- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

The views from Hawk Mountain on the Kittatinny Ridge in Kempton, Pa., are breathtaking any time of year. From late summer into late fall, though, the mountaintop perch offers a true bird's-eye view of hundreds of thousands of migrating hawks, eagles and other majestic birds of prey.

"You're 1,521 feet in the air, and you have a fantastic view of the Appalachian Mountains," says Nancy Keeler, director of development and communications at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, 25 miles north of Reading. "But it's absolutely spectacular to see those creatures soar and to get a chance to look at these huge birds right in the eye."

Hawk Mountain is a mecca for bird-watchers, who flock here from all over the world during the raptors' migration season, which begins in July and lasts until early December. For years, the out-of-the way spot used to attract not bird lovers, but hunters, who would turn the sanctuary's prime lookout spots into lethal shootout sites. Daily kills of up to 3,000 birds are documented in the small museum in the visitors center.

The 2,400-acre natural preserve was the world's first refuge for raptors. A group of New York City conservationists led by Rosalie Edge purchased 1,400 acres in 1934 and made it off-limits to hunters.

Since that time, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has grown in size and fame. More than 70,000 visitors come each year most during the fall migration season.

"If it's possible, I'd advise families to come during the week since we're totally swamped on fall weekends," says Ms. Keeler, who says as many as 3,000 visitors come through on weekends in October. "On weekdays there's a whole lot less people and just as many birds. Birds don't take weekdays off," she says.

Another alternative is to come early in the season. The sanctuary, with its staff of 15 and scores of volunteers, has kept careful records of the passing raptors and can estimate accurately when various species will make their annual trek to Canada.

"Early September is the height of the broad-wing hawk migration," Ms. Keeler says. "They migrate in large flocks of a thousand or more. We can predict what we call 'the big day.' This year it will be Sept. 17."

Bald eagles have an even earlier migration and have been sighted as early as July. Last August the sanctuary counted 168 bald eagles. Ms. Keeler says the best time to spot them is right after a cold front passes through the area. Golden eagles migrate toward the end of the season, in early November, and red-tail hawks close the season with their December migration.

Raptors are rare in the summer, but then other birds fill the forested mountain trails. Indigo buntings, black-and-white warblers and great crested flycatchers, whose call sounds like a police whistle, all have been spotted on the sanctuary's eight miles of scenic trails.

"There's always something to do and see," says Tammy Jandrasitz, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary's head of membership and public information. "Summer is a good time to visit, because there are no crowds and the trails are not full.

The most popular trail is the mile-long path to the North Lookout, which offers great views and a good perch for bird-watching once visitors conquer the rocky and challenging summit. The South Lookout offers a stunning vista for much less exertion. The smooth and level walk is handicapped-accessible.

For families with older children (and fit parents), Ms. Keeler recommends tackling the River of Rocks trail. The 10,000-year-old boulder field is one of several in eastern Pennsylvania and offers visitors a look at an underground stream as well as several bogs.

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