Bob Hall-Brooks

Bird watchers, curious nature lovers converge at Festival of Hawks



By Ron Giofu


The first weekend of the 2018 Festival of Hawks is in the books and it brought bird watchers and nature lovers from around the area and some from the United States.

Presented last Saturday and Sunday at Holiday Beach Conservation Area, the hawk tower and the area that surrounds it was busy with bird watchers looking out for the various hawks and other birds that flew overhead with hummingbird banding, owl holding, photography lessons, seminars and other nature-themed activities keeping people busy also.

The Festival of Hawks is a co-production of the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory (HBMO).

Rachel D’Eon and Melissa
Debevc came in from Chatham do do some bird watching at last weekend’s Festival of Hawks. The event continues this weekend.

Nate Soucie with Kingsport Environmental Falconry said response was “fantastic.” He noted Saturday morning was a bit slower due to fog that was in the area but things picked up once that cleared.

“It’s been a good turnout,” said Soucie last Saturday afternoon. “Now that the sun’s out, more and more people are coming out.”

Ericka Greenham brought her young son Grady on the hawk tower with Ericka noting the event was recommended to the family by her husband’s former grad student that now works for ERCA.

“This is our first time,” she said. “It’s great. We are really enjoying it.”

Rachel D’Eon and Melissa Debevc from Chatham came down to the event, noting they don’t come to the Festival of Hawks every year. They noted they often bird watch at the Pinery or Rondeau Provincial Park but enjoy the Festival of Hawks when they do come.

Bob Hall-Brooks shows a magnolia warbler during one of his talks last Saturday at the Festival of Hawks.

“It’s the only place where you can see a lot of raptors congregate at the same time,” said Debevc. “The bonus about here is not just the hawks but everything else too.”

D’Eon added that Holiday Beach is “a well-rounded place to bird.”

Bob Hall-Brooks, a hummingbird bander with HBMO, also said early Saturday fog impacted the event but that things got better when the sun came out. He indicated a number of hawks went over, adding that when he was at Holiday Beach Friday there were monarch butterflies and broad winged hawks that joined the sharp shinned and red-tailed hawks.

Hall-Brooks said the Festival of Hawks is a great opportunity to share their passion with other birders and the general public and show people birds they would normally not get to see.

“People seem to be interested. That’s always exciting,” said Hall-Brooks. “It’s so nice to place a bird in a kid’s hand. It’s nice to show them birds they wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Ericka Greenham and her son Grady take a look off of the hawk tower at Holiday Beach Conservation Area during the Festival of Hawks Sept. 15.

The Festival of Hawks continues this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 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 12 noon when the hawks fly low. The Holiday Beach Conservation Area is located on County Road 50, on Lake Erie near Malden Centre.



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