Reflection on the Rocks

Posted on in On the Mountain by Brandon Brogle, 2020 Conservation Trainee

Trainee Brandon at South Lookout
1. Brandon takes in the view at South Lookout as he scans the sky for migrating raptors

When I discovered that my application for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s fall 2020 trainee program was accepted, a sizeable knot grew in my stomach as I waited for news from the Acopian Center of their decision. I was excited to receive the good news that I would become part of the conservation science team for a few months! I’m very thankful that my academic role-model and ornithology professor Dr. Daniel Klem Jr. noticed my passion for all things avian and pushed me to apply for this traineeship. At Muhlenberg College, I worked with Dr. Klem in his lab where I recorded flight and window strike data of windows treated to decrease the rate of bird-window collisions. At the same time, I volunteered in the Acopian Center of Ornithology where I created avian study skins and taught other students to do the same. During my tenure in the museum, I learned the value in accurate note-taking and the preservation of history for the future, all while seeing birds from all over the world that now call the Acopian Center home. Without Dr. Klem’s formal introduction to birds I would not have the tenacity and wherewithal to pursue a career working with our feathered friends. 

Trainee Brandon Searching for Vultures
Brandon monitors a vulture roost, looking for tagged birds in order to learn more about the population dynamics of local and migratory roosts.

During my short time on the mountain, I have learned more things than I can write about. The mountain, to me and many others, is an unbelievably enriching place both historically and contemporaneously. The ridge provides ample opportunities to view magnificent birds and the birds bring an incredible amount interesting people. I often like to think about the many people before me, like Maurice Broun, Rachel Carson, David Sibley, or Roger Tory Peterson, to walk the very rocks that I currently observe migration on, as well as the countless people after me who will do the same. The Hawk Mountain expert biologists have tried to pass on every bit of their knowledge to the trainees, whether that be about identification and flight interpretation, or the life history and migration strategy of a particular species. Spending time on the lookouts has also done wonders for my ear, and I’m now able to identify more by sound than ever before. I’ve also learned as much, if not more, from the enthusiastic visitor. Conversations with visitors from all walks of life have opened my eyes to the experiences of many who have different backgrounds than I do. I absolutely love hearing about their experiences with birds that had a lasting and meaningful impact on their life. My metaphorical toolbox has been ever expanding since my first day as a trainee at North Lookout in August and for that, I am grateful.

Unfortunately, my time as a trainee is concluding, after which I will be released into the world, championing avian conservation with specific attention to raptors. After talking with a few of the staff, I’ve begun to narrow down which avenues in the biological sciences I’d like to pursue. Like many of the staff here began their own careers in raptor biology, I plan on working a variety of seasonal jobs in order to broaden my experience working with different avian species in order to find my own niche. As a Hawk Mountain trainee, I learned that the future of the northern harrier is as uncertain as my own interests. Working with this species to restore their population to its former glory is an avenue I could see myself pursuing in the future. I look forward to sharing my future experience with the sanctuary and its supporters as a trainee alumnus.