The Peaks of my Hawk Mountain Journey

Posted on in On the Mountain by Alyssa Polansky, Summer 2019 Education Trainee

John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” These inspiring words best summarize my time at Hawk Mountain as an education trainee. I am departing the mountain having learned and experienced much more than I anticipated. All the high points of my journey helped me grow not only as an educator, but as a person. My work with the amazing staff, volunteers and trainees and all the unique experiences I took part in will help me to carry my time on the Mountain with me for many years to come.

Alyssa holding owl

Some highlights of my time at Hawk Mountain were raptor care and working with the feathered educators. It was awesome to build trust with these raptors and learn their individual habits and personalities. Once we were comfortable with one another, I was able to work with them during our many educational programs. There is something magical about working with animal educators and giving people a close-up experience with the sometimes-secretive world of wildlife. It helps that these feathered educators came to the Sanctuary due to injury and can’t be released back into the wild, so they find a second chance at life here. It is a truly beautiful partnership.

Young screech owl banding with Dr. JF Therrien
Young screech owl banding with Dr. JF Therrien.

Going out in the field with scientists and helping to collect real data was another enriching opportunity and highlight of my experience. I accompanied Dr. Allison Cornell and her team from Cedar Crest College as they studied newly hatched American kestrel chicks until the incredible moment when they began to fledge. I also joined Dr. JF Therrien as he banded eastern screech owl chicks and watched longtime HMS volunteer Sandy Lockerman band hummingbirds. I even tagged along with researchers, studying bats at Hawk Mountain and assisting in mist netting. I was filled with hope for these species and many others after seeing them up close and learning about their research.

Alyssa and fellow trainee Diana host an elementary school field trip with the Raptors Over the Ridge introduction program.
Alyssa and fellow trainee Diana host an elementary school field trip with the Raptors Over the Ridge introduction program.

Working with the Sanctuary’s education team and learning about environmental education was a prized aspect of my journey. Education is one the most valuable conservation tools and my traineeship only strengthened that belief. Our programs are an interactive way to reach various audiences and make learning fun in the best classroom—the great outdoors! There is no greater reward as an educator than seeing a child smile as they immerse themselves in nature.

“Evolve, adapt and fly forward” is a commonly used saying among the educators which I have come to appreciate. In education and in life, I have learned that things don’t always go as planned, but you need to persevere and overcome the obstacles placed before you. 

So thank you, Hawk Mountain, for such a great experience. I know I will be back because “going to the mountains is going home,” just like John Muir said.