“Ughh look at all these cow parsnips.”
“Oh, that’s not cow parsnip.”
“Is…is it the devil’s…?”
“Welcome to the club!!”
That’s how our goshawk survey began at the Saddlebag Trail. We strolled right into the belly of the beast, or more like the belly of the dense Devil’s Club undergrowth. It seems as if every part of this plant is designed to snag the unfortunate soul into its spiny embrace of pain. I thought the delta bogs were difficult terrain, but the forest of Devil’s Club is a sharp contender. But pummeling through this was necessary in order to get our surveys done.
Survey protocol at this site dictated that we follow a one mile transect along the road. The road is divided by points each at a distance of 0.15 miles. At each of these points, we diverged left and right another 0.15 miles from the road. We played a nine second audio of a goshawk call followed by another couple seconds of silence in each of the cardinal directions. This was done twice. And we waited for a goshawk to show up. My coworker, Jenkins, mentioned that one of his buddies’ friends was out doing goshawk surveys and got his eye plucked out by one very aggressive goshawk. Jenkins’ has a funny habit of telling tall tales at times, but I may believe him on this one.
Goshawks are well known to be highly defensive of their territory, especially when anything gets too close to their nests. Their hunting tactics are pretty amazing too. A goshawk will sit silently perched on a tree and wait to see its prey. They can eat animals as small as a mouse to as large as a snowshoe hare. One goshawk was observed to chase a hare for 45 minutes until it caught it. Talk about persistence! I get easily discouraged if I see two people in front of me at Baja Taco*.
Despite a couple of snags and falls into thickets of Devil’s Club, I had a lot of fun on this survey. Jenkins showed me how to use the GPS and set a bearing with a compass. I’ve had some experience with these tools before, but this was the first time I got to use them for an actual survey.
The area we were surveying might be open for firewood cutting, which was why we were conducting goshawk surveys.
“If we don’t find any goshawks on this survey will they open up this area?” I asked.
Jenkins answered, “It depends on a number of factors, not just goshawks. The others are looking for sensitive plants and the potential for firewood cutting.”
“Have goshawks ever been found in this area?” I wondered.
“I’m not certain if they’ve been heard or seen here, but they’ve been reported at Shepherd’s Point.”
Our surveys yielded no goshawk. It would’ve been an awesome experience to find one, but thankfully, we didn’t have to battle one to protect our eyesight. Goshawk!
*Baja Taco is a Mexican restaurant in Cordova that sells the best milkshakes in Alaska and other food stuff too.