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.