Monday, March 06, 2006

The First Goshawk Is Always the Hardest

Last Saturday I went out with the Boulder Bird Club on their annual search for late-season Winter Finches, in the high country west of town. The highlight and focus of the outing of course is Allenspark, which if you recall is renowned for their wintering Rosy-Finches.

Initially the group centered on the Fawn Brook Inn, but after about 15 minutes of finchless feeders, we ambled up the road looking for other feeders and any other activity in the pines around town. That did turn out to be fruitful, as we found Cassin's Finches and a single female Pine Grosbeak. Then suddenly someone said there was a buteo overhead. Hmmm, a buteo here at 8500 feet just down the slope from Longs Peak? I looked up and saw a very buteo-like bird circling overhead in the wind about 75 feet up; except that it was very pale grayish-blue underneath, not like any buteo I could think of except for Gray Hawk, which this obviously wasn't. I trained my binos on the bird, but it was almost directly overhead, so I couldn't see head markings. And when it wasn't directly overhead it was obscured by the towering pines all around. I was thinking Northern Goshawk, but was afraid to call it out, having never positively ID'ed one in the field before. Fortunately it didn't dash off completely, and I was able to snap a single shot of it after it had drifted even further up. By the time it soared out of sight our group consensus settled that we had indeed seen a Goshawk. A life bird for me, at long last!

Yeah, it's not a terribly great shot, although it does capture the gist of the bird as we observed it. What convinced me most of all (not seen in this photo, but clear to us when the bird was lower) was the very distinctive underwing coloration, in concert with its strong morphological characters (wing shape, head size, and tail breadth). I've wanted to see a Goshawk for several years now, but never during the 5 or so previous possible occasions did I see the bird well enough to confidently identify it as such. Finally, on an outing where we were looking for finches, I managed a fairly sustained look at one. Go figure. Hopefully the next Goshawk won't take me years to find.

It served to remind me that when it comes to accipiters, you should always be prepared to see one if you're anywhere near reasonable habitat. Coopers and Sharpies (and apparently Goshawks too) always seem to be "popping in", and just as quickly popping out. When that has happened before, I always think in retrospect that it should have been obvious that one might show up, and swear to myself that next time - always next time - I'll keep an eye out. Once again I forgot my own advice, but luckily I had the Boulder Bird Club to bail me out.

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1 comment:

nelson said...

Hey Eric, That is a great photo of a NG. I have many similar photos, but none with the other edges of the wings so transparent. in the near future, I will blog,"how to find, observe, and identify NG. Now, I am developing blogs specifically, toward NG. The most important thing for all to realize: Northern Goshawks are not "habitat conscious", they are "prey conscious", and they don't just look for prey... Nelson ( and - Goshawks of Apache Junction