A Golden Christmas


December 19, 2015, brought me one my most memorable hawk watching sightings: a golden eagle flying through snow flurries and patches of sun. This poem is an attempt to share the moment, and is dedicated to the staff and volunteers of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. (Note: the phrase “under three” refers to a landmark used at the Sanctuary’s North Lookout.)

‘Twas six days before Christmas, and up on the mount,
three hearty birders were keeping the count.
We were wrapped in clothes layered a-plenty,
for temps were freezing and wind was at twenty.
The skies were cloudy with bursts of sun;
and we were saying, “This is great fun!
But are there yet birds coming our way?
Perhaps it is time to call it a day.”

When what to our wondering eyes should appear,
but a bird under three that was drawing near.
We watched through optics as snow flurries flew,
and it wasn’t long till we realized and knew,
that this marvelous bird was a full grown golden:
what a wonderful sight to enjoy and beholden!

Closer and closer it came flying low,
drifting along on the windy flow.
Its color and streaking were easily seen;
it sparkled and glittered with golden sheen.
Feeling awe and majesty all around,
we stood in silence, not making a sound.
Then when it sailed to sun’s westering light,
we broke into applause for the glorious sight!


Now it is the birds that draw us together,
in heat, in cold, in all sorts of weather.
But what’s most golden about Hawk Mountain place
is the smile seen in each person’s face.
So thank you staff, and volunteers, too,
thanks and gratitude I give to you.
To all whom I enjoy seeing each fall:
Merry Christmas to each, Merry Christmas to all!

(Written 2015, in appreciation of the birds and people of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.)

A Thanksgiving Sermon from 2010

Baba and Zoe at Hawk Mt.

Zoe Grace Scholtes and her grandfather at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Visitor Center, November 2010. Photo by Bonnie Scholtes.

My original plan was to drive down route 183
to take a look at what I might see.
Because in October  1975
my wife and I were on the drive
from Minersville, where we then lived,
to visit family in Sinking Spring
And on that trip I suddenly said,
‟Bonnie, my dear, take notes for me
About the various things we see,
for I feel a sermon beginning to brew;
these things can be tossed into a homiletical stew.‶
And that‵s what happened. A year later the notes became a sermon called
Thanksgiving Along Route 183.

I thought it would be fun to do a remake of that sermon from so many years ago.
But alas, there were so many other things I wanted to do.
All summed up in the picture I hold;
A picture whose story wants to be told.
It‵s a photo taken by my lovely wife
of an important event in our granddaughter‵s life.

I‵m kneeling down as proud as can be,
And standing there right next to my knee
Is twenty-two month old Zoe Grace
Making her very first visit to a special place.

For we decided the time was now here
To introduce her to Hawk Mountain cheer.
The photo is taken just before
Walking through the visitor center door.
And there she made her grandfather proud
Whenever she said the word ‟eagle‶ aloud.
And I introduced Zoe to a staff member I know,
Who said, ‟Hey, I have a live owl that I might show.‶
We looked at the owl and the displays for awhile,
And when we left I was beaming a smile.

Now if it had not been so cold that day,
I would have taken her through the gate way
That puts you on the trail to Lookout South;
Once there, I would have opened my mouth,
and said:

‟Zoe, my precious, learn to scan the sky,
You’ll see not only birds, but clouds racing by.
And learn to wait out occasional showers,
And you’ll delight in rainbows lovely as flowers.
And learn the names of birds large and small;
Be thrilled and fascinated by them all.
The hummingbird here and gone in a flash,
The merlin flying swiftly in its dash.
The red tail hawk sighted all year long,
The chickadee with its familiar song.
My precious Zoe, sit and learn patience on these rocks;
forget about watches, forget abut clocks.
But keep your eyes scanning the skies,
And you’ll see many a wondrous surprise.”

Well, you’ve all been very kind tonight,
Allowing an old, doting pastor to talk about his favorite things.
But what does all this have to do with Thanksgiving?

Well, repeat these words after me.
Thank you God . . .
For children we love. . . .
For birds that soar high above. . . .
For the beauty of a mountainside . . .
For the joy of spending time outside. .

And help us, Lord, . . .
To always keep in mind . …
The many ways that you are kind. . . .
And may your Spirit. . . .
Open our eyes. . . .
To daily delight. . . .
In your surprise. . . .

Gray Ghost Halloween


On October 31, 2016, a male Northern Harrier flew past Hawk Mountain’s North Lookout. Seeing it, Catherine Elwell said, “Gray ghost on Halloween. How fitting.” Her words inspired this poem.

Gray Ghost, floating through the blue sky,
You are a fitting spectral sight
For these hours leading to Halloween night.

And I wonder, as you go by,
What do you note with eye, with ear,
That speaks to you of Halloween here?

“From my position up on high
The trees in valley down below
Wear costumes in yellow and reddish glow.

“When to the lookout I draw nigh,
I see a copse of leafless trees
Whose gnarled trunks look like witches’ knees,

“And whose limbs reach out to the sky
Seeking to grasp and grab and trap
A young passing bird in spidery wrap.

