Monday, December 23, 2013

Anchorage for a Northern Goshawk, December 9

I arrived at Arctic Valley Road at about 3:30 pm after a very quick turn-around in the Anchorage Airport to pick up a rental car.  It was cloudy and dim, but I was optimistic that a Northern Goshawk would still be actively looking for a late day meal.  Arctic Valley Road was still snow covered as expected as it was on Thursday morning last week when I tried to find a Northern Goshawk before leaving for Adak.  This time the road might have been slightly less slippery, because there was no freezing rain falling.  My strategy was the same as before.  Drive up the road slowly stopping frequently to scan the trees and horizon for a perched or flying Northern Goshawk.  Just as I was approaching the up-hill portion, hey what's that big raptor perched! ...Oh, only a Bald Eagle.  My how my perspective has change in the last 20 to 30 years!  Bald Eagles used to be rare in the lower 48, and it was a special treat to see so many in Alaska.  Dave Sonnenborn, John Puschock, Bill Sain and Scott Sheutte had seen a Northern Goshawk perched along this road in the afternoon while returning from a drive up to the ski area at the top to look for ptarmigan.  I drove to the second pull off on the right, where I stopped to scan.  I was not confident that I could negotiate this road further up-hill with this rental vehicle.  In addition, I remembered from my visit in October that shortly above this pull-off, the spruce ended and only willows and other low bushes remained.  Northern Goshawk is a forest bird and more likely in the spruce covered areas.  I scanned watched and listened.  I also tried playing a few Northern Goshawk calls, which seemed to have no effect.  I drove slowly back down and parked for a while at the golf course now covered with snow and continued scanning.  Dave told me that he has seen Northern Goshawk in the flat part of this road near the golf course.  I drove to the entrance of Arctic Valley Road, turned around and drove slowly backup to the second pull off on the right.   This would likely be my last try, because it would soon be too dark.  I spent time scanning at the second pull-off and played Northern Goshawk calls again, not because I thought it would work, more out of desperation and frustration.  Slowly and with resignation, I started back down the hill driving slowly for safety and to scan the trees along the road.  As the factory on the right at the base of the hill came in view,  Hey what's that largish elongated bird sitting on the sloping spruce trunk!  Northern Goshawk!  Yes!  I saw the white supercilium, the gray barred breast, the banded tail and the white fluffy feathers near and in the under-tail coverts of an adult.  I got my camera on it, and in the dim light managed a few photos.  It was hard to get a good photo, due to the low light.  See below.
Northern Goshawk
large bulky accipiter, longish banded tail
barred breast and white supercilium just barely visible
Soon after I took the photos, the Northern Goshawk left this perch and sailed strongly and silently across the road downhill from my position and into the spruce trees on the right side of the road.  The size and bulk of this Northern Goshawk removes any lingering doubts that the possible Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Adak was a Northern Goshawk.  This Northern Goshawk could have been easily confused with a large buteo like a Red-tailed Hawk, except for attention to the details of the shape of this bird.

I texted Dave Sonnenborn at 5:53 pm to tell him of my success.  Dave was instrumental in my getting this bird.  He gave me the locations to look.  Dave called me to congratulate me, and I thanked him again for all his help this year in Alaska.

I headed to my hotel for the night and to make plans to go to Nome tomorrow to try for McKay's Bunting.

Northern Goshawk is new for the year and raises the total to 711 + 3 provisional.      


  1. Merry Christmas Jay. I'm glad you have had such an awesome adventure all year long. I hope I can partake in a Big Year myself sometime in the future. Good luck with the final week of the year!
    A fellow Ohio birder, Cole DiFabio

  2. Thanks, Cole. I hope that you too can experience this adventure some day. Do it for the fun and adventure. Otherwise near the end of the year it can feel like work.