Goshawk caught in the act

Nature dramas occur in the flash of a moment sometimes but can be memorable. A reader sent me a photo of a handsome hawk standing over a dead crow it had just caught. An identification request was made for the kind of hawk it was. The bird had been ‘caught in the act’. With a little help from my friends in the expert birding circle, it was unanimously identified as a goshawk. This year-round hawk resident on Mount Desert Island is quite large and definitely an impressive bird whenever it is seen. Sitting on its prize catch in a snowy patch was a very special scene.

The goshawk is a large and robust bird with a no-nonsense attitude, a long tail and broad rounded wings. The crown and stripe behind the eye is black, and the stripe right above the eye is white. The breast is pale grey. Overall, it is a beautiful hawk to see at any time.

Many years ago when my husband was alive, he was given permission to drive in on one of the park jeep roads in order to record and photograph a goshawk’s active nest. He had the sound equipment mounted on the rear tail gate of my station wagon. I was to press the ‘on’ button when he gave the signal from a short distance away. Things did not go as planned, and when the hawk heard itself screaming on the ‘play back,’ it swooped down and almost scalped my husband. A little cap he was wearing saved him from the bird’s talons, for he didn’t have much hair on top anyway. It was an exciting moment that has never been forgotten in our family.

Goshawks vigorously defend their nesting territories. These birds live in the woods. They often choose a very large deciduous or evergreen tree with a nice full top. Here, just below the canopy, they build a nest of bark, sticks, leaves and green sprigs. Except in the breeding season, they are not vocal.

I have heard and seen them when walking along trails, and I occasionally see them in my woods adjoining the Big Heath area. Neighbors closer to the Bass Harbor Marsh get to see them as well. It’s a nice bird to look for. If I know there is a nest nearby, I avoid the area.

In Manset this past week, a lark sparrow was seen and photographed by one of the local ornithologists. This is a rare bird here. The members of the sparrow family can be confusing, and some people dismiss them as uninteresting birds. This is really not true at all for many are rare and quite beautiful in appearance and in song. You just have to look at the sparrows more closely and notice the differences large and small. The lark sparrow looks very dignified, and its markings are special. Find a nice illustration of this bird, and you’ll see what I mean. The bird is quite elegant.

This bird’s attitude about life is one of great confidence, and the bird almost has a regal air about it. It is quite unlike the English or house sparrow everyone sees hopping on sidewalks and on city streets.

The lark sparrow has the wonderful ability to sing while hovering in the air like a lark. This gives the bird its name. This sparrow definitely has an offbeat manner and a joyous song.

The lark sparrow is considered a bird of the open country, and it has been seen on this island less than five times according to the National Park Bird Records. Find a nice illustration of this bird so you can appreciate its beauty.

Wherever I go on and off island, I seem to get asked questions about nature. I don’t mind this at all and have met some very interesting people and heard about some great wildlife encounters.

One evening this week, I was asked about the possibility of seeing a golden eagle on MDI. It’s definitely possible, but the golden eagle is a rare bird here. Interestingly enough, in past years, these birds have been seen in October until mid-November. The person asking me the question could have seen one, but in the birding world, no one will believe it unless you have an expert witness with you or you get a photograph and have the date verified. If you want to know the latest rare birds in Maine, go online and get the rare-birds alert information in this state. The Birding Hot Line carries such information, and it’s amazing how many ‘birders’ hop in their cars to get to where a rare bird is appearing. Someone came last year from Turkey to see the snowy owl at the Trenton Airport!

Speaking of snowy owls, the experts say that this year will probably be a good year for seeing snowy owls, as was last year. These owls are being seen on local mountain tops right now, and I have received some excellent photographs taken on top of Cadillac and Sargent Mountains. They also should be appearing on any of our cold, winter beaches and no doubt back at the airport. The wide-open terrain there reminds them of home. Please let me know where you see them.

Someone described a tiny bird to me that had to be a kinglet from her description. These very small birds are like the mighty atoms of our songbirds. Although they are very tiny and you have trouble believing they can withstand Maine winters, they know how to manage the elements for their survival. It s probably the long, fluffy, thick plumage that helps, as well as keeping their tummies full of insect eggs, larvae and other such food that they like. In daylight hours, they glean what they can find from beneath bark, twigs and other hiding places. Look for kinglets, both the ruby-crowned and the golden-crowned, in the woods and thickets and even in urban areas, especially in the winter.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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