Friday, August 28, 2020

PA Hawk Mountain: Visiting an Old Friend

A map showing broad-winged hawk migratory movements from northeast US to South America
Broadwing Hawk migration map, courtesy of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

For two weekends now we've ventured up to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, first with my sister and the second with my daughter and two grandkids. It struck me both times how often I return here and now, having just turned 60, it feels more like visiting with an old friend. We just pick up where we left off. 

I first came here on a field trip in college with my landscape professor and small class of six students. We painted and sketched at the lookouts the first day, camped at Blue Rocks that evening, and worked in the forest the second day, interpreting the season and the land as we chose. My friend Steve and I returned a few times that year to explore the trails and paint some more. With the exception of the years I lived in South Carolina and Vermont, I've been back several times each year since. 

The mountain and its surrounding landscape speaks to a complex relationship with humans.  For the environmental historian, it may be easy to learn the history in some archives or database but ease does not reflect this complexity from the quiet of a library or reading room. Our work happens in the field where we can hear and see the histories from other-than-human perspectives. We incorporate these into our analysis and interpretation of the histories of sites and events.  

First spotter on the first day of the 2020 migration count.

We hiked to the popular overlooks where first-timers gawk and catch their breath not realizing how much science is happening here. My sister and I watched the first hawk spotter of the season take his post on the North Lookout to begin the 2020 count. Four Broadwing Hawks for the first day. The following Saturday with my daughter and kids, we scrambled out to the edge of summit carefully picking our way between boulders to find a sitting spot away from a building crowd of birders and hikers.. Seventeen Broadwing Hawks were counted by the time we settled in for a mid-morning snack. Mid-August and the Broad-Winged migration is on! In a few weeks the daily count will top a hundred a day flying over this summit, while other raptor species will join in their southern stream out of Pennsylvania, the Northeast, New England and Canada. 

Laura climbing the stone steps to the North Lookout.

The fall migration of raptors in Pennsylvania is legendary and at Hawk Mountain particularly so. Tied to this annual months-long event is a solid scientific research program that has helped explain this phenomenon and the role people have played in it. Targeted research on the Broadwing Hawk in particular has revealed how this secretive forest hawk has endured human pressures on its forest habitat, how far they travel to their wintering grounds (GPS trackers), and the status of populations over time.  Scientific research combines with conservation seamlessly here and this is not lost on hikers who absorb the information on interpretive panels and study count charts at major trail intersections. 

Valley and Ridge Province of the Appalachian Range.

Hawk migration is just such good scientific storytelling and with data so readily available and robust, the plot only gets more exciting as the story unfolds. We hiked down along the flank of the mountain through Ice Age relic fields of freeze-thaw shattered Tuscarora sandstone, metamorphosed river bed sediments thrust upwards in several mountain-building events that spanned 450 million years.  At many of the overlooks and throughout the rock fields, we observed the fossilized trackways of Arthrophycus, a worm-like arthropod, a sand dweller of river banks, mouths of estuaries, and boundaries of sea and shore.  

Fossil trackways and burrows.

What is the relationship between Broadwing Hawks, we wondered, and this mile-long rock field? Looking up into the forest canopy we observed that the predominate tree species here is Chestnut Oak, a tough, muscular tree of the Northeast mountain forest. It was near an open plain of shattered sandstone that the first Broadwing Hawk to be GPS tagged  ( named Rosalie - how cool is that, conservation historians?) was caught at her nest in a Chestnut Oak. Chestnut Oaks  grow in challenging, rocky terrain, their roots spreading laterally as well as deeply into the crevices and fractures between the rocks.  These oaks knit the whole scene together above and under ground and provide stable and mature habitat for forest-dwelling hawks and the small mammals and snakes they prey upon.

Aiden with massive Chestnut Oaks behind and up slope, anchoring the rock field.

When we see the big picture from a vantage point, Chestnut Oak forest cloaks the mountain in deep green and spreads like an ocean down slopes, into coves, and out across the Northeast Appalachian range. The forest offers wildlife continuous habitat for 60 miles along the Kittatinny Ridge. Hawk Mountain is one section of this long mountain and it is easy to see why Broadwings nest in these woods and are positioned along this major migration route. As GPS tracking has demonstrated, Broadwing Hawks are might migrators who follow a route that stretches from Pennsylvania to the mountain forests of Ecuador and Peru. The nesting range of Broadwing Hawks in Pennsylvania aligns with the expansive  forests nearly completely recovered after restoration efforts became a priority in the Commonwealth in the 1920s. Their nesting range is expanding northward as forests reclaim landscapes once heavily farmed, quarried, and logged into New England and Canada.

