By John Hassell
You can learn a lot about the culture of an office by its internal memos. This past June, Ontario Nature’s executive director, Caroline Schultz circulated an all-staff memo alerting us that several chimney swifts – listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as a threatened species – were flying above our building. At most workplaces, this announcement would not be a typical one. But at Ontario Nature, where birding is a common pastime about which many are passionate, no one was terribly surprised by it. Here, our most avid birders reveal their favourite fall birding spots, a surprising number of which are found either within or very near urban centres. Caroline’s pick? Along the south shore of Prince Edward County, near Belleville, which on average attracts a remarkable 220 bird species a year.
Board of directors
During the reverse migration in September, you can see as many as 70 different species of shorebirds, warblers and ducks in a single day at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. It’s hard to get that kind of variety elsewhere. The local community of knowledgeable birders make Presqu’ile incredibly accessible for visitors by giving regular updates and, if you are lucky, taking you around. One of my favourite sightings was a brant goose on one of the park’s beaches, a species that is tough to see in Ontario.
President, Ontario Nature’s board of directors
My favourite spot is my backyard in Guelph, where I have seen up to 10 species of warbler on a single fall day. I’ve even climbed up on my roof for an eye-level vantage point to watch foraging birds.
Board of directors
The fall birding season at Rattray Marsh in Mississauga is long and the species change regularly. If you can get out into the conservation area and surroundings a couple of times a week, you can see most of Ontario’s regularly occurring birds, along with a few rarities. The woodland paths in the conservation area are excellent for migrating songbirds. When raptors start moving, I often end up at Birchwood Park for a great view of broad-winged hawks in September and red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and eagles in November.
Conservation science manager
I spend American Thanksgiving in New England. On the drive down, I often stop at Montezuma Natural Wildlife Refuge in New York State, which is a great staging area for birds – especially waterfowl – also heading south from Ontario. Having crossed Lake Ontario, the birds are on the way to their warm, southern wintering grounds. I don’t have the same luxury; I return to the cold north shortly after Thanksgiving.
Director of finance and administration
For fall hawk watching, I like to go to Holiday Beach. During the fall migration, hawks fly south as far as Lake Erie but don’t cross the lake, where they would lose the thermals. So they fly west along the shoreline, and the farther west you go, the greater the volume of birds. For that reason, Holiday Beach is incredible for watching broad-winged hawks. Each fall, most of the hawks pass by within about a week, and tens of thousands have been recorded in a single day.
Director of conservation and education
In September, if there’s a northwest wind, you can see thousands of hawks in Toronto’s High Park, and around midday you stand a good chance of seeing a bald eagle. High Park is right in my neighbourhood, so I visit often.
Past President, Ontario Nature’s board of directors
The Toronto Islands are good for birding all year round, but especially in the fall, when you can see migrating owls and vagrants from the south. With a short ferry ride, the islands are accessible right from downtown Toronto.