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Accipiter Magic (Simone)

After my transect at Slate Creek I took a long drink of water at my last point and checked my topo map for the quickest way to the road where I was to meet Brendan. Southwest is where the map and compass pointed me and I headed down the hill towards a small creek. I noticed that there was a steep hill on the other side of the creek and winced because my calves still screamed in protest when I hiked uphill due to our earlier death-march hike to (as we found out at the top) some un-reachable transects. But I digress.

Making my way down the hill I was suddenly being screamed at VERY loudly by an extremely pissed off adult goshawk! What?! Another one of those I-cannot-believe-this-is-happening moments.  I knew immediately that I was very close to a nest. A goshawk that didn’t have a nest to defend would most likely flee a human immediately. But mothering instincts take over during the late spring and she was going to make sure she made it very clear to me that she was not happy and made it even more clear by stooping at me. I stood still and watched as she dove at me, pulled up and landed across the stream and farther away. I looked around but didn’t see a nest.

Female Northern Goshawk

After she had calmed down a bit I walked farther upstream by only about 50 feet. There, in a mature Doug Fir, sat a nest in a gnarled branch about 30 feet up. I knew that goshawks build multiple nests and don’t use the same one every season so I was not positive this one was active. Upon closer inspection however I could see a down feather blowing in the breeze from the branches and noted that some of the nest was made up of live Doug Fir branches-definitely a good sign! I had been looking up at the bird and nest for some time before I realized there was even more evidence of activity at my feet. Droppings were splattered all around the ground below the nest! Now I was excited beyond anything I can really describe accurately.

The Nest

The nest was so low…would I be able to see chicks or eggs if I climbed the hill across the creek? I took some video and photos and the adult goshawk tolerated it surprisingly well although she did cuss me out once more as I lingered below the nest before heading up the hill. As I clambered up the hill, the intense pain in my calves long since forgotten, I could tell I was going to be able to see into the nest!

I made it halfway up the hill and stopped and turned around, barely able to balance because of the slope and my excitement. There before my eyes across the creek in the nest were two white, fluffy goshawk chicks!! I could not believe my luck. It would have been enough to just see an adult goshawk as close as she had just been to me. And of course the nest and nesting area was a bonus. Even just knowing that there were probably eggs or chicks in the nest would have been enough. But to be able to look into the nest and see two healthy approximately two week old chicks was almost more than I could handle.

Two Chicks!

I checked to see what the female was up to as I hadn’t heard her in a while. She was perched on a tree next to me on the hill and seemed way less concerned with me-she even had her back to me. I watched the chicks in complete admiration and grinned to myself-I had just found the best goshawk nest EVER!

I couldn’t wait to tell Brendan and the rest of the crew. After I had watched the chicks and female long enough to register that it was all really true I continued up the hill. I didn’t want to bother them too much and wasn’t sure if the male was hanging back with a food delivery. This was truly unbelievable and a wonderful discovery. A chance of a lifetime even. Usually you have to climb an adjacent tree to see into a goshawk nest and risk life and limb because of the wrath of the female goshawk that most often has no mercy. When Brendan picked me up I of course could not contain myself and we agreed to come back soon and film the chicks and hopefully adults. I spent the rest of the day thinking about my luck in stumbling upon a perfect goshawk nest and wondered if there was really anything that could beat something as special and precious as that.


Filed under: Birds, Field Work, Natural History, Sierra Nevadas

About the Author

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I am a natural history writer and photographer, obsessed birder, naturalist, and artist. When I'm not learning by reading, drawing, painting, taking photos, or being outside, I am probably asleep.

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