Halls Road is one of the more interesting birding sites in the Eastern GTA. It is a short road that intersects with Victoria Rd. just east of Lake Ridge Road. It is not the most scenic drive; basically, the road bisects a couple of fields, before ending just before Lake Ontario. However, it provides the opportunity to see a diverse number of species, yet is also accessible and most importantly for me, kid-friendly. Kid-friendly in the sense of relatively short trails and the opportunities to get close encounters with some of the wildlife. In essence makes for a perfect one-two hour excursion with the little ones in tow.
This guide provides some information so that you can get the most out of your time when visiting Halls Road. However, it is by no means the definitive guide. If anyone wants to add information, please feel free as it will give other readers, including myself even more information. Likewise, the birds listed are birds that I have seen or birds that were reported through local birding web-sites. Please feel free to add any other notable sightings. Thank You.
For Birders: The fields and open area along the road provide many birding opportunities. Geese and ducks use these fields heavily during spring and fall migration. Most of these are CANADA GEESE or MALLARDS but every so often you may find a CACKLING GOOSE, SNOW GOOSE or NORTHERN PINTAIL. Raptors can be seen soaring around these fields any time of year. NORTHERN HARRIERS are the most common bird of prey, usually year-round residents of the area. RED-TAILED HAWKS are common during migration in fall and spring. SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS, COOPER'S HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTREL are also good bets during migration but this area is a raptor migration hotspot ( more on that to come...). ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK ( in winter ), BROAD-WINGED HAWK, PEREGRINE FALCON, MERLIN, NORTHERN SHRIKE ( in winter ) and SHORT-EARED OWL ( in fall, although good luck because I haven't had much with this one ). SANDHILL CRANES stop over in these fields, although they are not very common. HORNED LARKS ( common in winter ), SNOW BUNTINGS ( not so much ) and sparrows ( many types although SONG, FIELD and wintering AMERICAN TREE ) are often seen feeding along the roadside.
My best sightings
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER - A bird that was flying between the large trees at the beginning of the road
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK - Wonderful views of two birds that were hanging around a few years ago
For the Kids
The chance to see birds of prey are pretty good and sometimes they can be seen at close range. Perfect for a winter drive, when you feel the need to get out and go somewhere. Even if you don't end up going outside, you still have the chance to see something interesting
The North Viewing Platform
For Birders:A small parking area provides the beginning of the first trail off of Halls Road. This trail leads mix of habitat, ranging from grassy to shrubby to forest before ending at the viewing platform. The platform looks out onto the open, north end of Cranberry Marsh.
The trail and parking area provide potential owl sightings. BARRED OWL is consistently most winters. Other species depend on irruption cycles but during good owl years GREAT GRAY OWL, LONG-EARED OWLS and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS are possible during the winter.
This area can be productive during the spring or fall. Migrant birds like YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, WILSON'S WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, EASTERN PHOEBE and empidomonax FLYCATCHERS are birds that I have seen. Jewelweed grows in this area in large quantities. It blooms in the fall, attracting good numbers of RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS.
The trail terminates at the viewing platform, overlooking the northern half of Cranberry marsh.
Local Hint: Although, this platforms serves as an overlook for the marsh, turn around and scan the trees from here; trust me, it will save you a bit of "warbler neck".
EURASIAN WIGEON- a single individual a few years ago
The sight of 10 + GREAT EGRETS and 30+ GREAT BLUE HERONS wading around the marsh during fall migration in 2008
For the Kids
The chance for a close-range Barred owl is great for both adults and kids.
The South Viewing Platform
This area is best known as the site of the Cranberry Marsh HawkWatch, which monitors migrating raptors during fall migration. Counting begins in mid-August and wraps up in early November. The designated counters use the Southern Viewing platform as a base to track passing birds and any interested observers can join in the fun. The number of hawks and their visibility depend on a number of factors but northwest or north winds are ideal. Some of the hawks fly in low and I will vouch that nothing is cooler than watching a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK buzz low through your own binoculars. The most spectacular species in terms of numbers is the BROAD-WINGED HAWK which can move through in the thousands during ideal days in late September. Even late in the season, raptors will still be on the move in decent numbers with rarer birds like NORTHERN GOSHAWK and GOLDEN EAGLE becoming possibilities. Every so often, the HawkWatch will find other interesting birds like the AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN that flew by in 2009. BLUE JAY migration coincides with the HawkWatch season and the South Viewing Platform is ideal for watching thousands of Blue Jays stream to the west, hugging the Lake Ontario shoreline. Mid-to-late September provides the best time to view this migration but, again, watch for ideal weather conditions.
When winter moves in, most of the birding action revolves around the feeders at the South Viewing Platform. You are bound to see many of the usual feeder birds and many of them are quite tame. In addition WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, COMMON REDPOLLS, EVENING GROSBEAKS, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, PINE SISKIN, over-wintering RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and RUSTY BLACKBIRDS ( look for them Dec.-Jan. ) are possibilities depending on which species are irrupting. Look among the evergreens along the trail for owls, especially NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL or LONG-EARED OWL.
In the spring GRAY CATBIRD, NORTHERN FLICKER, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, BROWN CREEPER, YELLOW WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, PALM WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA, MOURNING WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and RED-EYED VIREO are possibilities. The reality is any migrant could show up here, including some unlikely species.
Patience paying off with my life Virginia Rail in 2009.
Watching thousands of Blue Jays migrate along the lake shore on a particularly ideal late September day in 2010.
For the Kids
The HawkWatch in fall can be great but there are a number of conditions that determine if the kids will enjoy it or not. Staring at dots in the sky will only entertain for so long. But birds that will come to your hand to feed...now we're talking !!! The chickadees can be border-line aggressive ( not kidding ) and there is also the chance that a nuthatch, woodpecker or blue jay will pay little hands a visit.
For Birders:So following the trail to the left leads to viewing platform and marsh; what about following the trail to the right ?
A flock of thousands of Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers on an otherwise dreary November day was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen.
Canada Geese can also congregate in winter flocks that stretch for kilometers and number in the thousands along the shoreline.
For the Kids
It's a lake. There are rocks. There is some sand. There are old weather-beaten trees, perfect for climbing and play. The kids will make their fun here although the chance to see geese, ducks and swans in the water will provide some close-up time.