Birding and Fall Foliage at Hawk Mountain in September

We have been going to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the fall for a few years now. Hawk Mountain is a wild bird sanctuary located along the Appalachian flyway north of Reading and west of Allentown. It is known for its spectacular views, hiking trails and, of course, the birding. On a good day, thousands of raptors can be seen heading south for the winter as part of the bird migration that happens across North America.

Since we are pretty busy in the fall, our day there has usually been a regular occurence in November after we realize the good days left in the year are limited and we need to head outside more! But this year, we had a free weekend in mid-September with the right conditions for migrating hawks and we made the drive after learning that they had seen over a thousand the previous day. You can call their hotline to get the prior day’s bird count from their staff/volunteers at North Lookout – and this sealed the deal for us.

We grabbed my mom for the adventure this time. She once drove to Hawk Mountain from Michigan to watch the bird migration, so this was a much easier trip now that we all live in Philadelphia.

On our way up, we unfortunately saw a few spotted lanternflies. The spotted lanternfly is native to India, China and Vietnam. It was my first encounter with this creature which was identified in Pennsylvania in 2014. They are an invasive insect that can adversely impact crops and the woods. If you see them outside their current zone you are supposed to report them.

We enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather and great views at Hawk Mountain (since the fall foliage was just starting to turn). Since we got a late start, we headed right up the trail to North Lookout (after stopping in the Visitor Center to use the bathroom and pay, of course). The view of the trail:

When we arrived, we found out that we had already missed over two thousand broad winged hawks. I didn’t know, but the hawk migration is strongest in the morning and the birds were really funneling out of the area between 10 AM and noon. Next year we are just going to have to plan ahead and wake up earlier! However, we did get some great views.

We still had a great time though, seeing more than a dozen hawks in our roughly two hours there. It has been a while since I have been birding with my mom – I had forgot that she was so good at spotting them! Additionally, one of the great parts of Hawk Mountain is that you are much closer to the birds at this elevation as they fly by. It is well worth the trip if you are considering it.

If it is your first time there, you may be wondering whether the owl sitting on the pole is real or fake. It looks so lifelike, but it is fake. It will attract hawks close to it – we saw two or three come in to dive bomb it as they were passing through before they realized that we were there and continued beyond it.

Also, don’t forget to bring binoculars and water/snacks! Although you can see some birds with the naked eye, some of them are very far away. We were taking photos with our Canon SX60 which has a long telephoto lens and makes everything look much closer than it would appear otherwise.

After a few hours of birding, we decided to make our way down the trail back to the car and head home. It was a great day to be outdoors in Pennsylvania, and we’ll just have to make the trek up there earlier in the morning next year! How could we know that they would see more than 1,000 birds an hour for two hours before we got there ???

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *