6-7 September 1962
Another person I met at Acadia National Park while looking for birds instead of listening to the naturalist giving a tour was Rev. George Deisher. His day job was soul related. He invited me to stay at his home in Kingston, Pennsylvania. By 7 a.m. on the sixth, we were birding in a marsh near Kingston where we found an immature Virginia Rail and my first Cape May Warbler. There were a few other warblers but not as many as there used to be according to my host. Insecticides were the prime suspect for the population declines. We later drove to Hawk Mountain, 1400-acre sanctuary set aside to protect migrating raptors. At the headquarters near the base of the mountain, George introduced me to Alex Nagey, assistant to Maurice Broun, caretaker of the sanctuary since 1935. Minutes later the man himself showed up, Dr. Broun, who has seen more hawks than anyone in the world, was soon on his way to the lookout to count migrants.
Our time on the mountain was limited but we did see an immature and adult Bald Eagle, migrants that usually pass the sanctuary later in the year, and several Broad-winged Hawks. I picked up a couple of fliers about the sanctuary for night reading. Tomorrow I would be back and thought I should be prepared. One brochure stated that the Pennsylvania’s Game Commission placed a $5 bounty on the Goshawks. The bounty was a great amount for people during the Great Depression, and those eager to collect hardly cared whether they were shooting a Goshawk or some other kind of hawk. The bounty on goshawks was finally terminated 1951. Most hawks, then and even decades later, were often called chicken hawks, and placed in the general category of varmints to kill. Prompted by George Miksch Sutton, Richard Pough, then a graduate student in 1932 visited the site of the carnage at what locals called Hawk Mountain. He tried to stop the killings to no avail. However, Rosalie Edge, a New York conservationist, saved the hawks by purchasing 1400 acres, including Hawk Mountain, and hiring Maurice Broun, with his wife Irma, as caretakers. The shooting stopped and the new sanctuary was open to anyone wishing to watch hawks. Broun’s 1949 “Hawks Aloft” chronicled the years on Hawk Mountain.
Reading the history of Hawk Mountain decades after my first visit brings to mind friendly correspondence with George M. Sutton, who was then in Oklahoma. He had loaned numerous specimens of Rock Ptarmigan for a taxonomic study I had undertaken. Of course, Pough, founder of the Nature Conservancy, was a familiar author of a set of field guides I owned, and about the only competition to the Peterson guides. Peterson owned those little lines pointing to the salient field marks; Pough could not use them so, before make the trip, I meticulously copied field mark pointers onto the illustrations in my Pough guides. This seemed to improve the illustrations and help sharpen my ability to identify birds. Of course, “Hawks Aloft” was one of my favorite books. Maurice autographed a copy I purchased at Hawk Mountain. It was one of my most cherished belongings but somehow was lost between moving and an angry ex-wife.
One of the topics discussed among birders on Hawk Mountain in 1962 was the lowering populations of birds. I had heard this earlier from people such as Harold Axtell, Aaron Bagg and Harry Chadbourne, and from some of my older bird friends in Oregon. Often associated with the topic of dwindling numbers of birds was a new book, Rachel Carson’s landmark “Silent Spring.” In 1962, I had not read it, nor did I realize its importance and strength. Her book has been reprinted countless times, including a 40-year anniversary edition. Those that maintain it is possibly the most significant book in our nation’s history are probably correct. It was not until 1973 when widespread use of DDT was banned in the United States, although U.S. companies sell it to other countries. Authors continue to draw strength from Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Conservationists inheriting and acknowledging responsibility to the planet, just as did Sutton, Pough and the Broun’s, continue to struggle.
About 8 a.m. on the seventh, I thanked the Deishers’ for their hospitality and drove southward to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The sanctuary is on part of the Kittatinny Ridge, one of the prominent ridges in the Appalachian Mountains. Its deciduous country; the land had experienced deforestation from logging and charcoal, burning to preserve blueberry habitat, and a blight had destroyed the dominant American chestnut by 1950. Surviving trees are about 100-year-old, with secondary growths of Red Maple, birches, hickory, Black Gum and several species of oak. The shortness of many of the trees was a result of their age and the shallow rocky soil.
Maurice, telling me to call him by his first name, gave me permission to park my car behind the museum just across the road from Schaumboch’s, the Broun residence. He knew I could not afford the fee for the nearby campground and he may have thought I would be a good night watchman. For whatever his reason, I was grateful.
Once settled, I followed my host’s lead and hiked up to the lookout. For about a mile, the dirt trail climbs nearly 300 feet before opening to the lookout at 1521 feet. The view is glorious by eastern standards; the grandeur of the west spoiled me, but Hawk Mountain is exciting. A ridge runs from the southwest to the northeast. Migrants follow the ridgeline. The lookout is actually a jumble of massive gray boulders that provide great seats and back rests for hawk watchers peering northeast in the 180 degree viewing window. Below is the River of Rocks, and further away are the tops of summits forming landmarks when spotting oncoming birds. There are four of these, appearing as small bumps in the horizon, each numbered from left to right. A bird seen over the eastern most summit was announced as coming in over four. This helped everyone locate a bird, which at first might be a dark speck. Maurice could identify, and always correctly, these raptorial specks with lightning speed. I had to wait for a closer view. From 3:30 until 5 p.m., the time the lookout usually is closed, I saw only an Osprey, couple of Cape May Warblers and several Broad-winged Hawks. It was a slow afternoon but Maurice was enthusiastic.
My first full day, 8 September, at Hawk Mountain was almost as described in Pettingill. Broad-winged Hawks dominated the air with 111 birds migrating overhead. Sixty of these soared by during the first hour. One lone Marsh Hawk [=Northern Harrier] added to the list of birds flying over birders perched on Hawk Mountain. By eleven o’clock activity had come to a standstill, although my stomach was growling. The sandwich I packed was doing the trick while I took time trying different boulders for a seat that might offer the best viewing and comfort.
After lunch, a few Broad-winged Hawks trickled over. I became a little birding lazy at that point. As a few ardent observers were faithfully keeping an eye on the horizon, I decided to read some of the literature I had stuffed in my lunch bag. I also was rereading Hawks Aloft, a book that now took on greater excitement than even the first read during rainy winter days back in Oregon. It was also a good time to scout for confusing fall warblers. A single Black-throated Blue Warbler although at first glance of its drab and olive plumage was not confusing once the telling white wing spots came into view.
Back home, at my parked VW, I barely got the door open when Maurice came around the corner to invite me to the little cottage called Schamboch. Irma, Maurice’s wife and partner on the mountain since the beginning, enticed me with a home cooked meal and a huge piece of a freshly baked pie. During the evening, I described my trip itinerary, and casually mentioned that I might try to find a job so I could extend my travels. There was a noticeable pause then I was to hear words that only my Dad would have spoken. There was no cursing but there was a harsh look from Maurice who blurted, “People would give their eye teeth to do what you’re doing, so don’t spoil it by working.” He said a few other things that questioned my intelligence, but he complimented me for making the trip in the first place.
At daybreak the next morning, I ascended the last steps to the lookout expecting to see songbirds; the hawks would begin migrating later with the sun-produced thermals. The sun rose as a fiery red ball. The gray clouds glow bounced the sun light down to the fog-draped valley below. What a beautiful setting for seeing migrating warblers and thrushes resting and foraging after a long night of migrating. However, there were no chipping birds, no leaves stirring; there were no warblers, just a lonely Wood Thrush scolding and a distant Blue Jay giving a tinny trumpety cry far below the summit. Maurice was far below, also searching for songbirds. Were the warblers late or was it the pesticides?
After a delicious breakfast of hotcakes fresh off Irma’s griddle and a good cup of coffee, I was ready to walk the mile again to see what hawks might be flying. It was a slow day birdwise this Sunday. Between birds, I visited with a few of the birders including a lady who had about the same bad luck seeing birds in Yellowstone that I did. I also continued reading Hawks Aloft. Just before closing it, I glance again at Maurice’s inscription. It read, “Inscribed for R.B. – with greetings and special salute on a year-long journey of 650 birds! Good Luck!” I appreciated the confidence but knew I would be lucky to break 500. A Black-throated Green Warbler flitting at the edge of the trail topped off the day.
The 10th day of September started with a feeling of stiff and sore muscles. It was not the two miles of hiking each day to the lookout. It was my precious air mattress. It had developed a slow leak. I had to re-inflate the partially deflated. This had to done more than once during the night. Wake up, blow up the mattress, sleep for a while, wake up, and blow up the mattress, sleep for a while…
The local weatherman predicted rain for today. I debated with myself. Should I make to climb or catch up on my notes and reading? While waiting for the clouds to brew or blow, I used the morning hours reading. Especially interesting were the recent reports on the problem flaring up in parts of Texas. According to ranchers, farmers, a Texas senator and generally ignorant trigger-happy raptor haters, Golden Eagles should be killed. Conservationist believed eagles should not be killed. Maurice had just received a letter about the controversy concerning a misinformed and biased opinion of one of the local Texas politicians, who sided against the conservationist, blinded by reality and influenced by the twisted truth that these birds were stealing calves. Perhaps a calf was lost to Golden Eagles but man’s best friend, the domestic dog, is known to harass cattle to death. No one was suggesting wholesale killing of dogs.
An hour after noon I was up at the lookout. It never rained although a southwest wind was blowing hard and steady. Hardly any hawks were migrating. A Sparrow Hawk [=American Kestrel] zipped by, and I found a lonely Ovenbird as the token warbler for the day.
The eleventh of the month was by far my best day on the rocky outpost of Hawk Mountain. It was not that so many individuals scudded southward but the variety of species. At least it seemed so to me. At the end of the day, eight species of hawks were identified. Finally, a Sharp-shined Hawk appeared. This was a new species for the trip, and what a bird. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, an adult, soared high overhead, which was not the usual quick glimpse I was accustomed to as a bird dove into the trees after its prey. The bird today surprised everyone watching as it broke away from its circling route, and dived from the sky at falcon speed. It made a pass at a slightly larger migrating Broad-winged Hawk. The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s talons were extended and ready for the strike but the Broad-wing swerved, just missing death.
My fifth full day at Hawk Mountain was a great day. Today I checked off Cooper’s Hawk. It was first spotted far in the distance between bumps 1 and 2, the hawk watchers reference points. The first identification yelled out was Broad-winged Hawk. My trusty 20X scope revealed the bird to have a tail much too long for the sturdy Broad-wing. My reverence of the other birders present chocked me to announce my suspicions. Would I get over the embarrassment of being wrong? Moments later Maurice took a glance and confirmed my identification.
As the day progressed, several Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures winged passed. Someone called out “Cooper’s Hawk.” Soon, less than 50 feet above us soared a magnificent immature. Before the bird was barely out of sight, two Sharp-shinned Hawks darted overhead. Just like Peterson’s plate illustrating the rounded tail of the Cooper’s and the squared tail of Sharp-shinned Hawk. These birds apparently did not notice the Cape May and Black-throated Blue warblers foraging below.
That evening, Alex Nagy invited Seal Brooks, a visitor from Wilmington, Delaware, and I for an owling trip into the Pennsylvania Dutch darkness. Screech Owls were our target, and Alex knew where to find them. He has a mammoth project studying these little eared owls. Many were using most of the 50 nest boxes he had placed three years earlier. He plans to extend the project so he will have five years of data on nesting behavior. Mr. Brooks and I were amazed as Alex whistled closer one answering owl after another. Alex had the uncanny ability to know exactly where a bird was by its sound alone. It was as if he could see in the dark. Once a bird was close, he switched on the flashlight and its unwavering beam was a perfect aim at the owl. Alex showed us over a dozen owls, more than I had seen in any one night.
The hot sun bore down on the watchers waiting on the rocky outcrop called the lookout the next day. There was little breeze and many of us, including myself, were more than discouraged. At 9:40, a small vanguard of broadies (that’s Hawk Mountain talk) got everyone’s attention. Soon a real flock or kettle of about 31 Broad-winged Hawks wheeled gradually to the south. By the end of the day, I had counted 114 Broad-winged Hawks, and an assortment of Sparrow Hawks, Ospreys and Sharp-shinned Hawks. This was not the big flight expected. Once that happens, I will leave Hawk Mountain. I was willing to wait another week then I would make my way south also. When hawks were not waiting to be identified the hawk watchers at the lookout discussed the fall plumage of Cape May Warblers (I saw 10), delighted in the southward passages of two Pileated Woodpeckers, about 50 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and around 75 Cedar Waxwings. They also talked local politics (I just listened), and whether Cuba was going to be a Communist foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
There were a few other migrants including more Black-throated Green Warblers and, new to me, two Palm Warblers. The real high light of the day was two Red-headed Woodpeckers. This species has been declining for many years someone announced two boulders to the right.
That evening Seal Brooks and I ate campfire food consisting of potato and eggs, with a dash of onion and black pepper. We talked about the prospect of the big day, when thousands of Broad-winged Hawks soar over. It was a crisp and dark night lighted only by twinkling stars and our flashlights. No screech-owls were heard although we could hear the faint calls of warblers and thrushes as they made their nocturnal journey over Hawk Mountain. Back at my car, I hurriedly inflated my unrepaired air mattress. By now, the crisp air had evolved to cold. I was willing to wait a few more days, but the next morning made me wonder just how many more days that would be. The thickening clouds soon began releasing a drizzle.
Hawk Mountain was a turning point for me. One of several nights at one of several home cooked meals followed by pie, Maurice and Irma convinced me, contrary to my earlier plans that I really should go to college. They also advised me; if at all possible, do not take time during the trip to work. I didn’t. Another evening, as I was gaining weight, Irma got after me because I smoked. Maurice told her to let me alone, “after all, he’s got to have at least one vice.” Their home, a revolutionary-era cottage and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, was made cozy by the wonderful Broun’s.
My nights behind the museum, now the Common Room, were quiet and safe. Each day began by the hike up to the lookout that must have been wearing thin. My earlier entries stated that the trail was one mile long, but on 12 September, I wrote, “I trudged up the rocky one-and-one-half mile trail…”
Hours watching the sky beg for some creature comfort such as a seat flat and big enough for the buttocks and a back rest. In 1962, it was possible to select your seat, when only 19,100 people visited the mountain. Only 10 years later a virtual lion’s share of the Division of Birds and friends including Fran James, Marshall Howe, Storrs Olson, Dick Zusi and yours truly hunted unsuccessfully for a place to sit. By the late 1980s, it was standing room only. I could not face even more people and have not been back since. Even the Broun’s confided, as much as they loved people, they sometimes missed the quiet of their early years on the mountain. There were 65,000 visitors, mostly coming during the fall on the mountain in 2003!
The owls Alex Nagy called were Eastern Schreech-Owls. In 1962, this and its close relative, the Western Schreech-Owl, were considered separate subspecies, not species, under the English name Screech Owl. Even the hyphen was missing. In 1967 my old friend Joe T. Marshall, a man of true wit and scientific fortitude, proved that the western and eastern birds were not conspecific. Later, Joe graced the Division of Birds at Smithsonian with his knowledge and charm. We had many great times discussing owls, music (he built his own harpsichord, and used the shafts of raven feathers to pluck the strings), and the humor of life.
Besides raptors, other birds migrated past Hawk Mountain. I didn’t appreciate the significance of seeing some of these, including Red-headed Woodpeckers, which I believed were common, at least in part of the country. I recall, during one of those whirlwind trips to the grandparents, my dad impaling a Red-headed Woodpecker in the grill of his big-finned 59 Chevy. Apparently, the behavior of flying back and forth across roads is one of the contributors to their demise. Before high-speed highways, these colorful birds sometimes ended up on women’s hats (along with egrets and others). The woodpeckers were also killed by farmers protecting their crops of berries and fruit, and crowded by European Starlings. Many were also killed because of the bird’s damage to power and telephone poles. Red-headed Woodpeckers are now considered rare in the Northeast.
The 15th began within twelve feet from the Lookout summit. That is when six Broad-winged Hawks road a thermal southeastward. Shortly after, a few more trickled by, and it looked as if today was going to be the big day. Maurice and several others at the summit thought so too. John Alderman was among us, a lobbyist for the pending “Golden Eagle Bill.” I had met John the night before while he and other volunteers worked until midnight on posters illustrating raptors and raptor watching. The “Golden Eagle Bill” stood for raptors and raptor watching, and more specifically, it was to protect eagles from being shot. Maybe our hard work would be rewarded by a couple thousand hawks winging by Hawk Mountain.
Not so. By noon we found ourselves staring into empty air. Forty Kestrels rocketed down the Kitanny Ridge. A few southbound Northern Harriers and seven Ospreys scudded just over the tree tops. The warm sun joined my boredom; I almost fell asleep on my rocky perch. If anything happen, surely one of the 250 visitors would let me know.
The next day was the day. By the end of the day 3200 Broad-winged Hawks made their way over the lookout. Never had I seen so many birds of prey. One large swirling mass gathered overhead at first with 20 birds, which were joined by 50, then 20, then 50, then 250 or more, all streaming from the north and into the swarm overhead. It was a humbling experience. It was life affirming to know that so many Broad-winged Hawks had survived DDT, habitat destruction, and illegal shooting. Before the day was over two Bald Eagles, 2 Northern Harriers and 22 Osprey had coursed over the lookout. A single Pileated Woodpecker, even with its large size, seemed unaware of all the carnivores overhead.
The 17th began full of clouds and doubt. Was yesterday the big day for the year, the high count for Broad-winged Hawks? Maurice thoughtfully scratched his head, paused, and gave his answer based on 28 years of watching hawks. “Yes, the big flight has gone.” He wasn’t entirely satisfied with the answer; Maurice stationed hawk watcher on several known hawk watching sites. Alex monitored Hawk Mountain, Darwin Palmer from Wilmington, Delaware, kept watch at Owls Head, a rock outcrop east of Hawk Mountain. Maurice, with three others and me, piled into a couple of cars and drove 16 mile north to Bake Oven. Rain pelted our windshield as Maurice steered the car to the valley floor, talking birds, mostly hawks, at every milepost. The rain drenched our optimism as we sped across the rolling Amish farmlands, and even more drops fell as we arrived at the top of 1500 foot Bake Oven. Now fog clung to us as we slipped out of our vehicles to discuss our next step. The weather was terrible for hawk watching and even worse for grounded migrating hawks. It wasn’t long before the huddle of dripping people agreed to opt for a day of armchair ornithology back at Hawk Mountain.
On the way, bumping back “home,” Maurice and I stopped so that I could pick up a few groceries, groceries I would need unless I left Hawk Mountain tomorrow. I certainly did not want to leave for points south in the rainy drizzle and besides a talk of a trip to the New Jersey coast was in the air. With that thought, I hurriedly picked up my rations. The little general store, similar but different from the one in Monida, Montana, required the same rules. As the customer, I needed to spot the item I needed, then tell the clerk, who would get it off the shelf. I would announce, after I found the item, including the brand name. The brands in the east were not always the ones I was familiar with after western shopping. I would announce brand x beans, and the storekeeper would follow along the big wall full of shelves decorated with can goods until he found the brand x beans.
My last day on the lookout, 19 September, was rainy and cold. Gusty northwest winds swept over the rocky outpost, but it was a good day for at least some hawks. About 850 Broad-winged Hawks passed by at eye level as they skimmed the treetops on the west side of the ridge. Kestrels zipped by so fast and low than many were probably being missed. Alex and I stationed ourselves on the windward side of the lookout and were able to pick up more Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks. I wondered if this cold and wet weather would cause migrating Broad-wings to pile up as they waited somewhere to the north for better weather. Alex announced that it felt like November. It felt like winter when I crawled into bed. Thank goodness, I had finally patched the leaking air mattress.
On 18 September 2004, 42 years and two days from the date in 1962, the big day at Hawk Mountain for Broad-winged Hawks yielded 2,596. The annual average of 8,164 is a paltry sum compared with a record high of 29,519 in 1978. Higher, much higher numbers have been reported from Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve near Duluth, Minnesota, where, in a recent mid-September over 102,000 Broad-winged Hawks streamed their way south. Even larger swarms, called kettles, have reached up to 400,000 over Veracruz and elsewhere in Middle America. Broad-winged Hawks are one of the most common eastern forest raptors, but reported declines since 1980 are probably the result of forests fragmentation in Quebec, New England and the southern Appalachians.
At Hawk Mountain, the forests, as at many other places in Pennsylvania, suffers from a lack of plant regeneration. Recent studies revealed that heavy browsing of small young trees by White-tailed Deer cancels the possibility of older trees being replaced, and causes an understory too sparse for shrub-nesting birds. They plan to reduce the deer population to the forest to recover.
This would be my last day at Hawk Mountain. Tomorrow I would join the group going to New Jersey. Today, for the first time in 12 days, I would not ascend to the lookout. This time I birded down in the Kettle, the valley directly below Shamboch’s and immediate area around headquarters. Although Broad-winged Hawks and Kestrels were found, I was enjoying looking more for Passerifomes. In four hours of searching, I managed to scare up 30 species, including Wood Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant, several resident species such as Tufted Titmouse and Cardinal, but also migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. A Red-eyed Vireo was still around as well as four species of warblers.
Ever since that night when Alex Nagy demonstrated the ease of calling schreech-owls, I wanted to try my luck. My feeling of slightly self-consciousness about whistling weird sounds in the dark kept me quite. Now, alone, I could try whistling all kinds of owl notes, even though it was perfectly light. I reasoned that I might be able to fool other birds. Standing still near a small creek, I puckered and slurred something resembling a screech-owl. Following a couple of these sorties, and just before I was about to embarrass myself further, I began to be swarmed by Blue Jays, all screaming wildly. A few Black-capped Chickadees joined the foray, followed by a lone Wood Thrush adding its distinctive guttural scolding call. I felt a little proud that I was successful with my ruse, but also a little guilty for exciting so many birds. Still, my owl imitation was a great way to find birds.
The group going to Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge on the New Jersey coast gathered at Hawk Mountain at 4 a.m. By 5 a.m., Maurice, Darwin Palmer, Erwan and Eve Cobb from Toronto, Ontario, and I folded into a car for the long journey east. Our first major stop was after a nourishing breakfast at Holgate. The small 256-acre unit of the refuge was a gift from the National Audubon Society. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and channels, it is technically an island. Herring and Laughing gulls sailed in a wind strong enough to whistle in our teeth. After crossing a stretch of sand dunes, we began combing the marsh grass for anything there. A Seaside Sparrow jumped up as we, a split second later and in unison, announced its identity. A Clapper Rail flushed within feet of our faces and sallied past the rest of the crew as we swept the grass. Two Black Skimmers cut the water surface in the channel. There were numerous unwary sharp-tailed sparrows, most of which were approachable with a few feet. At this range, it was easy to identify them to subspecies.
Two hawks I missed at Hawk Mountain were at Holgate. At adult Pigeon Hawk [=Merlin] swooped by us as it chased a flicker into a bay berry bush. The speed falcons fly is amazing but most falcons are slow to the large Peregrine Falcon. While pondering flight speeds, a huge falcon flew above our heads, even catching Maurice off guard but only for a moment. The Peregrine, new to the trip list, is capable of about 200 mph in a dive. Luckily, our falcon was just cruising a slow 25 mph; otherwise, we might have missed such a magnificent species.
We were soon on our way south to Brigantines 13,310 acres of coastal marshes interspersed with channels and open bays. Along the dike roads, we found several more species on our growing list. Fish Crows, hundreds of them, gathered on one of the pump house roofs. This was a new life bird, and what a funny crow, much quicker in flight and strange nasal call. We found Carolina Chickadees near headquarters, a new bird for the trip. By the end of light, I had seen 12 new species for the trip of which seven were new for my life list.
A seventeen hour round trip, with 72 species on our list, and great birding companions, was a great. It was clear and dark when we rolled back to Hawk Mountain. Darwin, still wound up, had borrowed Maurice’s giant 20X binoculars for stargazing. He was more than happy to point out Jupiter, the brightest planet in view. What was most amazing that the binoculars magnification was sufficient to see two of the giant’s moons and the rings of Saturn. Years earlier, I had spent blinding hours on the roof of my parent’s carport in Oregon looking for the silhouettes of birds as they passed between my precarious perch and the full moon. Looking at planets was more amazing.
During a wakeful night, I reviewed my long stay at Hawk Mountain, the opportunity to see so many hawks, the developed friendship with the Broun’s, Alex Nagy and others. The falling temperatures urged me to move southward, as did the prospect of new birds to see.
My day started with one last breakfast with the Broun’s. It was a quiet breakfast interrupted by Maurice’s enthusiasm for my birding adventure, where I should go, who I might contract, what new birds I would add to my growing list. I returned to my little home, the VW tucked behind the museum, where I typed my notes covering the last couple of days, stowed my stuff for traveling, poured over maps, and prepared myself for a long goodbye to Maurice and Irma. By now, it was noon so we had one last meal together. Not until 2 p.m. could I bring myself to leave. I hoped I would be in Washington, D.C. in two days.
Erma Broun’s insistence that I quit smoking was on the mark. Maurice said I must have at least one vice, but I eventually realized my tobacco could not continue. Continuing to think of the Brouns never stopped and should have kept in touch. It was a disappointing surprise when they were not at Hawk Mountain during my next visit to Hawk Mountain in the early 1970’s. Maurice died in 1979, Irma in 1997. It is too late to tell them that without their guidance, my path would have been different. If only all those that the Broun’s touched with their wisdom, hospitality, and happiness could once again thank them. The lessons of observation, the value of keeping a journal, the importance of education and knowledge, the conversations during cool nights inside their warm home, Schaumboch’s, and the warmth of this remarkable and loving couple was my Hawk Mountain.
The plan was to spend a couple of days traveling between Hawk Mountain and Washington, D.C., my next destination. I was looking forward to some time alone, with the hum of my little VW beetle. The drive yesterday took me further south than I had planned, and late darkness dictated the stop for the night, just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Sleep on a wide grassy area several yards from the hard Interstate 70 in Maryland was mixed with roaring diesel engines of trailer trucks thundering by, each pushing through the air that shook my car. More annoying was their bright headlights. About 3 a.m., finally sound asleep, I was wakened suddenly by the deep-throated rumble of car exhaust. Then I heard heavy footsteps followed by sharp knocking on my rolled up window. Thank goodness, it was up. I was just about to slide out of bed and into the driver’s seat. I knew I could do this rapidly. The keys were in the ignition. Before I could make a move, a demanding voice asked what was I doing. Hell, it was obvious what I was doing, but what was the person outside my car up to? About the same time, I realized that the rumbling car was a police car, but was this person a real police officer. Somehow, the person thought that by shining his flashlight in my eyes made it easier for me to answer his repeated questions. Finally, the long nose of the law left, and I settled into a sleep.
Following a breakfast of the usual half-dozen cake donuts, I looked over the road map, which revealed I was much closer to the Capitol than I had thought. Back on the road, the car was nearly pushed along by the traffic. It was worse than Cleveland was, it was worse than anything was I had experienced. Before I knew it, I was in a bustling metropolis “full of sound and fury,” and did not have the least idea where I actually was or where I should go. A service station attendant saved the day, at least for the moment. Still, I became lost, stuck in traffic entanglements, but at last found the needed YMCA. A hot shower and clean clothes suitable for city life replaced the body grim, dirty blue jeans and tee-shirt. A so-called “coin-drama” not far from the dressing room sold food, and with the correct change, I purchased a stale hamburger. I also got a $1.25 haircut, including removing the hair on my neck that the patrolman caused to stand upright.
People at the Y directed me to tourist campground not far away. Of course, I got lost again. I was not accustomed to so much traffic, and the streets radiating out from the traffic circles like spokes of a wheel completely befuddled me. Driving in what I heard was the best-planned city in the United States was no easy task. There were no left turns and getting on and off a traffic circle put a new meaning to the word merge. Another problem I was facing was the confused driving by tourist. Of course, I was one of them, contributing to the confusion and frustration of Washington traffic.
After what should have taken only a few minutes, I finally made it to my destination, East Potomac Island campground. For a small fee, I had a campsite with a cold-water faucet, picnic table, and a place to take a hot shower. The site was enclosed by a tall cyclone fence, and could be entered only by passing through a guarded gate. The island was quite, green with scattered trees, and only a 20-minute walk to the historic Mall.