A Northwoods Almanac for 9/18 – 31, 2015
Goshawks, Kayaks, and Golden Retrievers
These three utterly unrelated topics all came together in Manitowish Waters at the home of Nancy Burns, my sister-in-law, on 9/1. That afternoon, Nancy walked out her door and noticed a large hawk perched on her kayak paddle, some 25 feet from her kitchen (see the photo). She emailed a photo of it to me, wondering what it was, and just as I had finally determined it was a juvenile northern goshawk, she called, frantic. The conversation went something like this: “I was just chased around the yard by that hawk! If I didn’t have a lawn chair to protect me, I don’t know what might have happened. It chased Tom right into his house – he was running for his life! And now it’s attached to Wilson! What should I do?”
Well . . . first of all, Tom is Tom Freeman, Nancy’s next door neighbor, who had tried to come to Nancy’s aid while she was being chased around her yard. Wilson is Tom’s very sweet, passive, and somewhat overweight golden retriever.
My recall of the whole conversation is jumbly, but the gist of it was that Nancy crept outside to photograph the goshawk and apparently got a little too close, whereupon the goshawk ran after her (goshawks are good runners as I’ll explain later!). She yelled for Tom to help her, and Tom then approached the hawk. It changed course and went after him, driving him back to his house. Then Wilson tried to intervene, ambling over friendly-like, and the goshawk leapt onto his chest, and was now dangling upside down from Wilson’s fur, with Wilson just standing there patiently, not in any pain, waiting for whatever golden retrievers wait for in such circumstances.
You know, I’ve answered lots of phone calls over the years about lots of things, but this one was not in my wheelhouse. I had no idea what to say about a goshawk dangling from a golden retriever. So, I called two people who might know about such things – first, Marge Gibson, the gifted wildlife rehabber at Raptor Education Group in Antigo, but she wasn’t in. I then called Mark Naniot, another highly experienced rehabber at Wild Instincts in Rhinelander. Mark suggested we try spraying the hawk with a hose to see if it would release its grip, or to try to get the dog to lie down so that the goshawk might also be touching the ground and be more likely to let go.
By then Nancy had called back, and said that Tom had covered the bird with a blanket (a good move – darkness helps keep a bird calm), but he wasn’t able to get the bird to let go of Wilson. Eventually, however, it did let go, and Tom took it across the road, wrapped in the blanket, and tried to release it. But the bird either wouldn’t take off, or it was too entangled in the blanket to get free.
Meanwhile, Tom had called the Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua, and they were on their way to help. Amanda Knoll, the assistant director of rehabilitation and someone experienced in handling raptors, was able to release the goshawk from the blanket (see photo), but it was too weak to take off. Fearing it was injured, she then transported it to Wildlife Center for examination.
The bird turned out to be extremely emaciated, was unable to perch, and had to be tube-fed for multiple days. I contacted Amanda Walsh, the director of rehabilitation, on 9/14, and she noted that the goshawk “has recently begun to eat on her own, and we moved her to an outside aviary, where she has already attempted to fly. She was seen by our sponsoring veterinarian last week. At that time her left eye was having trouble dilating, and she was unable to see from that eye. We will continue to work with her and test her with live prey as she becomes comfortable flying around her aviary. Because of her eye issue, the possibility is still very real that she will be non-releasable due to her depth perception being damaged.”
Given the young goshawk’s poor vision, I suspect it had recently fledged but was now starving, unable to effectively hunt. Kudos to Nancy, Tom, and the Wildlife Center for likely saving this bird.
As for northern goshawk’s penchant for running, here’s two stories from E. H. Forbush, a noted ornithologist in 1927, “Dr. William Wood of East Windsor Hill, Connecticut, told of a goshawk that followed a hen into a kitchen and seized her on the kitchen floor in the very presence of an old man and his daughter. The father beat off the hawk with a cane, while the daughter closed the door and finally killed the bold bird. Mr. J. A. Farley relates a similar tale from Lambert Lake, Maine. A goshawk caught a half-grown hen. The hen, escaping, ran under a woman’s skirt. The hawk followed right up to the skirt but was killed.”
Arthur Bent in his classic book Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey quotes W. E. Cram who followed the tracks of a goshawk through the woods on the snow: “At times it followed in the tracks of rabbits for some distance. I have often known them to do this, and am inclined to think that they occasionally hunt rabbits in this manner where the under-brush is too dense to allow them to fly through it easily”.
