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 People can also visit

“Festival of Hawks” returns to Holiday Beach this weekend



Special to the RTT


All eyes will be on the skies this September as local birders and nature lovers take in one of North America’s greatest migrations.

These watchers will call the Holiday Beach Conservation Area home as they take in a grand spectacle: tens of thousands of hawks and raptors flying overhead on their annual journey to nesting grounds in the south.

In recognition of the amazing sight, Essex Region Conservation, in partnership with the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory (HBMO), will host the 2017 Festival of Hawks. The festival, which runs the second and third weekends of September, features a range of free educational activities and nature-themed programming.

HBMO experts will be on-site conducting hawk banding and adoptions. Event goers will get up close and personal to a variety of raptors as experts measure, tag, and then release these birds back into the wild. Visitors will also be in awe at the live raptor display of Kingsport Environmental, a local organization that rescues and rehabilitates raptors and promotes falconry through education programs.

Free educational programs will compliment the ongoing banding and live hawk display throughout both weekends. Local experts will be on-site to teach on a wide range of birding and nature-related topics.

A staff member and Titan the Harris Hawk from Kingsport Environmental engage with festival-goers in 2016. The 2017 edition of the Festival of Hawks runs at Holiday Beach Conservation Area Sept. 9-10 and Sept. 16-17.

These programs include:

  • HBMO’s Bob Pettit will share his years of experience on identifying hawks in flights.
  • Ted Kloske, of Henry’s Windsor and Maple Grove Studios, and Glenn Gervais, of Southshore Outdoor Photography, will help budding photographers get their best nature shot.
  • Bird Studies Canada’s own Amanda Bichel will be on-site to discuss the significance of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas across Ontario
  • HBMO’s Jeremy Hatt will share his tips and tricks on using mobile applications like iNaturalist

“There’s something for everyone at the Festival of Hawks. The programs are designed to be accessible to everyone, from amateur to expert naturalists,” explained ERCA’s Director of Community Outreach Services, Danielle Stuebing. “It’s also a great event for families, as we also host an educational Hawk Fest Scavenger Hunt and offer free face painting for kids.”

The Festival of Hawks runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 9-10 and 16-17. Visitors can also enjoy lunch provided by the Essex County Field Naturalists’ Blue Kestrel Café or HBMO’s BBQ Booth.

All programs are free with the festival admission fee of $15 per vehicle. The final list of programs is available at

The best raptor viewing time is from 9 a.m. until noon when the hawks fly low. The Holiday Beach Conservation Area is located on County Road 50, on Lake Erie near Malden Centre approximately 15 km southeast of historic Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, a half hour drive from Highway 401 and only 40 minutes from the Ambassador Bridge for those coming from Detroit.

About 160 runners get “wet and wild” at Hawk Run


By Ron Giofu


Runners and walkers returned to Holiday Beach Conservation Area again this year and were doused with water along the way.

The “Wet and Wild” Hawk Run was held Sunday morning at the County Road 50 conservation area, with ERCA event planner Alex Denonville stating about 160 runners and walkers took part overall. That figure included the kids’ dash that preceded the run itself.

Runners get drenched with water as they compete in the "Wet & Wild" Hawk Run Aug. 20 at Holiday Beach Conservation Area.

Runners get drenched with water as they compete in the “Wet & Wild” Hawk Run Aug. 20 at Holiday Beach Conservation Area.

At least that many volunteers were on the route itself, spraying runners and walkers with water, throwing buckets of water on them or arranging that they walk through a makeshift tunnel of foam. The Amherstburg Fire Department was also on hand to make sure the participants got wet.

“We have a great group of volunteers,” said Denonville.

Denonville added he was pleased with how the event turned out.

“It was awesome. You couldn’t ask for better weather,” he said. “Holiday Beach is an incredible place to be. It’s all about friends, it’s all about bringing family out. It’s a great event to host.”

ERCA partners with Walkers and Runners From Around the County of Essex (WRACE) and has other area sponsors as well, Denonville noted, with ERCA’s proceeds from the event to stay at Holiday Beach. He noted such projects as the eco-washroom and new cottage that will be soon available for renting as projects done at the site.

Megan and Heather Gagnon cross the finish line at the end of the kids’ dash as part of the "Wet & Wild" Hawk Run held at Holiday Beach Conservation Area Aug. 20.

Megan and Heather Gagnon cross the finish line at the end of the kids’ dash as part of the “Wet & Wild” Hawk Run held at Holiday Beach Conservation Area Aug. 20.

“This is one of the great events that highlight our conservation areas,” Denonville added.

Each participant received a medal and children received water guns as well with a free lunch also offered, thanks to the sponsors. The run/walk itself was 5K and took place within Holiday Beach.

To see the RTT’s photo album on the event, click here.

