Hotspots Near You

244. Rosetta McClain Gardens Raptor Watch, Toronto, Ontario

A superb spot to watch hawks migrating along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.
By Ron Pittaway | Published: 8/23/2016

My favorite hawk watch sits atop the Scarborough Bluffs in Canada’s largest city. It affords spectacular views of Lake Ontario, and on clear days you can see the mist rising from Niagara Falls across the lake. Hawks often fly low along the bluffs, providing exceptional opportunities for close study.

The late Frank Butson, affectionately known as Big Frank, founded the watch in 2004 after spotting raptors flying past and realizing the park was on a migration path. On most days from August to November, official counter Walter Fisher tallies the hawks migrating west along the shoreline. My most memorable sighting was a juvenile gray-morph Gyrfalcon on November 23, 2013. Fast Northern Goshawks sometimes dazzle, flying up suddenly from the edge of the bluffs and passing near our heads. When hawks move below eye level, we get terrific views of their seldom-seen upperparts.

The park is often alive with warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other landbirds. Thousands of Blue Jays stream west in September. Expect good movements of diurnal migrants such as Common Loon, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Bluebird, and Cedar Waxwing. Flower gardens attract hummingbirds and numerous butterfly species. — Ron Pittaway

Ron Pittaway is the author of the annual Winter Finch Forecast and a voting member of the American Birding Association’s Checklist Committee. He is also a founding member of Ontario Field Ornithologists, a past chair of its bird records committee, and a former co-editor of Ontario Birds. He also wrote about the Carden Alvar in Kirkfield, Ontario, Hotspot Near You No. 47.

244. Rosetta McClain Gardens Raptor Watch, Toronto, Ontario

Directions

The Rosetta McClain Gardens Raptor Watch overlooks Lake Ontario within a public park in Toronto. From east- or westbound Kingston Rd., exit at Glen Everest Rd. Make an immediate right onto the narrow lane leading to the parking area for the Rosetta McClain Gardens. Walk 100 yards to the bluff-side fence, site of the hawk watch.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
43°41’48.48″N 79°15’15.20″W

Habitat

Landscaped and manicured gardens, bluffs over lake.

Terrain

Mostly flat. Hawk watch is a grassy clearing and paved path. Wheelchair-accessible.

Birds

210 species. Hawk watch: Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged, and Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. Uncommon: Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle. Black Vulture and Gyrfalcon recorded. Other birds: Common Loon, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole.

When to go

September and October best. Conditions ideal on days following a cold front with a moderately strong northwest wind. Cold fronts trigger migration, and northwest winds concentrate hawks along shoreline. Mid-morning to mid-afternoon most productive.

Amenities

Restrooms, water fountain, benches. No picnics, dogs, or bicycles.

Access

City park. Open daily. No fees. Bus route 12 stops on Kingston Rd., just outside the garden. (See www.ttc.ca for schedules and other info.)

Tips

Binoculars essential. Hat, jacket, and gloves necessary later in season. A snack, beverage, and folding chair increase your enjoyment.

For more info

Rosetta McClain Gardens Raptor Watch blog
Rosetta McClain Gardens
Fall hawk-watching guide and sites in Ontario
Toronto Ornithological Club

Sites nearby

High Park
12.3 miles southwest of gardens on Parkside Dr. Hawk watch, run by Toronto Ornithological Club, in center of park on Hawk Hill.

Tommy Thompson Park
Hotspot Near You No. 78
5.7 miles southwest of gardens on Leslie St. More than 300 species, including shorebirds and waterfowl.

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