It was more than eight years ago that I first heard about the Hawk Watch, run by Big Frank, over at Rosetta McClain Gardens (near Danforth Avenue and Kingston Road).
During my first visit I found Frank standing by the fence that keeps people from getting too close and personal with the Scarborough Bluffs. I introduced myself and told him I was interested in seeing a few hawks. In my first year with the hawk watch ‘a few’ became thousands and ‘hawks’ became eagles, owls, falcons, and dozens of other species that migrate along Lake Ontario and pass by the park.
I met my good friend Lee at the hawk watch and still remember how excited we were when we saw our first eagle. It couldn’t have been bigger than a spot in the sky, like the little ‘m’s that people draw in place of flying birds. Nevertheless we were high-fiving and took way too many photos. (Lee was still using a 35 mm film camera!)
I remember another day, many moons ago, when my friend Carol and I were scoping out a red-tailed hawk nest. We were watching the nest, hoping to catch sight of the babies, when a random guy on a bike pedalled over and asked what we were looking at. We showed him the nest and – though you may not believe it – I may have gone on and on about how amazing red-tails were.
Peter, the cyclist, stuck around and watched the parents fly to and from the nest. We even had a heart-pounding moment when one of the little eyas sat on the edge of the nest, pooped, and almost fell out! Just like that Peter was hooked. He’s been coming to the Hawk Watch at Rosetta ever since.
So what makes us all keep coming back to see the migrating raptors? Well, for me it’s the hope of seeing one more eagle at eye level. Though they often fly hundreds of feet above the ground, remember where the hawk watch is. An eagle flying 100 feet above Lake Ontario puts it pretty close to the top of the Bluffs!
Perhaps more importantly, it’s just taking a few hours out of my day, grabbing a coffee, and talking with some great people. I’ll never forget the day we were all standing around, waiting for our next bird, when a lady came up and asked what we were looking at. Big Frank, with a straight face, told her we were whale watching.
Although Big Frank is no longer with us, the hawk watch he started lives on. This is our 11th year and we’re always happy to meet new people. We can’t promise you’ll see any whales, but as long as birds are migrating they’ll be flying past Rosetta. Join us between September and November (morning or early afternoon is best) and with time and a little patience you might just see one of the 11,128 birds of prey we counted in 2014.
Monarch butterflies are migrating over the park now too. You might just see Terry Whittam tagging them as they make their journey to Mexico.
Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer – naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca