By Sally O’Byrne, Delaware Nature Society Teacher Naturalist and Board Member; Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Board Member
During the last week of the Delaware Nature Society summer camp, I took a group of 12-16 year olds to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for the perfect combination of adventure, stewardship, and science. It was the first week of the fall migration raptor count there, and we were able to meet with scientists who were counting raptors flying past the mountain as well as those who are working around the world on raptor conservation. Keith Bildstein was just back from trapping and monitoring vultures in Kenya, and he graciously gave us an afternoon showing us how to trap a vulture and sharing some of the cutting edge research regarding Black and Turkey Vultures.
We climbed three miles to a trail that has been redirected to help restore the old path to its natural conditions. Since this was at an elevation of 1,300 feet, just getting to the site was an adventure. We stopped at the River of Rocks to explore and look for Timber Rattlesnakes (no luck). Todd Bauman, the Director of Land and Facilities, was in charge for the day, telling us the geologic history of the River of Rocks and directing us in our stewardship project.
After spending several hours transporting mulch and leaves to cover up the old trail and stabilize it, we were tired, but still had the hefty walk back to the vehicle which would get us back to our camp.
Camp consisted of two Adirondack shelters with great stone fireplaces. We cooked our meals on camp stoves and over the open fire, but had the advantage of not having to put up and take down tents.
One day we met Jeremy, part of the education staff, who brought along an American Kestrel and a Barred Owl. We had heard the Barred Owl during a night walk and were reminded that raptors live around us year-round in addition to just migrating through.
Evenings are always cozy and social , and other than the night walk, we told stories, played ‘Hearts’ and took time to work on our journals by the light of the Coleman lantern.
On the last morning, we decided to get up before dawn and walk to North Lookout for the sunrise. We packed bagels and binoculars, and made it to the top before the Hawk Mountain staff. The view was worth it. We saw the sunrise at South Lookout before climbing higher to North Lookout where the clouds blanketed the valley like white velvet. We ate our bagels and counted the early birds flying past. We were able to give our count of chimney swifts and cedar waxwings to the counter when she arrived and our data was entered into the official Hawk Mountain log.
This was the last camp of the summer for all of us and it was a perfect end of summer adventures with the Delaware Nature Society.