Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some hawk migration observations

Hawk migration is just getting well underway these days, as one can see from the various hawk watching reports. Hawk Cliff just south of St. Thomas, Holiday Beach in southwestern Essex County and the Detroit River Hawk Watch in eastern Michigan adjacent to the Detroit River, are the best known and most prolific sites in the region. Daily watches since about the first of September have resulted in between 1300 and almost 2000 birds being recorded passing through so far.

These migrating raptors follow the Lake Erie shoreline, since they don't like to cross large open stretches of water, and exit the province where the water is the narrowest. Hence places along the Detroit River are where the birds are eventually most concentrated.

However before the birds get to the Detroit River many pass through southern Chatham-Kent, and near the shoreline is often a good place to watch from. Winds from the NE-N-NW are typically good conditions to help the birds to move.

Yesterday, Saturday Sept 13, the winds were fairly brisk from the N-NW which is usually favourable. However the heavy overcast conditions were not the best for hawk watching, at least initially, but when the forecast indicated some clearing in the afternoon, I ventured out. But I went to a more local place. The shoreline east of Rondeau and south of Morpeth is one of the better locations. And since a rare Swainson's Hawk had been reported from the Hawk Cliff site the day before, I was hoping I could find it passing through the Rondeau area!

Initially there wasn't much movement. Almost immediately a single Sharp-shinned Hawk flew through fairly low down. I decided to get my camera ready in anticipation of more action. The raptor movement was rather sporadic, which is par for the course. From time to time, there were several birds in view, and then there were stretches of 10-15 minutes or so without a single bird to be seen.

As the sky cleared a bit, the birds got a little more active. Overall in the almost two hours I was there, I observed 34 raptors of 7 species: Sharp-shinned Hawk--14; Cooper's Hawk--1; American Kestrel--2; Broad-winged Hawk--2; Merlin--1, Bald Eagle--7; Turkey Vulture--7.

Photography wasn't the easiest, since much of the sky was still partly cloudy. And the birds were on the move, of course, and mostly quite distant. However I got a few shots.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
 This isn't the normal profile one expects of a Broad-wing on migration. However due to the brisk wind and cloudy skies, there weren't any thermals of rising air to float upwards and along on. So today their wings and tail weren't showing the typical look.

Broad-winged Hawk

Bald Eagle juvenile

Bald Eagle adult
It is possible that one of the sub-adult eagles I saw was double counted, so I may have only seen 6, not 7. At one point I did have three eagles in view simultaneously. Photos of these birds were a challenge. Even though the camera set-up I was using was the equivalent of a 12X binocular, with the birds being mostly a kilometre or more away, I had to do some heavy cropping to even get these!

Alas, I didn't see a Swainson's Hawk. But I did see this.

Gashawk (not a raptor :-)
The Broad-winged Hawks should be moving in large numbers in the next week or so. Mostly sunny skies with light NW winds are ideal for them to move in substantial numbers. Usually upwards of 100,000 of them are recorded from one or more of the hawk watch sites over the course of the season. On one occasion several years ago, the Holiday Beach site recorded about 80,000 in one day! Kettles of them can be seen almost anywhere slightly inland from the Lake Erie shoreline. I am looking forward to getting out again soon!


  1. Hi Allen, thanks so much for all the great info and pics. What a treasury of direction for those of us who love to explore the nooks and crannies of Rondeau's many delights. Off to look for those raptors. See you along Erie's shores. Gord and Maria

  2. Hi Gord and Maria.....thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoy the blog information and yes, I hope to see you soon somewhere in the greater Rondeau area.