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.
Landscaped and manicured gardens, bluffs over lake.
Mostly flat. Hawk watch is a grassy clearing and paved path. Wheelchair-accessible.
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.
Restrooms, water fountain, benches. No picnics, dogs, or bicycles.
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.)
Binoculars essential. Hat, jacket, and gloves necessary later in season. A snack, beverage, and folding chair increase your enjoyment.