August 22, 2017 Northern Goshawks

Seward, Alaska

After receiving several reports of large raptor-style birds patrolling, chasing, and harassing hikers and their dogs, I decided to investigate on the next sunny day. The sun finally returned today and the two good dogs and I headed to the Lost Lake Trail at mile 5, Seward Highway.

A short distance from the parking lot in the beautiful hemlock-spruce forest, I heard a PACIFIC WREN scolding. Two HERMIT THRUSHES (late migrators) and a VARIED THRUSH silently flew from the trail into nearby alders and vanished. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS chattered from the cones high above. The sweet notes of a PINE GROSBEAK floated down. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES called cheerily from the hemlocks.

Soon the trail forked and I followed the winter trail, listening and looking. In the far distance, I heard the cry of a RED-TAILED HAWK, “Keeeyuuurrrrr!” This cry repeated several more times while I hiked.

I passed the reported location, about 600 feet from the junction and kept walking and listening. Nothing. I wondered if the birds were out hunting or had left. The day was lovely and the blueberries plentiful. I kept walking. Suddenly, a large bird swooped across the trail ahead and landed in a hemlock tree not far from the trail. A NORTHERN GOSHAWK! Yay! First sighting for me for this year!

I took a photo, and mission accomplished, turned around and went home.

Not! I stayed for an hour, enjoying watching this youngster perched on a branch in the dappled sunshine. He peered curiously at us, unconcerned, and but seemed especially alert when he heard the camera shutter. Paparazzi! Then he preened and stretched, wagging his long, banded tail, shaking out his yellow leg and curled talons.

A second Goshawk called from a perch deeper in the forest. The cry reminded me of the piercing sound made by a blowing across a blade of grass stretched tight between one’s thumbs. The two birds called back and forth, sometimes in unison, sometimes in conversation, listening and responding.

Neither bird seemed particularly active; maybe both had already dined and it was time to relax and attend to their feathers. Sibley notes this is North America’s largest accipiter, weighing up to 2.1 pounds, length 21”, wingspan 41”. The pictures in the bird books show a yellow eye for the juvenile, but this bird has beautiful, very pale gray eyes.

Sibley also notes that the begging cry of a juvenile is a “plaintive scream ‘kree-ah’.” I wonder if what I heard previously was this instead of a Red-tailed Hawk? But no adult appeared or was heard.
I left the youngster still perched on the now-shady hemlock branch. I was amazed how difficult it was to see him; his brown, streaky breast camouflage was excellent. Then he flew across the trail to another perch and I had to go back to see. I left again, but the second Goshawk suddenly appeared with loud fanfare and landed near the first. I turned around to confirm it was a juvenile: yes, the conversationalist. As the two swooped low down the path and veered off into the forest, I made my final exit, savoring the experience and glad I could tarry.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold                                                                           

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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