Chestnut Oak forest dominates the mountain ridges and rocky valley.

Tuscarora Sandstone is the primary rock type we encounter at Hawk Mountain and dominates the summits and slopes of South-Central and Northeast mountains of the Ridge and Valley Province of Pennsylvania. Outcrops of vertical formations are iconic to many popular mountain summits while road cuts along Pennsylvania highways exhibit everything from horizontal beds to twisted and tortured bends that make it appear almost fluid. There are many places to see "rivers of rocks" including Hickory Run State Park which is next on my list of places to go. A visit to the aptly named Hawk Falls is in order during migration season. You can also camp at the edge of a rock field at Blue Rocks just six miles down the mountain from the sanctuary. 

A good workout!

From the perspective of the rock fields, the mountain is still wearing away. We heard a few small shifts out on the rock field as the sun heated the boulders up to the point they were hot to the touch. Heat and cold are part of the process of fracturing. From the perspective of the oaks, the rock fields are excellent places to anchor a forest to a mountain. From the point of view of the Broadwings, the Chestnut Oaks are the best places to build a nest and raise young. Rosalie has nested here for many years now, raising four chicks successfully. She'll be off for Peru soon to winter in the mountain forests there and that's what knits our conservation story to the southern hemisphere. n increase in logging and land clearances are growing threats to winter habitat for Broadwings and the research done at Hawk Mountain has a clear international conservation potential.
Love our raptors! Goofball sister. 

The spectacle of hawk migration season connects us to rocks and trees and rivers of wind. These are stories I love to investigate time after time, now with grandkids in tow. Like an old friend, the mountain and its stories welcome us back throughout the seasons, and for the environmental historian each climb and ramble adds to the unfolding and complex history of our relationship to the mountain and birds of prey.


Fact Sheet on Broadwing Hawk conservation and science at Hawk Mountain: 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

PA Tuscarora State Park: Finding A Trace

This weekend my sister and I ventured north to the mountains to visit Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Tuscarora State Park. In this stretch of the Appalachians, the hills run zig-zags with even-topped ridges folded hard with valleys squeezed in between.  They serve to funnel north winds to create aerial highways that carry millions of birds migrating southward from New England, the Canadian Maritimes and Boreal, and the Arctic in the fall. 

We'd spent the morning on the overlooks and boulder trails of Hawk Mountain and watched as a lone hawk spotter-counter started his first shift of the fall season on the North Lookout. I'll post about that experience later, but for the afternoon we drove down into the folded valleys for a wander. Like the aerial highways above, these valleys have carried people for thousands of years on networks of footpaths. 

We navigated the Spirit of the Tuscarora Trail, a figure-8 path that winds along the flanks of Lake Tuscarora and Locust Creek through hemlock, oak, hickory, and rhododendron forest. We came upon several sections of trail that followed a much older treadway which reminded me of the holloways and sunken footpaths of Scotland and England. There was some careful trail work done under the rhododendron to clear just enough limb lattice to clear room for a human passing beneath. I've seen rhodo forests hacked to bits to make way for wider, higher trails that accommodate groups and bikes and horses, so I made sure to let Pap Knauss know in a Facebook post that his careful work was really appreciated. 

Looks like recent rains refilled a vernal pool - toadlets abound!

Paul A. W. Wallace (1891-1967), author and professor at Lebanon Valley College near here, wrote one of the first books I remember picking up in my undergrad years at MICA while studying landscape. It sparked my interest in human-man landforms and in reading old maps. Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, (1965) laid groundwork for environmental history in Pennsylvania, a field he once called "outdoor history."  I don't doubt that his books, both of which I still have, influenced my love of EH and later, my earning a PhD in the field. 

Like rivers of wind that carry birds along Appalachian ridges, river and creek valleys served as a corridors for human travel over and through this mountainous state. Wallace worked to document this network of indigenous paths that carried people great distances and connected native towns and villages. These paths are all but gone today - paved over, plowed up, eroded away, or built upon - so that very few sections of the old ways survive. I've come across some old traces occasionally in my years hiking PA and on this hike we wondered if we hadn't come across a trace, maybe having become a bridle path after being abandoned by foot travelers. 

