A lifer Northern Goshawk
I mentioned in my previous post that my target bird for this trip to Utah was a Northern Goshawk. They are resident on Boulder Mountain, but uncommon. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time to see one. A chance, fleeting encounter with one this morning shows how a series of little moments and decisions can put you there.
My wife had to drive in to town this morning to get some provisions, so it was just me and the boys. If we don’t have a planned hike for a day, I’m usually up and out by 8 to get some birding in before a mid-morning family adventure. But I stuck around this morning, waiting for my youngest to wake up. If I had gone out birding, the boys and I wouldn’t have gone on a hike until after lunch (important decision). He finally roused at 9:30am (little moment). After some cajoling to get dressed, eat, and brush teeth, we left the house at 10:20. We were headed either for a half-mile hike to a waterfall that’s a 15-minute drive from the house, or to explore a slickrock formation just off the highway. The boys chose to do the waterfall hike first, then the rock on the way back (important decision).
The waterfall trail takes off from Singletree Campground on Boulder Mountain. According to eBird entries, there’s been a Northern Goshawk nest in the area for over 20 years (so said the most recent sighting at this rarely eBirded spot, from 2013). When we pulled into the campground, the 2-car parking spot at the trailhead was full. We drove around the loop, waited behind a camper-trailer traffic jam, and parked farther away (little moments). About halfway down the trail, you cross the creek. It’s a picturesque spot that can be good for birds, but there was a family there. So instead of lingering, we moved right along (little moment).
As we went down a section of steep switchbacks with loose rock (a time to keep your eyes on the ground), a big bird shadow moved past me. As is my habit, I immediately looked up, expecting to see a raven. Instead, I saw a hawk-shaped bird. I got it in my binoculars, and saw a gray back, a dark-tipped tail, and a whitish belly. It couldn’t be anything else but a lifer Northern Goshawk. I quickly fired off a few photos as the bird soared away from us and out of sight. I couldn’t believe our luck. All the decisions and delays had us at a particular spot when a Northern Goshawk flew over us in just the right place in the sky to cast a shadow within my field of view as I stared at the ground.
The trip has been good for birds of prey so far. The day before, I took a detour through some agricultural land on the way to the grocery store three “towns” over. At various spots along the way I saw two Golden Eagles soaring, a Prairie Falcon hunting the fields and eating some prey, and flushed a Swainson’s Hawk from a roadside utility pole. As usual, we’re having good times in Wonderland.