Story by Peter Livengood, Westmoreland-Fayette Council
Bracing against the wind and bitter cold, I patiently perched atop a mountain early one September morning. The fog in the valley had begun to lift, and the sun was sparkling in the clear blue sky.
I had just one question: Would I see them, or was I standing out here in the cold to test the strength of my thermals? After months and months of research and planning, I was thoroughly prepared for this day, but I could still feel a nagging uncertainty in the pit of my stomach—or was that anticipation?
If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, I’ll fill in the blanks. As an Eagle Scout, I had discovered the magical, captivating activity of raptor watching, a citizen scientist endeavor where trained volunteers identify and count migrating birds of prey to estimate their populations and chart their patterns. I was on this mountain because that activity had piqued my scientific interest. I had to know more. I needed to analyze and be a part of conserving these majestic raptors.
On that frigid morning, I wished that I, too, could fly away to a warmer place, but even my numbing toes couldn’t tear me away. I wedged myself into a spot protected from the biting wind and gazed upward, still and quiet, observing and recording hundreds of raptors—eagles, hawks, falcons—along their heat-seeking migratory path.
Hawks seized this Eagles heart.
That day, hawks seized and flew away with this Eagle Scout’s heart. The experience inspired me, and I’m a man of action. There were active hawk watch sites on most of the major ridges in Pennsylvania—except one: Chestnut Ridge.
So, I did a little something with that yet untapped ridge to improve the monitoring capacity of the hawkwatching community and made it a part of my quest to earn the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Award. My brother Calvin and I established the Summit Mountain Hawkwatch (SMHW) situated atop Chestnut Ridge in southwestern Pennsylvania. This location offers an excellent view of the surrounding terrain and is perfect for watchers to spot a variety of migrating raptors, including broad-winged hawks, sharp-shins, falcons, and eagles.
I am phenomenally proud that, after three watching seasons, the Hawk Migration Association of North America designated this site, part of my BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Award application portfolio, an official observation site. I created a page on hawkcount.org dedicated to data collected at SMHW. All migrating raptor count data collected at this site, alongside other hawkwatch sites’ data, will be used by researchers to assess raptor population trends.
Whatever your passion is, pursue it.
Inspired by my experience that day and fueled by a National Eagle Scout Association scholarship, I plan to combine my passion for research with my love for teaching to become a dynamic advocate for the environment––in the field, the classroom and perhaps, one day, the halls of Congress.
Do not be afraid to dream big or soar high. When you do, people will come together to support you. I want to thank the donors, Scouting volunteers, and natural resource professionals who have contributed to make my conservation projects possible. Because of you, I have a purpose and passion to follow, backed by the resources I need to fulfill my dreams.
And if you ever feel adventurous, come visit me at the hawk watch. Sit on the mountaintop, soak up the view, and watch the miracle of migration. Just don’t forget your binoculars!
Peter, thank you for telling your Scouting story! You inspire future Eagle Scouts to follow their dreams.
Special thanks to our donors and alumni who graciously give time, talent, and treasure to support Scouting. Peter is able to pay for a great deal of his accelerated education after receiving NESA’s Mabel and Lawrence S. Cooke Scholarship. You make a positive impact on young people’s lives. Scouting only happens because of people like you!
About Peter Livengood
Peter has been a Scout in Troop 687 in Farmington, Pennsylvania. since 2013. He is certified as a Conservation Ambassador by the Pennsylvania Wildlife Leadership Academy and attended the Penn State Conservation Leadership School. He currently serves on the Governor’s Youth Advisory Council on Hunting, Fishing, and Conservation.