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Steps taken to protect raptors over the years

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Intern Wyatt Puent, Don Heintzelman, and speaker Jean
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Intern Wyatt Puent, Don Heintzelman, and speaker Jean Francois Therrien are all interested in the welfare of raptors.
Published October 05. 2013 09:00AM

Don Heintzelman, who has been counting raptors since they were still being shot by the thousands, probably counted 300 bald eagles in his lifetime.

This year 294 had been counted by the time of the Migration Fest, Sept. 28, at Lehigh Gap Nature Center. There are still two months to count.

It was Maurice Broun, the first curator of Hawk Mountain, who asked Heintzelman to start a count at Bake Oven Knob, which continues to this day by an intern, Wyatt Puent, and volunteers from the center.

Black vultures have flown within 10 feet of Puent to drink from a hollow in the rocks that held water after a rain.

Jean Francois Therrien, Ph.D., a research biologist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, was the evening speaker for the Migration Fest. His subject was a "A History of Raptor Protection"

He said he is from Quebec and in 2002 learned that Hawk Mountain needed a researcher. The Kittatinny Ridge, which has major lookouts at both Hawk Mountain and Bake Oven Knob, provides a leading line for raptors to congregate. At Hawk Mountain they pass at eye level.

In the "good old days" people went with guns rather than binoculars. The thousands of raptors killed each year became known to Rosalie Edge, who bought the first land that became part of the sanctuary at Hawk Mountain. She installed Maurice Broun as the curator. His wife, Irma, helped with his job.

Heintzelman, who was to begin the Wildlife Information Center, a forerunner of the Nature Center, went to Hawk Mountain the last year shooting was permitted. He said he went below the lookout and brought up a dead osprey. This helped lead to protective legislation. He worked there several months and was glad to see that once people knew the hunting was over there were few violations.

The Sanctuary was formed in 1934. Rachel Carson was among the visitors. She was the person who found that DDT in bald eagle egg shells made the shells brittle and break. Before the use of DDT the number of juvenile and adult eagles was approximately equal. After DDT there were fewer juveniles.

The long-term data counts by citizen scientists help determine the health of any of the raptors. At present Coopers hawks are increasing and Kestrels are decreasing. Since there is no DDT as the cause, it is believed the Kestrels may be losing out because there are more larger predators, said Therrien.

Satellite telemetry is being used to follow raptor migrations. A peregrine falcon left New Jersey at 5 a.m. and 26 hours later it arrived in Florida, a distance of 954 miles.

Black and turkey vultures cannot have tags on the legs so they are placed where they can be seen by watchers.

"We know where they were and where they are," said Therrien.

Puent, the intern, is studying wildlife ecology with several ornithology classes at the University of Wisconsin. An Ornithological Newsletter lists job openings and that is how he heard about the internship at Lehigh Gap.

Kunkle said they even get job applications from foreign countries but they are seldom suitable because they have to have their own car. The internships are valuable on résumés. At Bake Oven Knob the north slope is ahead of the south slope in the approach of fall.

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