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by Doug Harvey
Hawk Cliff Weekends

For visitors that missed last year's Hawk Cliff Weekends, the familiar presentations that would be held from the back of a pickup truck are gone, and are held in open air tents, with seating for the people that come to attend the presentations. It's a better system except that pictures are harder to take in the confined tent. The changes began when Hawk Cliff Woods was acquired by Thames Talbot Land Trust in May of last year, and they decided to use a small plot of the property, to create a parking lot, in order to accommodate a larger number of visitors and provide better access to Hawk Cliff Woods trails and events. This integration of the St. Thomas Field Naturalist Club, the Hawk Cliff Banders, Monarch Watch, and the Thames Talbot Land Trust all in one area gives the public a better understanding of all the hard work that these volunteers go to hold these presentations.

Monarch butterfly tagging and raptor banding provides a rare opportunity for the public to get up close and personal with nature, to look and touch is a thrill that many won't forget. The number of monarch butterflies has dropped dramatically in recent years, and is due mostly to habitat loss. This years warm September temperatures have also postponed normal migrations that normally occur at this time of year. The St. Thomas Field Naturalists also give an informative demonstration on how they tag Monarch butterflies. The generation they tag each year are known as the Methuselah generation and they will fly 1,969 miles to the winter migration site in Mexico. The tagging allows researchers to determine migration pathways, the influence of weather on migration, know the timing of migration, and estimate the size of the Monarch butterfly migration.

The sex of the Monarch can be determined by looking at its wings. The bottom two wings will have enlarged circular black pouches if it is a male, and not if it is female. Monarch butterflies are rather large. The smaller versions of them you see are not baby Monarchs, they are Viceroy butterflies. Destruction of habitat, particularly the loss of milkweed on which the Monarch lays its eggs and on which the larvae depend for food, is contributing towards the decline in the Monarch butterfly population. Unlike hawks, the Monarchs will fly directly across the lake.

What the hawk spotters and banders are looking for are winds out of the north to push the birds south, up against the colder air over the water of Lake Erie. The hawks ride the thermals and thus won't fly directly over the lake. Instead, they migrate along the shoreline until they reach the narrow crossing area at Detroit. If it's a clear day, the hawks will be soaring very high - hard to spot, hard to identify, and the Hawk Cliff Raptor Banders can forget about catching many to band. The Hawk Cliff Raptor Banders have also noticed a declining Raptor population over the years in the area and point to climate change as a possible reason for the decline in many Raptor populations.

At the hawk demonstrations speakers show live specimens of the various types of hawks that have been caught and banded shortly before the demonstration. They talk about the hawk, it's distinguishing features, how it lives and what it eats, letting the public get a good look at the birds up close and personal. Most of the birds caught are hatching year birds and they are released following each demonstration.


Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2017 16:24:36 PM EST

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