More recent scientific studies have echoed these stories. Cornell’s definitive Birds of North America says goshawks “may stalk prey on foot, using vegetation and topography for concealment . . . A goshawk chased a snowshoe hare along a hedgerow for 45–60 min before the hare finally ran across an opening and was captured.” They’re even known to “wade into shallow water after prey such as ducklings.”
Goshawks can outfly just about anything, too. Audubon wrote in 1840: “At times he passes like a meteor through the underwood, where he secures squirrels and hares with ease.”
Goshawks have been prized by falconers for centuries. They’ve been carried on the fists of Japanese shoguns and by medieval falconers in Europe. A goshawk even adorned the helmet of Attila the Hun.
I’ll provide an update on the condition of this goshawk in my next column.
Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadees!
One Northwoods bird that has eluded me over the years is the spruce grouse, a protected species in Wisconsin since 1929, and a rather rare denizen typically of black spruce bogs. Well, thanks to the North Lakeland Discovery Center’s Bird Club, and hike leaders Jim and Cynthia Krakowski, I finally got to see one. We walked into a relatively dry black spruce swamp just northeast of Conover, an area that none of us would have found without Jim and Cynthia’s guidance. A male grouse kicked up in front of Jim and landed 20 feet up in a tree that was just off the trail. It sat tight for perhaps ten minutes, giving all of us excellent views. Amy Sheldon was able to get some fine photos, which she was kind enough to share with me for this column.
We also were treated to hearing and seeing several boreal chickadees, another very uncommon bird found mostly in spruce/tamarack bogs. Boreal chickadees have a brown cap and brownish flanks, and sound like a very wheezy black-capped chickadee, perhaps one with a serious head cold. I’ve only seen them on two other occasions, one of those times in Minnesota, so seeing both a spruce grouse and a boreal chickadee certainly made my day! I should also add that the excellent camaraderie of the bird club members added to the fine morning. If you’re looking to learn about birds with a very genial, nice group of folks, you might want to give the NLDC Bird Club a try. They head out every Thursday morning looking in a new area for birds.
The raptor flight over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge is heating up. On 9/11, 5,859 raptors soared by, while on 9/12, another 3,845 raptors flew over the ridge, of which 3,548 were broad-winged hawks. The counters also observed 5,887 blue jays passing over the ridge on 9/12, down from their count on 9/11 of 6,009, and their record count on 9/10 of 10,812. Most people think blue jays don’t migrate, but in fact they do!
More On Honeydew
Callie and I hiked last week on one of the WinMan trails, and at times, we were overwhelmed/almost sickened by the sweet smell that permeated the woods. I broke off the branches of several smaller trees and found the culprits – Lecanium scale insects.
I wouldn’t have known what they were if it wasn’t for an email from Linda Williams, the Forest Health Specialist for WDNR’s Northeast Region. She had written in one of her monthly forest health updates that “very heavy populations of Lecanium scale were being observed in many areas of Vilas and Oneida Counties . . . At this time of year, the dome-shaped scale is the dry husk of the female insect with lots of eggs underneath the shell. If you pop off one of the shells a white ]powder] falls out, which is the eggs. There can be over 1000 eggs under there! The eggs hatch and the crawlers (baby scales) move to the new twigs of the tree and begin sucking sap. Heaviest populations in the north are on oaks . . . Multiple years of heavy scale populations can cause branch dieback, so what should you do?
“Landowners should let nature handle it. Ladybug larvae and other predators are at work, as are tiny parasitic wasps (1mm in size) and fungal diseases. In some areas, particularly in Door and Kewaunee County, nearly half of the scales appear to be infected with fungi, and additional scales are parasitized. Northern counties still have fairly healthy scale populations but we may see parasitoid and fungal action yet this summer.”
Contact Linda a Linda.Williams@wi.gov if you want more information, or go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestHealth/ to view her monthly newsletter.
Celestial Events – Autumn Equinox!
I love autumn – cool temperatures, gorgeous colors, and no mosquitoes make for great hiking. But I must admit I don’t look forward to autumn equinox, because it means more dark than light for the next six months. Nevertheless, here it comes on 9/23.
While we lose more light, we can gain better understanding of directions. The equinox is a good day for finding due east and due west from your yard. Just go outside around sunset or sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to familiar landmarks. If you do this, you’ll be able to use those landmarks to find those cardinal directions in the weeks and months ahead, long after the Earth has moved on in its orbit around the sun.