Friday, September 11, 2015

August 29: Mountains and Migrants

After a quick breakfast and camp breakdown, we had to pause at the River of Rocks that basically bisected the campground. 

While it may appear to be any random section of a Michigan expressway in Detroit, it’s not.  During the last Ice Age, exposed rocks (in this case, Tuscarora Sandstone) were broken apart by the frost/freeze cycles we so often see in erosion.  In this case, these broken chunks ranging in size from basketballs to small cars literally flowed down the mountain side mixed in with mud and ice. Overtime, streams removed the gravels and sands.  The rocks remained in the place. The Appalachians are apparently covered with this incredible effect.

Soon afterwards, the winding roads took us to one of the most historic birding locations in North America.  Joining the ranks of Point Pelee of Ontario, Cape May, New Jersey, and the Dry Tortugas of Florida, one’s bucket list (even though I hate that phrase) must include Hawk Mountain.

While most people today cherish the opportunity to just see hawks, that has not always been the case.  Once upon a time in the not-so-distant pass (early 20th century), gunners would trudge up the hillside and park themselves on a rocky outcropping hoping for the opportunity to blast “them chickenhawks.”  Amazingly, such behavior was encouraged by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as they were prepared to pay the gunner $5 per goshawk.  Of course, nobody could readily identify such a bird in flight, so they shot everything they could.  On days with northwest winds, the flights would be heavy and close to the ridge.  The birds didn’t stand a chance.  The carnage was incredible. 

As history so often shows, amazing things happen when woman get pissed.  Forget Lorena Bobbitt – that’s not what I’m talking about.  Rosalie Edge, a New York Socialite  and amateur birder, enraged with the shooting,  bought 1,400 acres of the land in 1934 including the now world famous North Lookout.  Maurice Broun and his wife Irma were brought in as wardens to protect the mountain and the birds, and to begin what is now the world’s longest running hawk migration census.

For decades now, folks hoping to see birds of prey or even shoot them (with cameras as opposed to a 10-gauge) hike the one mile trail, sit on rocks (which is every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds) and hope to see migrants zip past at what seems to be only an arm’s length.  In the world of Islam, one is expected to travel to Mecca at least once in their life if they are capable. For birders and environmentalists, Hawk Mountain should be considered in the same fashion. 

A good flight was not in the cards for us.  August is hardly prime time and a migration-promoting weather pattern had not been seen in days.  It was hot and humid. But who cares – it's Hawk Mountain. Let’s face it, there are not many places where one can look down on a migrating Turkey Vulture! Stealing a joke from the fishing world “A bad day at Hawk Mountain is better than a good day at work.”  

That said, our day was not bad.  Turkey Vulture (like the one in the photo below), Black Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Broad-winged Hawk were all tallied.  A single Red-tailed Hawk was seen as well.  Interestingly, the best bird was the Northern Harrier.  Apparently, they are more difficult to get at Hawk Mountain than a Bald Eagle.  Nice.

After a bag lunch on the mountain (minus the Timber Rattlesnake who was removed from the premises a few days previous), it was decided to press on.  We knew our next destination was southwest Pennsylvania and it would take almost four hours of driving to get us there.  Sunset found us in Laurel Hill State Park near Somerset (which is southeast of Pittsburg).  Showered and refreshed after a light camp dinner, we found ourselves at a local restaurant getting more food (because dinner wasn’t very filling) and a Delaware beer (that can be easily secured in Michigan). That was not the plan. 

Wouldn’t it have been stupid if we ventured out for a 40-mile round trip drive to have a drink at a brewery that turned out to be closed on a Saturday night?  It’s a Saturday night. They have to be open.  What sort of brewery is not open on a Saturday?    I mean really. How stupid would you have to be to call them, get no answer, and still drive all that way because it’s a Saturday and you feel they have to be open?  How stupid to you have to be to drive through those crazy-ass mountain roads to a brewery that should be open so you can turn around and do it again?  You have to be a fool.  I mean, geeze.  Can you imagine how embarrassed you’d be?  You would never tell a soul as everyone would just point at you and laugh. 

Hey. Stop pointing.

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