Hawkwatchers had a good year on Bake Oven Knob
ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Dave Levandusky showed photographs; Rick Gaeta played music and read a poem; Dan Kunkle, director, was the gift giver who handed out door prizes; and Bob Hoopes gave the report on the year's hawk watching at Bake Oven Knob.
Katie Rittenhouse had been up to Bake Oven Knob where she spent the last 3-1/2 months as an intern for the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. She was saying goodbye.
An intern is needed because members have to fit their hawkwatching hours around a job. On Nov. 24 she had the opportunity to say goodbye to the people she met on the mountain and at the Osprey House since the end of the count was down to one day.
Her mother, Linda, said Katie learned so much. She is thankful other hawkwatchers were good mentors for Katie. In addition to her mother, her father Wayne and sister Emily accompanied her to the banquet held annually at the end of the season.
Some days she would stay at the Knob later than normal and often saw a lot of birds.
Katie had been a lifeguard in earlier years and said the birds were more interesting.
She is applying for a field job to work with birds and has several résumés out. However, most of those jobs will begin in spring.
Her family came up to Bake Oven Knob to visit Katie on the job. They said they learned a lot in that one day. Katie made a mouse friend who came for lunch but it was a "no touch" relationship.
Mary Coover, who is an information specialist at the Nature Center, said she was out early one day in her garden and saw the mist rising. That meant there would be good thermals along the ridge. She raced to Bake Oven Knob and some of the birds were just leaving their overnight homes in trees. She shows how she threw up her hands and exclaimed, "All these birds" as the birds flew up, mostly broadwing hawks.
After dinner Rick Gaeta sang a song accompanying himself on the guitar and read a poem, Raptors Sea in Blue, which was framed and given to Katie as a going-away gift. He wrote both pieces himself in honor of hawkwatchers past and present.
Bob Hoopes said when Katie Rittenhouse was interviewed for the position as intern she was promised a company chair that is a big rock. She lived at the Osprey House and amazed people when the kitchen was spotlessly clean. They were used to it being messy.
Hoopes said there were 298 bald eagles this season and 166 golden eagles. The day after Sandy there were 42 in one day. Bad weather often leads to a high count afterward.
He said Katie had not had a lot of experience but she learned fast.
A picture, which was part of a power point presentation showed 11 black vultures standing on a log and all facing the same direction. Each was emblazoned with the name of a hawkwatcher.
"It might have been because of the weather," said Hoopes explaining the high counts. The storm coming in from the west directly after Sandy may have pushed them east.
The identification of a northern goshawk was disputed, but the head counter, this year Katie, is the one who makes the decision that goes into the record book. Identification is often by elimination of individual identifying factors.
He said irregular migrants, those that for whatever reason are migrating late, are apt to die because they have to compete with the indigenous birds for food.
Some species appear to be declining but it just may be that they did not use the Kittatinny Ridge in their migration. With the mild winters it is possible that red tail hawks are not migrating.
Kestrels were declining and the Nature Center put up boxes for them, which was also being done in other places. The numbers increased and are again declining.
Hoopes described a merlin as "a little black bullet." He said the major difference between Bake Oven and many other hawkwatching sites is that the watchers will take time to talk to and help identify a bird for visitors.
He told Katie, "You are forever among the Bake Oven Knob faithful."
She said it had been a great experience. The changing of the seasons was awesome as were all the people who kept her company.
Dan Kunkle, Nature Center director, said everyone is welcome. "If you are a hawk counter you contribute. If you don't know anything about hawks, you can still say 'There's a bird over here.' We are a volunteer organization. It's amazing what happens here."
He suggests to each intern that they read the book "Hawks in Flight."
Kunkle passed out the door prizes - books and a fruit basket.
Dave Levandusky showed pictures from this season at Bake Oven Knob, from Cape May and from Conowingo Dam. He said, "It's amazing what you see up there." In addition to the birds there were pictures of snakes, helicopters, gliders and of course, many, many birds.
Levandusky asked for help identifying some of the birds in his pictures. Hoopes said they are only two dimensional on the pictures but up on the mountain they are four dimensional. The usual three are length, width and height, but he adds the fourth one of motion which is useful in identification. Even with the expert hawkwatchers in the audience some could not be identified.
The cake that was served for dessert said, "Bake Oven Knob, 52 years."