“The hills resound with raven cry,
Perhaps issuing a warning
That before the dawning of the morning

“Report will come of some who die
By deeds most cruel and craven,
In the dark shadow of Schambach’s Tavern.

“This is what I hear and espy.

“Therefore I will now quickly fly,
In order to escape the fear
That this All Hallows’ Eve is bringing near.”




Hawk Mountain photo

At Hawk Mountain’s North Lookout on October 28, 2016, Laurie Goodrich twice “commanded” golden eagles to turn and give us better looks. Both birds “obeyed,” prompting me to say to Laurie, “That shows the power of your doctorate.” Her reply–“That’s how legends are started”–inspired both this poem and its title.

Like Gandalf, Laurie worked wizardry
–Twice, not once, but twice!–
She told golden eagles in the sky
–“Circle and be seen more clearly”–
And they behaved obediently!

When Gandalf and friends were victorious,
Sauron’s darkening cloud fled away.
So it was for us that autumn day,
As the clouds rolled into the distance
And sunlight began to hold sway.

The Lehigh Valley was ablaze in light!
O’er power plant bright an eagle took flight!
Red-shoulder hawk gave a glowing sight!
Robins flashed by in late-day sun!
What a glorious day of birding fun!

Was it the presence of Gandalf the White
Which made the day sunny and bright?
Does Laurie have special powers
To summon these amazing hours?
I suppose not–but I can’t be certain;
For without doubt, there’s magic on the mountain.

Falcon Tornado


North Lookout Owl

When I reached North Lookout of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on September 6, 2016, Rudy Keller told me that earlier five kestrels had been diving at the owl pole. He said, “You could hear the sound of their wings ‘whoosh.'” Another hawk watcher referred to it as a “tornado of kestrels.” That evening, the Sanctuary’s daily report included this note: “Several American kestrels and merlins spent 30 minutes diving at the Owl Pole and then chased each other.” These observations inspired me to write the poem “Falcon Tornado,” in which the owl is speaking. 

 I am the Owl at Lookout North.

Early one morning five kestrels danced round,
From each feathered wing came a whistling sound;
Like swimmers in sync, they swiped at my side
In a vain attempt to force me to hide.

Then a fast falcon, a merlin by name,
Dove and chased kestrels away from their game.
And this bold merlin, preferring me dead,
Targeted talons aimed straight at my head.

Throughout the twirling falcon tornado
I twitched neither eye, nor ear, nor a toe,
But sat in silence — serenely still —
Calmly assure they could do me no ill.

I am the Owl at Lookout North.

Mountain Pilgrimage


IMG_0855 Hawk Mountain sign

When August comes with sun so hot,
And land is blessed with flowing  crop;
When butterfly skips round and round,
And dragonfly is also found;
When northwest wind picks up its pace,
And hearts begin to stir and race:
Many set out on pilgrimage
To visit rocks of ancient age.

Drawn by wonder of creation
And the magic of migration,
Some will come as they have before,
Ten, twenty, thirty years or more.
In their minds are memories kept
Of wondrous days of birds wind-swept,
Of sunlight gleaming on the land,
And good friends standing near at hand.

Others arrive for the first time,
Including some from distant clime:
One in zeal for conservation,
Varied in their tongue and nation,
These young trainees from many lands
Eagerly offer helping hands;
And through their smiles and what they do
They help to keep the old hill new.

Together all share this wonder:
Eagle first seen at a number–
Then dipping into woods below,
At Hunter’s popping up to show
Its head ablaze like fiery crown.
Then flying along field of brown,
The raptor climbs to horizon,
And over steeple continues on
Its journey of migration flight,
Headed toward day’s final light.


Aves and Ave


IMG_0877 August 15


Time may be measured in many ways, including the migration of birds and the calendar of the church. August 15 is significant in both. The date begins the annual fall raptor count at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and is also the Feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord.

This poem celebrates the delightful coincidence of the two events falling on the same date.


Over water dark and churning,
God’s mind brooded with deep yearning
For companions with whom to share
A good world made with loving care.
And so God spoke; life was begun
With light, the moon, the stars, the sun.
Creation started in God’s name,
And on the fifth day God proclaimed:
“Flying creatures now fill the sky;
Increase, fly free, and multiply.”
And so Aves procreation
Partners with God in creation.

Time sped by, and over the land
Dark shadow lay its heavy hand.
God’s mind again  brooded and thought
Of a new way that might be wrought
To give the earth fresh beginning,
Saving it from death and sinning.
So angel Gabriel went out
To greet young girl with joyful shout:
“Ave! Mary the Nazarene!
In you God’s mercy shall be seen!”
Thus was foretold a coming birth
Of joyous news for all the earth.

Aves and ave meet with cheer
August Fifteen of ev’ry year,
Coming together on this day,
Each observed in a special way.
Up wooded hill the birders mount
To start the yearly raptor count.
And those who follow Mary’s Son
Hold feast to praise what God has done.

Aves! Ave! Signs of Power:
Renewing the earth hour by hour.
Aves! Ave! Tokens of love:
Pouring forth from heaven above.
Aves! Ave! Gifts of delight:
Lifting spirits high into flight.
Birds of the air! Blessed Mary!
In you we rejoice on this day.