NeilyWorld Birding Ottawa - Favourite Outlying Sites
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Independent Directions to this Site: Derby Hill is about 4 hours south of Ottawa by car. Take Highway 417 west to the Highway 416 exit (132). Follow 416 SSE 80 km to Highway 401. Turn right onto 401 and go 60 km to exit 661 (bridge to the USA). Follow the signs for the 1000 Islands Bridge and the USA south for 4 km to the border and Interstate 81. (* Note: Remember to have your telescopes, binoculars and cameras registered at Canadian customs before crossing the border. This eliminates any hassles re duty upon reentry.) Follow I81 for 93 km Route 13 (exit 36) at Pulaski. Go east on 13 for 6.0 km to Highway 3. Turn left or south on 3 and drive 7.1 km to Route 104B. There turn right or west and proceed 0.8 km to Sage Creek Drive. Turn right or north onto Sage Creek Drive and go 1.9 km to the Lake Ontario shore. Park at the bottom on the right hand side if it is crowded or the road up the hill is in poor condition. Otherwise, go to the top of the hill on Grandview Drive. Please obey the appropriate signs and drive up the hill only where indicated. From here visitor signs will guide you through the short walk to the North Lookout.
Map of Derby Hill Area
Site Description and Birding Information: This is the best hawk watch site within striking distance of Ottawa. More than 40,000 hawks are counted annually on average. The main reason for this is its location on the southeast corner of Lake Ontario. No thermals occur over water, so migrants follow the lakeshore east until they can turn the corner over land.
Hawks may start migrating past Derby Hill as early as the first week in February and can continue in very small numbers to at least the second week of June. Early March through mid-May is the main migration period. The best time to visit, for peak numbers, is between mid-April and mid-May. Numbers can be astounding. On April 22, 1985 there were 18,493 Broad-winged Hawks. A paid observer is on hand to counts hawks from March 1 to May 30. Hawk migration is highly dependent on the weather. Winds out of any southerly quadrant are a favorable indicator, winds from the west somewhat so. Northerly winds or widespread precipitation are unfavorable. Generally, activity is slight until 10:00 AM or so.
August through November, both Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers can be seen fairly regularly from the Derby Hill bluff. Best conditions are when there are stiff northwest winds. Franklin's, Little, Black-headed, Sabine's Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwake have all been seen from this location. Little Gull and Kittiwake are annual.
On the left, on the road into Derby Hill Observatory (Sage Creek Road), you will see a small parking lot. This is the South Lookout, where the hawk watchers sometimes station themselves, especially during northerly winds.
Rare birds recorded here include 14 Swainson's Hawks over the years, ranging in date from March 31 to May 24. A Mississippi Kite flew over May 10, 1990. An American Swallow-tailed Kite was seen on April 16, 1976. A northwest wind on September 5, 1977 brought Long-tailed Jaeger. A strange eagle was a special event for approximately 100 observers on the April 24, 1994. Although the discussion still continues, it was probably a White-tailed Sea Eagle. Northern Gannet has been seen twice, November 24, 1982 and November 17, 1983. A Magnificent Frigatebird was seen briefly on September 23, 1990. A Gyrfalcon was seen on November 20, 1981. Black Vulture has been seen rarely, but increasingly. A new daily high was set as 3 of them passed on March 25, 2003. Razorbill (Oct. 21, 2006); Manx Shearwater (Oct. 23, 2006).
The North Lookout property was originally purchased by Syracuse University. Later it was passed on to the Nature Conservancy who eventually turned it over to Onondaga Audubon Society. The cottage is open to the public. You can sign-in and take a Derby Hill Brochure. Derby Hill T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats are for sale. Coffee, refreshments and light snacks are also available. All proceeds/donations go to help DHBO (nonprofit). More information about this site is available at the Onondaga Audubon website describing the Derby Hill Observatory. Other websites include its Important Bird Area page and the NYSDEC page .
The Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club (OFNC) has a field trip most years to Derby Hill. Check the OFNC Excursions site for upcoming trips and details.
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Copyright © 2000 - 2009 Larry E. Neily
Last update: October 25, 2009