In Niagara skies, there will soon be far more raptors available than those who get regularly throttled on Toronto's professional basketball court. Each spring provides an annual migration of hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures, and the celestial show is free. However, with a pair of binoculars, you can get a much better view of our feathered friends.
Kim Frohlich, an ecologist with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, advises that the best place to view these powerful specimens is at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area. The Hawkwatch
season runs from March 1 to May 15 as birds of prey make their spring migration from South and Central America, the Caribbean and the United States
to their nesting territories in Canada.
Along the scenic Lookout Trail, you may enjoy panoramic views of the 40 Mile Creek Valley, Lake Ontario's shoreline and the escarpment ridge. There is access to the Bruce Trail at this Conservation Area, and the trails also provide access for wheelchairs to three observation platforms.
Raptors are fluid and powerful, suggesting an extension that we can only approximate in our bulky aluminium containers that offer aisle or window seats for journeys near and far.
Kim wants us to join the flock, become part of the global watch of raptor migration. She promises Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks and other species. On average, 15,000 birds of prey pass over the Beamer Memorial Conservation Area each spring.
Birds of prey hunt for food primarily on the wing, using keen senses, especially vision. Their talons and beaks are relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing or piercing flesh. In most cases, the females are considerably larger than the males.
The fun part for the uninitiated in the migratory process is that members of the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch group (NPH) will be on site during good weather and viewing conditions from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 1 to May 15, as they count the raptors flying over, monitor the status of these bird populations and answer any questions visitors might have.
One question that comes to mind is why bother to count them? The answer is that unlike our federal government, birders take the census seriously. Migrating bird populations' trends serve as valuable biological indicator of ecosystem health. Kim Frohlich suggests that raptors are top-level predators, occupying large home ranges, inhabiting most ecosystems, and they are sensitive to environmental contamination and other human disturbances. The canary in the coal mine sort of thing. Population decreases are signs of environmental problems, another issue that collective governments seem to avoid much like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand.
Raptor migration at Beamer has been monitored for 36 years, with the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch leading this work since 1990. Last year, the highest annual count of Turkey Vulture and Peregrine Falcons was observed. It will be instructive to see if this trend continues.
Mark your calendars for the annual Good Friday Open House at the NPCA which takes place on Earth Day - April 22, 2011. Many interesting activities are being planned for visitors including live hawk demonstrations, talks on the hawk migration, and a children's program.
Travel along the QEW and take exit 71 (Christie St.) in Grimsby Travel south along Christie street (it turns into Mountain Rd. at Regional Road 81) Follow Mountain Rd. south up to the top of the escarpment. Turn right (west) onto Ridge Rd. Turn right (north) onto Quarry Rd. The entrance is on Quarry Rd. For more information, see
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.