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atop the mountain


The months run by. It seems like yesterday that I was looking at an Eastern Phoebe on the first full day of spring. Now the summer is over, the kids are going back to school (yay!),and the birds that came north to breed are heading south for the winter.

On Sept. 1, many hawk watches opened for “business.” These platforms, where people scan the skies for eagles, osprey and smaller hawks are located atop or near ridges where rising warm air, and northerly wind create an aerial highway for these diurnal travelers.

New Jersey has lots of these places, from Cape May in the south, to Sandy Hook along the eastern coast, to the ridges in the west along the Delaware River, and many others in between.

But before I discovered the treasures of my home state, we went west to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. This place, where men once blasted migrating hawks out of the sky for sport, was bought by a rich woman and turned into a sanctuary.

What draws the birdwatchers, is seeing the birds practically at eye level from the topmost lookout. But there is a price to pay. The higher you go, the harder the climb, with many rocks that shift under your weight.

The first time we climbed to the top, we were beguiled by all the warblers we found along the way. It was a weekday and the crowd was small. We had come prepared, and enjoyed watching the raptors fly. On the way down, we even found a bird we’d never seen before, a Bicknell’s thrush. We knew we had to return someday.

That happened a few years later. However, rocks shift, mountains get worn from the rain and people get older. Our second climb up – no warblers to be found – was on a Saturday. There were many more people making the climb and sitting at the top.

Watching the hawks up close was just as wonderful. But the climb down, for we without wings, was much more hazardous than last time. Even with a walking stick, I came close to falling several times, which scared me.

There were older people making the climb in both directions, and they seemed to have no problem. But there were others who had to travel very slowly, helped by younger people. They all kept going because they were drawn to the hawks, and I hope they weren’t disappointed.

But when we got to the bottom of the mountain, MH and I knew we wouldn’t be making that climb again.

As I said, there are lots of hawk watches closer to home, and my favorite one allows us to drive to the top, take out the folding chair, and watch the show. It will do.