From: Wallace (1965) Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

It certainly had the right feel. I've walked an embedded section of the Paxtang Path that is now the modern Conestoga Trail, itself named for the last of the Susquehannocks, and followed its through some old woods along the Susquehanna. A farmer-friend in Adams County pointed out what he thought was a section of the ancient Monocacy path, a major South-Central PA foot trail out of Maryland. It's mainly the Lincoln Highway Rt 30 today, but what he showed me was a very narrow sidling road, too narrow to be the famous wagon road carried tens of thousands of settlers west.  Lou is the sixth generation to farm this land. "We've always called it the old Indian Trace," he said and we followed it across his woodlot for a ways before it ended at a paved road and was lost to a recreation field on the other side. On several occasions I've intersected  what I believe to be the Nanticoke Path that runs north-south from Delaware to New York.  I've also experienced Indian paths in North and South Carolina and Virginia where old Indian paths are still called traces. 

Pearl Shell Mussel

Wallace's research was extensive. He used old maps, archives, settler and missionary journals, and the oral histories of early 20th century road builders who remembered the lay of the land before paved turnpikes and highways. He talked to farmers and miners who knew of sunken trails that led to hand-dug quarries for flint, soapstone, paint minerals, and chert. His work was so extensive and exact that his maps have been added to the State Archives GIS system and marked as historic. 

Wallace suggests that for those engaged in long-distance travel on the Pennsylvania path network, finding a night's rest was not as difficult as we might imagine. Villages, rock shelters, and even traveler's cabins were kept for tired travelers and were written about by traders who found the paths accommodating, often faster to use on foot than the rugged and dangerous wagon paths.  These paths did not have names as we name our roads and highways today, but they were often known by the names of villages that connected them like the Mahoning Indian Town Path and Conestoga Town Path that we can still follow by road today.

Embedded path - a trace.

Like a big river, a major paths was fed by tributary paths. The Great Warrior Path, known to hundreds of tribes across the Eastern U.S.was joined by dozens of footpaths that came from upcountry towns and palisade villages from the Chesapeake to the Great Lakes.  Some treadways were ages old, while others like the Nanticoke Path were in use only for the few years it took an entire indigenous group to leave their homeland, displaced by European invaders. In a time of national division and dangerous hate of "the outsider" I am reminded of my own immigrant ancestors who played no small part in ridding the land of its indigenous population and I wonder how they, German, Scot, English, and Scot settlers, thought about the people they displaced, if they gave them any thought at all. 

The Tuscarora People were displaced from coastal North Carolina after the violence of the Tuscarora War (1711-1718).  Succumbing to the pressures of European settlers, merchants, and militias, the people fled north on the Tuscarora Path. It carried exiles hundreds of miles north to Pennsylvania and New York where they were accepted into the protection of the League of Five (now Six) Nations.  According to park literature, descendants of some of those migrants continue to live in the area though most resettled in the Great Lakes region. The Tuscarora War bears some further research as it played a decisive and divisive role in how the southern slave trade evolved from kidnapping and enslavement of native people to the African slave trade in the Carolinas. David Perry's newest research (below in Notes) really casts an intense light on this period of Colonial history.

Tuscarora Lake

We finished up our hike down at the lake to enjoy the sounds of a few families picnicking and kids swimming. The trail was beautiful and I was excited at having spotted a new-to-me freshwater mussel species, the Pearl Shell (thanks again to Pap) -  (life dance!). It's time to dig out the snorkle mask and go visit our cold creek mussel beds which are in dire need of protection and appreciation.  Great day hiking, mountain and valley miles of wonderful Pennsylvania natural and hidden human histories.  


Edie Wallace, granddaughter to Paul A.W. Wallace, and a cultural resources historian documented her trip to retrace a route laid out by her grandfather in his classic book. I've been on this route a lot.
"Following Grandpa's Footsteps: Retracing the Indian Paths of Pennsylvania," in: International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture, Vol. 36 (2013).

Wallace's book can be found on the Internet Archive and is still available in print.

David Perry's excellent 2016 book, The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies, takes the deepest dive yet into the factors, factions, and consequences of this deadly period of Colonial settlement when white merchants, planters, traders, and slavers poured into the Carolinas from Barbados and Europe and threatened the survival of the Tuscarora people. A good read, but not an easy one.