hawk being banded by volunteersOrnithology students watch a hawk being banded to track its movements, Saturday during a field expedition to the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory. Photo by Kevin Oun

Field expedition takes ornithology students to migration hotspot

A hands-on outdoor learning exercise took 42 University of Windsor students to the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory on the north shore of Lake Erie on Saturday, September 29. The students learned about scientific strategies for counting hawk movements, and took part in banding large birds such as hawks, and small birds like warblers and thrushes.

Biology professor Dan Mennill said his students are lucky to be studying ornithology in this part of the world.

“Essex County is a migration hotspot, and just a short drive from campus we can observe a tremendous diversity of birds as they migrate south,” he said.

The students counted 56 species of birds in migration, including clouds of turkey vultures and a near-constant stream of blue jays moving south for the winter.

“This experience truly brought what we are learning in class to life,” said Mikayla Bornais, a second-year concurrent education student. “Seeing a migrating kingfisher hover over the water, hunting for fish, was truly breathtaking. Learning about these features in a textbook or in class can be challenging and isn't nearly as impressionable.”

Dr. Mennill said the observatory’s volunteers helped to create an outstanding learning experience, sharing their knowledge about the importance of hawk counting and bird banding.

“Spending this time at Holiday Beach was one of the best learning experiences I've ever had,” said Kevin Oun, a fourth-year biology major. “Watching passionate people out in the field and taking a small part in their activities has given me a greater sense of involvement in my learning of ornithology.”

Classmate Brenten Vercruysse said the day’s activities gave him a chance to see live birds up-close, and learn how banding birds aids in understanding their migration.

“A friendly birder on the Holiday Beach Hawk Tower told our group: If you’re not having fun birding, then you’re doing something wrong,” said Vercruysse. “We definitely did it right on our trip to Holiday Beach… we had a lot of fun during this field expedition.”

More photos from the expedition are available on Mennill’s website.