Giving Tuesday: Memories of Hawk Cliff Woods

Leading up to Giving Tuesday 2021, we are excited to present the stories of TTLT supporters and their relationships with our nature reserves. The second story we have the privilege to share is from Bob Johnstone highlighting the sights, sounds, and more that bring him back to Hawk Cliff Woods.

I claim no degrees or doctorates in anything to do with nature. What I do declare is my compelling passion for nature as a whole, with admittedly a strong bias toward my many fine feathered friends, the birds.

Reminiscing through several years of trekking throughout Hawk Cliff and Hawk Cliff Woods conjures up way too many sights and sounds and experiences to simply express in a few words. However, there are some seasonal images that come strongly to mind that can, in a unique way, express how a relationship with nature develops as you spend time together.

The fresh spring air, the resounding drumming of woodpeckers calling out to attract a mate, the sudden swooshing sound of a flock of bluebirds or robins invading the yet barren trees in search of refuge and rest as they journey to their home nesting grounds; and the new life of many plants and flowers peeking out through a blanket of snow are only the beginning of the sights, sounds and experiences of yet another year in the life of Hawk Cliff Woods.

As spring moves forward the passerines in their attractive mating attire return to their respective chosen homes. Those that have chosen to reside in Hawk Cliff Woods are soon in a hustle bustle mode attracting mates and building nests to house an anticipated new family.

It is not too long from the short respite between nest building and laying eggs that the adults are caught up in a constant tireless search for food in answer to the incessant cries of their young demanding to be fed.

Soon spring has quietly shifted into early summer. The floor of the woods changes its blanket covering almost bi-weekly to display new plant and flower life claiming the woods as their rightful home as well. This new life provides various food and resources for the wildlife as well as offering an array of bountiful colour. Even the invasive species of plants have an attractiveness that somewhat distracts from their subtle but ferocious march to conquer the entire woodlot for themselves. The trees by now have quietly but noticeably opened up their canopies to provide camouflage covering for the birds and other animals and serves as air conditioning from the heat of the hot summer days.

Time has a tendency to slide by quickly and soon summer is beginning to be replaced by the autumn season. Passerines with their new families are now passing through, heading south, many dressed in new attire, on their way to their winter residences. Large flocks of European starlings swoop and twist and dance meticulously across the sky in a display of precision aerobatics. Roosts of Monarch Butterflies suddenly explode in the heat of the early morning sun and silently and gracefully continue their venture to answer a calling to a place they have never been to before. Young raptors such as American kestrel, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks and merlin begin passing through the area under the watchful eyes of raptor counters and banders as well. Some raptors through foolishness, expecting to grab a quick and easy meal from a banding station, end up traveling onward donning some fine new jewellery. Early morning will reveal peregrine falcons blasting quickly along the shoreline through the strong southwest winds, displaying their profound power and flying skills. Not long after the young raptors have moved on the adult raptors follow suit and sightings of hundreds upon hundreds of broad winged hawks drift through overhead in kettles, streaming from thermal to thermal, conserving energy for the long trip. Osprey, Northern harrier, red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, red-shouldered hawks, Swainson’s hawks along with turkey vultures and bald eagles and golden eagles each take their turn in adorning the overhead sky.

Winter soon begins to move in and the migration trail is now empty. The fallen leaves of the trees now lay as a colourful carpet on the ground. My early morning arrival reveals a six point white tailed stag standing stately and perfectly motionless at the south end of the roadway. His head occasionally disappears in the warm vapours of his breath as it penetrates into the cold air. He shows no fear of my presence. We have met before.

Soon the colourful fall blanket is replaced by a soft white blanket of snow. It appears as though the blanket of snow has comfortably tucked everything in for a long rest from all the activity of the spring and summer and fall seasons. The silence of an early morning winter walk through the woods is pierced by the alarm of the sentinel blue jay announcing the presence of an intruder and the staring inquisitive eyes of a black squirrel make sure that I know that I am being watched. All that is left of the busy nighttime activities of the winter residents are the footprints left behind in the snow.

As I look over the barrenness and up into the bleak looking sky, I suddenly have a cheerful remembrance of my fine feathered friends. In my thoughts I wish them a safe journey to their winter home, and in my heart I yearn for their return.

Written by Bob Johnstone

Photos from top to bottom: Downy Woodpecker by Brenda Gallagher; Trout Lily by John St. Pierre; Red-tailed Hawk by Mark Cunningham; Forest Landscape by Darby Alderson