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Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Over the past weekend, I had the privilege of vising Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which is a very popular birding destination in Pennsylvania. Thousands of birders visit during the fall migration to observe raptors they may have never seen before.

I was one of those birders.

There is a small fee that you have to pay to go use the trails and lookouts, but it is well worth it. The money goes towards maintaining the park and protecting these beautiful birds.

When you first enter the park, there is beauty everywhere. The visitor centre is a very well-maintained building that is chock full of informative brochures, maps, and a beautiful gift shop filled with books, toys, and art. You pay your admission here, and you can even rent a pair of binoculars for the day for only $5. I highly recommend this, because I only brought my 300mm telephoto lens and it just didn't cut it! I had to rely on other birders to get positive IDs.

The visitor centre is surrounded by a beautiful garden and waterfall, and we explored this area first to admire the foliage and surrounding wildlife. We spotted black-capped chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches in the area. Around the back side of the visitor centre, we got to observe many birds at their feeders such as purple finches and tufted titmouse, (I don't know the plural of this bird. Is it titmice?) plus the nuthatches and chickadees.

We made our way to the first lookout which is just a short walk up the hill. The view was absolutely stunning, and we were greeted by a very knowledgeable volunteer who talked about the different birds she had seen that day. Unfortunately, we arrived on a day where it had been quite slow for activity. We also went on a day where a few schools and organizations decided to go on a field trip, and it was quite noisy for humans. We saw a turkey vulture, a blue jay, and a curious ruby-crowned kinglet at the lookout before we decided to move up along the trail to another lookout.

Curious Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

We walked to the next lookout which was quite a bit rockier than the last. We climbed over boulders to find a comfortable spot and sat down for a time. Noisy people walked by, and again, we didn't see anything. After it got quiet, a Gray Catbird wandered quite close to us, but chose to hide in the bushes and observe us from a safe vantage point. I managed to get a couple good shots in by manually focusing my camera.

Cautious Gray Catbird

After the Catbird left, we decided to hike along the trail further. We walked quite a ways until we got to the North Lookout, where we figured we would catch some action as the area was filled with dozens of birders. Quite seasoned ones, I might add, as they all had binoculars, and a few had cameras with impressive focal lengths that put mine to shame. One or two birders had scopes and were able to see much further than we could. We relied on them to call out what birds they were seeing and where to look. We were able to see most of them, but one we couldn't catch a glimpse of was the Immature Golden Eagle soaring above the horizon. I was only able to see a little black speck.

The most exciting part of the afternoon was when a Red-Tailed Hawk did a flyover and I was able to get some shots in without my lens fully extended to maximum focal length. We also saw a red-shoulder hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and many turkey vultures.

Red-Tailed Hawk getting a good look at us as it flew overhead

Red-Tailed Hawk getting a good look at the crowd

The rocks were also crawling with cute little chipmunks trying to steal away with our snack crumbs.

In between raptor fly-bys, we saw black-capped chickadees and the odd blue jay. The view from the North Lookout is spectacular, especially at this time of the year when all the leaves are changing. The landscape looks like a vibrant palette of warm colours.

After a couple hours of observing raptors, the sun started to dim, and we walked back to the visitor's centre. On the way back, I spotted a Hermit Thrush, but I was unable to get a clear photo because of the lighting. I also saw a warbler of some kind, but again, I was unable to get a clear shot. I think it may have been a Palm Warbler, but I couldn't be 100% certain. Fall warblers have different plumage than they do in the summertime, which can make positive identification confusing under even the best conditions.

After we got into our car and started driving home, I spotted a Northern Harrier perched upon a tree close to the highway. I included this in my e-bird report as an incidental sighting.

That concludes our wonderful trip to Hawk Mountain. I look forward to going back soon. The migration peaks the October and November months, so we still have plenty of time to visit. Next time, I will be renting binoculars.

Thank you so much for reading, and please check out the nature and bird galleries to see all of the photos I took that day!

Cheers and happy birding!

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