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217. Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch, Elgin County, Ontario

This hawk watch overlooking the north shore of Lake Erie records up to 15 raptor species daily in fall.
By Dave Brown | Published: 8/18/2015

I’ve been making the trek to Hawk Cliff for almost 30 years. I usually try to arrive early, before the raptors are in the air, to look for migrant songbirds. A wonderful, large mulberry tree near the main observation area is often filled with warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, and other species.

As the morning progresses, I’ll first see raptors that tend to move early: Merlins, Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and low-flying Northern Harriers. By mid-morning, the larger buteos catch building thermals, soaring upward before heading off to the west.

The place to watch for hawks is a knoll that is just steps from the parking area. On a mid-September day in 2000, I witnessed the passage of more than 131,000 raptors, mostly Broad-winged Hawks. I’ll never forget the sight of kettle after kettle boiling up into the sky. In late October 2011, I was treated to incredible views of 68 Golden Eagles passing overhead.

The best days have moderate-to-strong north, northwest, or northeast winds with a good buildup of cumulus clouds. On any given day, expect to see as many as 15 different raptor species; typical daily totals reach several hundred to a few thousand birds. — Dave Brown

Dave Brown is the official counter at the Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch and is its liaison to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

217. Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch, Elgin County, Ontario

Directions

The Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch is located just east of Port Stanley, near the midpoint of the north shore of Lake Erie. From St. Thomas, take Fairview Rd. (Cty. Rd. 22) south for 7.1 miles (11.5 km) to Dexter Line. Continue south as the road becomes Hawk Cliff Rd. and the surface changes to gravel. Go 0.75 miles (1.2 km) to the viewing area.

Downloadable Files

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
42°39’50.63″N 81°10’12.70″W

Habitat

Cliffs overlooking Lake Erie, patches of Carolinian forest, agricultural fields, tree lines.

Terrain

Mostly flat. Wheelchair-accessible, depending on condition of ground.

Birds

More than 200 species. Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged, Red-tailed, and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon (rare), Mississippi Kite (rare), Swainson’s Hawk (uncommon), Tundra Swan, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow- and Black-billed Cuckoos, Townsend’s Solitaire (uncommon), Northern Mockingbird, White-eyed Vireo (uncommon), Cape May, Bay-breasted, and Prairie Warblers, Scarlet Tanager.

When to go

September to December for raptors. September and early October for songbirds.

Amenities

Portable restrooms. Live-raptor talks on two weekends in mid-September. Volunteers usually on site to assist in spotting and identifying birds.

Access

Operated by non-profit Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch and St. Thomas Field Naturalists. Open 7-4 most days, September through November. No fees. Land around hawk watch is private; visitors have access only to east side of property and only along inside edge of landowner’s field. Parking area is alongside observation knoll.

Tips

Bring binoculars, scope, folding chair, layers of clothing, hat, gloves, and food and drink.

For more info

Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch
St. Thomas Field Naturalist Club

Sites nearby

Port Stanley Lagoons
Just west of Port Stanley. Great for shorebirds, waterfowl, and passing raptors. Large viewing stands accessible from road.

Port Burwell Provincial Park
22 miles east of hawk watch on lakeshore. A 570-acre park good for spring and fall migrant songbirds.

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