High lake levels at Holiday Beach eliminate large portion of beach



By Jolene Perron

“Holiday Beach as lost approximately 50 feet of sandy beach. There are still sandy areas, but it is much more limited now.”

Director of conservation services for Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) Kevin Money said what’s left of the beach is still accessible but there is a short drop off where waves have worn into the shoreline.
“We are not aware of higher lake levels having any effect on bacteria levels,” said Money. “The Health Unit tests regularly and we post our beach accordingly to make sure swimmers are aware of the health risks.”

Currently, they are looking into beach nourishment, which means to import and place more sand on the beach. Additionally, the are looking into shoreline protection, which would involve hardening the shoreline with rock or other designed structure to prevent further erosion, which Tim Byrne, director of watershed management explained is a very large concern based on past history.

“In 1986, those were all-time record high lake levels,” said Byrne. “In 1985/86, we lost several trees, we lost the sand beach and the shoreline eroded and moved landward. As lake levels started to recede, sand came back but the shoreline had receded several meters from its starting point early in 1985. The shoreline stayed relatively stable until 1998 when again, in 1998 we have a briefer high-level period and during that period of time, the beach was lost, some erosion had taken place, we didn’t lose any trees at that point in time.”

During this high lake level period, Byrne explained the lake started to elevate in 2015, increasing over 2016 and now into 2017. Currently, we have lost approximately a meter and a half of shoreline, which is nearing the amount lost in the 1985/86 high lake levels.

Holiday Beach has been impacted by higher lake levels.

Holiday Beach has been impacted by higher lake levels.

Historically, the beach does tend to return according to Byrne. However, the underlying clay and till gets lost and the shoreline overall will move closer. Previously, it took about 12 months after the lake levels were noticeably lowering for the beach level to return to a “normal” state.

“Once you’re at that period of time when lake levels were elevated well above average levels, your coastal process has changed dramatically,” explained Byrne. “There’s something that’s called lateral drift, and that is the capability of the shoreline and the near shore to carry sand and move sand around. Once your area immediately off shore exceeds a meter of depth, that all changes and that’s why the sand kind of disappears, because the waves behave differently. The calmer water periods where you have shallower water is all different, timing is different, and how the lake reacts during storm events is different and it causes sand to be removed, to be pulled out and it causes the underlying soil to erode. When the sand is not there to protect the clay and the till, then the lake actively erodes it.”

Byrne said ERCA doesn’t want to talk all “gloom and doom” because they want people to still come out and enjoy the properties that are available. The beach will return, and ERCA is already putting steps in place to prepare for the beach, which will reestablish itself over time. In the meantime, the remainder of the beach is still open for use, along with their hiking trails, fishing, the hawk tower, and much more.
Holiday Beach is open from dawn until dusk daily.


ERCF hopeful of reaching $30,000 through annual golf tournament



By Ron Giofu


The Essex Region Conservation Foundation (ERCF) was the focus of a fundraising golf tournament last Thursday at Pointe West Golf Club.

The foundation, the fundraising arm of the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), hosted its 29th annual tournament and Danielle Stuebing, ERCA’s director of communications and outreach services said it was the second year of it being at Pointe West.

“It was a great day. We had almost 100 people join us,” said Stuebing. “We’re hoping to get $30,000 for conservation initiatives.”

Stuebing pointed out that the funds will go into the “Place for Life” campaign with that campaign consisting of four pillars – trails, greening the region, conservation education and heritage preservation at the John R. Park Homestead.

A number of municipalities were represented as teams with politicians and administrative members among those hitting the links.

The Essex Region Conservation Foundation (ERCF), the fundraising arm of the Essex Region Conservation Authority, held its 29th annual golf tournament last Thursday at Pointe West Golf Club. The winning team included (from left) Todd Laliberte, Jen Cassidy, Pat Cloutier and David Cassidy.

The Essex Region Conservation Foundation (ERCF), the fundraising arm of the Essex Region Conservation Authority, held its 29th annual golf tournament last Thursday at Pointe West Golf Club. The winning team included (from left) Todd Laliberte, Jen Cassidy, Pat Cloutier and David Cassidy.

“We’re very fortunate to have the support of a lot of municipalities because the work we do benefits the entire region,” said Stuebing. “It’s great to have such wonderful support.”

Susan Stockwell Andrews, president of the ERCF board of directors, told the golfers that “your partnership and support really does help” fund projects and initiatives.

“This is one of the most successful fundraisers we have each year,” said Stockwell Andrews.

The Place for Life campaign has a goal of raising $1 million over three years and Stockwell Andrews noted they are trying to preserve history as well as the environment.

“We are truly blessed to live in such a stunning area,” she told the crowd at the post-tournament dinner. “We are working to protect natural areas that you see. It’s all due to your support.”

For further information, visit