A Golden Eagle wheels low looking for an easy meal at a banding station - Photo by Mike Werner  



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Species Info

Migration #'s

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Hawkwatching at Hawk Cliff

Whether you want to see large numbers of raptors or spot a specific raptor species, it all comes down to the following factors (Click a link to jump down the page to that factor):

Time of Year

WHEN - The primary migration occurs at Hawk Cliff during the fall season. However, raptors begin to migrate by early August and will continue to migrate through to the end of December. The peak volume of raptors occurs in September, primarily due to the Broadwing flights which can hit 60,000+ birds (or higher) in a day. On the other hand the peak variety of species typically occurs in October when we can get all 15 of the usual Hawk Cliff raptor species in a single day.

WHERE - The time of year can also affect where you'll find the official counters setting up shop. For the entire month of September and into early October we use the primary site right down at the Cliff itself. However, as October wears on the flight lines shift inland a few hundred metres to "Sharpie Alley" which is just south of the ravine on Hawk Cliff Rd. By the end of October and for all of November the main flight lines are typically inland 3 or 4 km and we'll use an auxiliary site or sites to the north of Hawk Cliff near the Fruit Ridge Line. (Back to Top)


WHEN - The primary migration timeframes for the different raptor species varies greatly at Hawk Cliff (click this link or the chart image at right to see the migration chart for ALL 15 species) For instance, if you want to see Broadwings visit on the right day in September and you could see thousands...but wait till later in October and you'll miss them completely. To catch a glimpse of a Peregrine cruising past, you'll want to visit at the end of September and into early October...but don't wait till mid-October because they'll be long gone! Take a look at the "Species Info" pages for more details and charts on the migration timeframes for each species.

WHERE - The flight lines for the various raptor species are also quite variable and will at times determine where the counters sit for the day. When it is Broadwing time for example, the flight lines will almost always be just inland of the Cliff site and visitors may want to sit further up Hawk Cliff Rd. or even north of Dexter Line. However, for Bald Eagles, Osprey, Kestrels and Peregrines the place to be is right at the Cliff. During the 2006 season we had close to 1,200 Kestrels on one day and almost every one of them was right at the Cliff.  (Back to Top)

Wind Direction / Wind Speed

WHEN - Typically for larger flights the best wind direction has a north component to it and will be very strong (click on this link or the image of the wind direction pie graph at right to enlarge it). Experience has shown that during the fall season strong northwest winds push the migrating birds down toward the lake. This helps to concentrate the birds at the lakeshore and forces them to drop down to avoid being blown out over the water itself, making for excellent viewing. 

Strong northeast winds are also favourable for migration but typically allows the birds to fly higher taking advantage of a tail wind as they head west. There are often large numbers of birds on such days but they a harder to view.

Not all favourable winds are from the north. If it's Peregrines you want to see make sure to choose a day with very strong, even gale force southwest winds (click on this link or the image of the wind direction pie graph at right to enlarge it). Such winds strike the cliff face and are pushed upward creating great lift along the cliff. Many falcons, eagles and osprey take advantage of this lift to migrate effortlessly westward along the lakeshore.

Click on the following links or the images of the wind map or the Port Stanley buoy weather page (lower right) to see what the current and forecast winds are for the Hawk Cliff area.

WHERE - The flight lines for the migrating raptors are very much determined by the direction and strength of the wind. If the winds are strong from the north then on most days you'll find the flight occurring at or near the primary Cliff site. If the wind is very strong from the southwest you can also get good flights at the Cliff. However, any mostly southerly flow will push the birds inland away from the lakeshore. (Back to Top)

Cloud Cover / Precipitation

WHEN - Visitors should always take note of the amount of cloud cover (click on this link or the image of the cloud cover map to the right) and potential for precipitation (click on this link or the image of the  precipitation radar map to the right). In many cases the largest numbers are seen within a couple of days after an extended period of rain and/or fog and the passage of strong cold fronts. It seems that the birds are held up at some point north and east of Hawk Cliff, unable to pass through the poor weather conditions. Once the skies clear it's often like a floodgate has been opened with several thousand (even 10's of thousands) of raptors migrating by in a single day.

Good viewing calls for some kind of cloud cover as well. The best days are those with large puffy cumulus clouds which are a great indicator of strong thermals. These thermals are to key to raptor flight especially for soaring.

WHERE - The flight lines for the migrating raptors can also be determined by the cloud cover. This may sound strange but it has some basis in raptor flight mechanics. Raptors use thermals (rising columns of warm air) to gain altitude with a minimum of effort. On days where the cloud cover is lower and heavy, the thermals tend not to set up as well and flights are typically smaller. On days with much higher or broken cloud cover the thermals are much better for lift and the birds take advantage of this fact.         (Back to Top)



WHERE - As previously, mentioned the falcons, Bald Eagles and Osprey will follow the cliff edge itself. The cliff forms a natural barrier to the SW or S winds and pushes the air upward providing great lift for the birds.

Other raptors prefer open fields such as the Harriers. Although the Harriers can be seen right at the cliff edge they seem to like to hunt while migrating so will quarter a field looking for something to eat. The buteos also prefer open fields to find the thermals they use to gain altitude.

The Accipiters tend to follow tree lines or cruise over bush lots, most likely hunting as well. The Goshawks especially follow the ravine area to the north side of the Sharpie Alley field.

Of all the raptors the Golden Eagles seem not to use any particular terrain to their advantage. Perhaps because they tend to pass through the area at typically high flight levels. (Back to Top)





Spotters and Counters hard at work

Lots of visitors scanning the sky for raptors

Tom Thomas lending a helping hand

Steve Birch and visitors

"Official Counter" for the day - Dave Brown

Doug Brown , Mary Carnahan and Gerry Kolkman on a cold November day








Created: 2007-04-27   2007 Hawk Cliff Foundation  -  All rights reserved