Festival of Hawks draws hundreds to Holiday Beach Conservation Area

 

 

By Jolene Perron

 

The Festival of Hawks is Essex Region Conservation Authority’s annual celebration of the great migration.

Described as one of the hidden gems of the Essex Region, Holiday Beach is home to one of the most spectacular animal migrations in the natural world. With the cooperation of the timing and weather, thousands of hawks soar overhead. Members of The Holiday Beach Migration Observatory are on the hawk tower from September to early November and the festival is designed to add some more family friendly elements.

Bob Hall-Brooks with The Holiday Beach Migration Observatory speaks to a crowd of birders at the Festival of Hawks Saturday about the birds they have recently caught and banded.

Events planner for the Essex Region Conservation Authority, Alex Denonville explained this is his third year being involved with the festival. He said his favorite part is seeing the families who come out and experience the event.

“One of the first families that was here this morning, they were here at 8:45, they came from South-East Michigan and we had the bander, Bob Hall-Brooks, capture a hummingbird, something they had never seen in their lives,” said Denonville. “To be able to experience that up close and personal, and for me to be a part of that and kind of facilitate that interaction, that’s the more rewarding part. When I see little kids just in awe of that, I know it’s making a difference and it’s getting them to think about it and hopefully when they grow up they will want to protect that.”

Hall-Brooks said the organization was started in 1974, when a group found Holiday Beach to be the best place to watch the fall migration. The tower itself, he said was set up in 1987, and he came along just two years later. At the time however, he was not a birder.

Cindy Cartwright member of Holiday Beach, founder and lead researcher for hummingbirds Canada looks for hawks on the hawk tower at Holiday Beach during the Festival of Hawks Saturday. Cartwright is one of the official counters of the hawks. She was on location Saturday and Sunday answering questions.

“I used to laugh at birders but my wife and I were driving around the county and we found Holiday Beach conservation authority, came in, saw the sign that said Hawk Tower,” said Hall-Brooks. “We climbed up and this was about mid-October and the fella up on the tower showed us, and shared with us, four different species of hawk flying about 20 feet over my head. I was doing a high-stress job at the time … and it just seemed to be a nice place to come and de-stress. Looking out at the marsh, looking up and counting the hawks, so that’s how I started.”

From there, he came out every Sunday to watch the hawks. He began helping with the counts two years later, and continued with that for 15 years before taking over the songbird banding. Hall-Brooks is one of only three people in all of Ontario who is able to band a hummingbird.

Elaine Guitar van Loo works with sepia ink during the Festival of Hawks, doing an ink study of the trail.

“I’ve been coming here for the past 10 years with my kids,” said event attendee Emma Poirier. “We love nature and I just like to bring them here so they can experience nature and experience the birds and learn about whatever the Essex Region Conservation Authority has to offer. It’s just a good way for them to learn all kinds of things about nature and interact and ask questions. This was the first time that they saw the birds of prey up close, so that was really exciting. They really love birds of prey and we actually saw some hummingbirds on the way here too.”

The Festival of Hawks continues next weekend, Sept. 16-17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Holiday Beach Migration Observatory will also be on location for an additional weekend. For more information on the festival, visit http://hbmo.ca/blog/festival-of-hawks-2017. People can also visit http://www.erca.org/birding.

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