Susitna Writer’s Voice–Natural Observations: Update on the goshawk, and early spring birds, by Robin Song
by KTNA Staff ~ April 20th, 2014
Robin Song updates the story of the wounded Northern Goshawk, and she tells of some memorable time spent with our big, white, impressive early migrants, the Trumpeter Swans. Audio is seven minutes.
Here’s an update on the Goshawk that Trigger Twigg rescued on December thirtieth. For those who don’t know the story, he was returning to his cabin that morning when he heard a noise and turned to see a Goshawk falling from a branch and landing spread-eagled on the snow. He could see that the bird was in trouble, and he followed it on snowshoes for over a mile, as the bird would fly a little ways, then land on its belly again in the snow. Finally Trigger was able to work around in front of the tired bird and get up to it before it could fly again. It didn’t struggle as he gently picked it up and tucked it under his arm and began the long trek up and down hills in deep, wet snow, back to the cabin. His wife, Margreth, was in Wasilla, and he had her pick up a couple of mice at Pet Zoo. They placed the mice in the cage with the hawk that evening. The next morning Margreth discovered one of the mice sitting on top of the hawk’s back, nibbling at a wound between its wings. The hawk had been unable to dislodge the mouse, and so was crouching on the cage floor with its unwelcome passenger on its back.
After the mice were removed, Margreth was able to take the Goshawk to the Bird Rehab Center in Houston later that morning. There the wound was discovered to have not been caused by the mouse, and it was determined that possibly the young hawk had been in a fight with an adult defending its territory and had received a talon slash. After feeding and hydrating the bird, its wound was doctored each day and eventually the hawk was moved to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.
I was able to talk with the hawk’s caretaker at the Houston Rehab Center and she kept me appraised of its recovery. The bird was responding well, due to its young age and overall good health. Eventually it was taken to the Flight Room at Elmendorff Base where it was flown almost daily to help the hawk regain its flight muscles in preparation to being released back to the wild.
While we were hoping the Goshawk would be returned to the Twiggs so they could release it back into familiar territory, it was decided to release the bird in Anchorage, so that it wouldn’t again clash with the adult which had injured it in the first place. In late March the Goshawk was released at the site of where the new Bird Treatment and Learning Center will be built above Potter Marsh. It was the first bird of the year to be released back to the wild and a lovely photo of the young Goshawk taking wing was posted on the BTLC website.
This is a good site in which to release birds of prey, for many years ago a cafe was here which had rabbits on the lawn around the building. The cafe was near Rabbit Creek and the owners thought it fitting to have rabbits roaming around. Well, the rabbits did what rabbits do, and made warrens and populated them liberally. Years later, after the cafe went out of business and was torn down, the feral rabbits moved into the nearby forest and descendants survive there today. They are a ready food source for birds of prey in the Potter Marsh area, in lean times. They can also help out a young bird, like this Goshawk, which finds itself released into an unfamiliar area, and now has to find food and its bearings.
The primary source of food for Goshawks is grouse, but they will also hunt hares if grouse are scarce. Hopefully this young Goshawk will hone its hunting skills on the rabbits before it moves off into the wilderness to secure its own territory, there to win a mate and eventually raise a family.
Countless thanks go to Trigger for having the compassion to help this young bird in its hour of need and so-ultimately-to give it a second chance at life. May our Talkeetna-born Goshawk know a rich and full life in the Anchorage Bowl.
Meanwhile, spring bird sightings are picking up. I’ve had a few ‘close encounters’ of my own. We’ve had four Snow Buntings visit the ranch. I’m still hoping for a good-sized flock, like we had last year, but any sightings are wonderful. The Dark-eyed Junco, who spent the winter gracing my feeders, started singing its courting song three weeks ago. Hang in there, guy- the girls will be arriving soon!
While I’d heard from other birders that Trumpeter Swans were back in the area, I didn’t get my first sighting until April 14th. Pulling over, as I usually do, to scope out the pond across from Fish Lake on my way in to Talkeetna, I was rewarded with the sight of a pair of Trumpeters standing in the snow on the northwest shore of the pond. Full sunlight lit up the pair, and as I stood photographing them, one slid into the dark water. Soon its mate joined it. Near them a drake Mallard and a drake Goldeneye swam and preened. After awhile I prepared to leave. Just as I put the car in gear and began to pull out, I heard honking and a shadow passed overhead. I turned off the car and jumped out in time to watch two more swans winging in, landing on the shore where the first pair had been. Then began a display I have only witnessed once before in my life-also in April, that time with three pairs of Trumpeters on the still- ice-bound pond at mile 101 east of the Parks Highway.
The display consists of vigorous head-bobbing and wing-waggling, with lots of noisy trumpeting. The pairs stand very close together, usually facing each other as they display. (Unfortunately, the trees just beside the road have grown up enough that I was unable to get good, clear photos of the birds.) In about ten minutes the newly-arrived swan pair ran across the snow and took wing. One of the swans launched from the pond and flew with them, all heading northwest, but the one from the pond soon dropped away and circled back, landing in the pond beside its mate. The other pair circled around to the west, then south, disappearing from my view behind the treeline. I waited and in a few minutes, here they came, much higher in the sky and heading north, flying close together. The pair in the pond trumpeted calls for several minutes after the flying pair disappeared from view, then their calls grew quieter and farther spaced until they stopped calling altogether. I stayed until they went back to gliding silently in the glass-like water, their feathers blazing white in the sunlight. For my first sighting of the year, I couldn’t have been more blessed.