Saturday, April 22, 2017

ROAD TRIP: A day at Hawk Mountain

We had a marvelous time on Saturday hiking at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, which is about 75 miles almost due north of Unionville. I hadn't been there for about a dozen years and the changes are amazing.
The first one we noticed was the beautiful new native plant garden next to the visitors' center. It's surrounded by a high fence (the "deer exclosure") to keep out the hungry creatures. The early spring plants were just lovely: we saw trillium, Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot, spring beauty, Virginia bluebells, trout lily, jack-in-the-pulpit, wood poppy, wild ginger, marsh marigold (the native kind) and lots of ferns. Lily pads were lurking just under the surface of the little pond.

Virginia bluebells.


Wood poppy and ferns.

Before heading out on the trail we caught the end of a talk about raptors. The lecturer explained how raptors fly using thermals, and told us how they can lock their talons into their prey, avoiding undue strain on their muscles. The hawk perched on his gauntleted arm was actually the only one we saw that day.
Having paid our $9-per-person trail fee (a bargain), we crossed Hawk Mountain Road and set off along the new handicapped-accessible Silhouette Trail (with a changing display of life-size bird silhouettes set up along the trail).
The well-marked trails vary in difficulty. At one crossroads we were given the choice of the Lookout Trail or the Escarpment Trail, which was described as "rough" and "rocky." Well, that was a no-brainer: of course we took the latter. After about 10 minutes of clambering over slippery rocks (it was lightly raining), I felt like I'd just finished an hour-long exercise class at the Y.
And what spectacular views from the top! North Lookout is 1,521 feet above sea level, and you can see for miles over the valley. I've been there in summer and fall, but never before in spring, and the green of the trees just leafing out was beautiful. 

View from South Outlook at Hawk Mountain.

At the South Lookout we had a lovely conversation with two conservation trainees who are over here from Africa studying, a woman from Zimbabwe and a man from Ghana. Both of them were pleasant and knowledgeable. I didn't realize that Hawk Mountain enjoys an international reputation for its conservation education.
I also noticed that a lot of new railings (made of composite rather than wood) had been installed along the especially steep paths. And along some of the trails are posts with QR codes that you can scan with your phone to find out details about trees and geology.
There were quite a few Cub Scouts hiking at the Sanctuary on Saturday, and they kept us entertained with their chatter and enthusiasm. They were an amazingly energetic group: as we were walking toward the parking lot, thirsty and a little worse for wear, they were still running around the paths outside the visitors' center at top speed. (Like us, though, their leaders were showing some signs of fatigue.) 

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