visit the sanctuary and bird the gardens at least and check out the Visitor Centre in more detail. It was raining when we left at 08:10.
We birded around the garden for a while adding Grey-cheeked Thrush and Magnolia Warbler to the species from yesterday. It was still raining so we went inside the Visitor Centre to watch the activity at the feeders from within.
Miriam had a list of local quilt and fabric stores she wished to visit so we decided to go off in search of them. Unfortunately it was Sunday and we couldn't find a single establishment open. We drove into Reading thinking that a city might offer up more opportunities but struck out again.
By lunch time we were in Krumsville and decided to have lunch at Niko's Skyview Diner. It was a good choice. We both had a cup of beef orzo soup and Miriam opted for a south-of-the-border chicken wrap which was well done with a pleasant zing of picante sauce. I had a gyro sandwich which was tasty indeed. While we were sitting at the booth against the window of the restaurant a flock of about a hundred and fifty crows wheeled back and forth, and about a hundred starlings too. It was raining heavily.
We left Krumsville at 13:30 and decided to head back to Hawk Mountain given that the weather was improving a little and it was now 11.5°C. We made a brief stop at the B&B to pick up something or other and were at the sanctuary twenty minutes later. Alas, a little rain was falling again so we pretty much repeated the morning's activities in the garden and the Visitor Centre.
This time we really explored the centre and were very impressed with its various facilities and the range of artifacts and memorabilia. The whole place is very well done and every single member of the staff and every volunteer we met was friendly, courteous and helpful. We bought a book and a game we can play with the grandchildren when they visit.

We had noticed the entrance to the Appalachian Trail as we were driving up to the sanctuary and Miriam had suggested that we walk in a couple of kilometres. The rain had stopped and at 15:45 we embarked on our walk. Fifteen minutes later, darn it, it started to rain again and we turned around to head back to the car.
Lunch in Krumsville had been good so we decided to return for dinner. It was not bad, but not as good as lunch. We both had a cup of chicken rice soup. Miriam then chose crab cake and a baked potato. I had baby beef liver which was so immersed in gravy I swear I noticed it doing the back stroke! It came with a baked potato and a salad.
We were back at the B&B a little before 19:00 so we read until bed time.

All species 7 October – Wild Turkey, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Tree Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Grey Catbird, Common Starling, Grey-cheeked Thrush, American Robin, House Sparrow, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal.

8 October 2012
Hawk Mountain B&B – Waterloo, ON

As was the case yesterday we went for a walk before breakfast. It was crisp and cool, lovely weather for an early morning stroll. Once again we were serenaded by Carolina Wrens and this time we even saw two of them.
When we went in for breakfast the sweet strains of Haydn greeted us and although I recognized the music I couldn't for the life of me put a name to it.
We had melon and coffee while Jim prepared bacon and eggs for us, with whole wheat toast. Great stuff! We were joined by a couple of young women who work at the Chestnut Hill Hawk Watch in Connecticut and would be visiting Hawk Mountain for the first time.
We settled up with Jim, bade him farewell and left for home at 08:45. It was 8°C and sunny. Would that we could have exchanged this day for yesterday!
Our drive was uneventful and we made good time. We stopped for lunch at a service centre where we had a slice of pizza and shared a vegetable stromboli sandwich. We split a large coffee from MacDonalds. We ate outside in the sun.
We got off the New York State Thruway at 15:10 and a little while later Miriam spotted a Joanne's fabric store in Niagara Falls, NY. We stopped there and she bought a few pieces of fabric and some notions.
The border was backed up as it has been every time we have returned in the last few years. While we were sitting on the bridge across the Niagara River a steady stream of Turkey Vultures was migrating through. We counted forty-three until we were out of sight of their flight path. We joined the lineup at 16:54 and didn't get through until 17:59.
After that it was clear sailing all the way home with no further delays.

All species 8 October – Canada Goose, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Grey Catbird, Northern Cardinal.

General Comments

We fell in love with the marvellous, bucolic countryside of this part of Pennsylvania. Everything about it appealed to us and we look forward to returning. When we had sun the colours of October were stunning. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a place every birder should try to visit at least once. Everything we have to say about it takes us into the realm of superlatives. I kick myself for leaving it so long to visit – and it is not even far away. But I can guarantee you that we will be back!


Laurie Goodrich took time out of her busy schedule to recommend accommodations to us. It was through her that we chose Hawk Mountain Bed and Breakfast and were delighted with it.


I have adopted the nomenclature and taxonomy of the IOC World Bird List 2011 for our life lists and this work is used throughout this report. People who use other taxonomy (e.g. Clements, Howard & Moore etc.) should have no difficulty recognizing birds with slightly different common names.

Further information

Contact David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman, 519 725-0866, email:

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