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When Goshawks Attack - A trip to the Uintas

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, July 19, 2013 

This past Sunday I decided to wake up early and head to the Uinta Mountains. My goal was to hike up the Bald Mountain trail from the East Fork of Blacks Fork trailhead and look for White-tailed Ptarmigan and whatever other adventures came my way. Little did I know that my day would become one of the most memorable encounters with wildlife I've ever had. 

When I started on I-80, east of Park City, the roadway was shrouded in a dense fog. It was impressive and perhaps a harbinger of greatness to come. Through Wyoming and back south into Utah I drove, past Meeks Cabin Reservoir and towards the trailhead. I decided that I should explore some other roads/trails and picked one at random prior to the trailhead. I got out of the car and found a trail of sorts meandering through the woods. I hiked a bit and came upon a Northern Goshawk perched in a tree. I have never seen an adult Gos perched like this before and I was loving life, snapping pictures and enjoying the moment. After satisfying myself with photos, I kept hiking down the trail. After a few steps, the Gos took off and flew to a tree that looked down on me and began calling. I wasn't concerned as there was a good distance between us. I then heard a second Gos and this one was from lower and in front of me. I figured out that based on size, this was likely the female. She had prey in her talons and was also making calls. I took a few more pics & video and then continued my hike. As I walked, the male seemed to follow me, albeit from the tops of the trees and once I was far enough away the pursuit and calling trailed off. I wasn't alarmed as neither bird showed much aggression towards me other than perhaps some over zealous calling. After a bit more hiking I decided it was time to get back to my car and move on down the road to the trail I really came for. I knew I would hike back past the Goshawks and with camera at the ready, made my may back towards them. 

As I approached, the calling began again. Only a few minutes had past since my last encounter and this time, they were ready. Perhaps they realized their previous efforts weren't adequate to drive me away for long and the male flew low and close and menacing, calling all the while. I was bit taken aback as he stared at me, from eye level maybe 15 yards out. I kept hiking. He kept staring and calling. All of a sudden he took off, headed right towards me. I couldn't believe it. Here was this amazing Hawk, wings spread, talons out, headed right at my head. I turned my back and took a few steps and ducked as he whooshed right over me. "HOLY $%^&", I said. He banked and perched close by and continued his stare and scream. I began moving at a quicker pace this time. I heard the female also calling from not too far away. I kept hiking. They kept yelling. I had one eye on the male worried that he'd be lunging at my face again. Sure enough, all of sudden he took off and banked at a spot that gave him a perfect runway down the trail right at me. He came with speed, I ran with speed, I ducked with haste and "whooooooosh". Another narrow miss. It is an odd feeling when you go from awe to fear. And the response is no longer to capture the moment. The response is to get the hell out of there. And that's what I did. In a full sprint. Being pursued all the while by an angry Goshawk. The memories and the story are great and amusing now, but I confess that in the moment, I truly felt the bird's intent to injure me and absolutely believed in its ability to do so. I made it out unscathed and with some great pictures. However, next time I hear the cry of a Goshawk, I will be a bit wiser and more prepared and know that there is no bluff in their calls. I've shared some photos and video below of the Goshawks and some other sights I found around the area. I never did make it to the Ptarmigan as afternoon storms sent me home early, but I'll be heading back soon to try again. 

Edited Video of the Goshawks

The "sentinel"

Female with prey

Female with prey

Nothing scary about a Brown Creeper

A Raven takes exception to a Golden Eagle

American Pipit

The Bald Mountain Trail

Pine Grosbeak

Butterfly Party

Clark's Nutcracker

Rufous Hummingbird

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Blogger Unknown said...

Awesome experience. I love Goshawks. I guess you were way to close to there young or the nest. I am enviouse of your close encounter of the avian kind.

July 22, 2013 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

Thanks Matt. It was awesome. While I never saw a nest, I'm sure you're right. It was a complete accident in all ways as it was just hiking on a trail and this happened. I took advantage of the chance encounter by documenting it in both memory and photos. The advantage definitely goes to the Goshawks and without question, they drove me off and protected their ownership of that turf. I pity the other animals that wander too close.

July 22, 2013 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

Unreal! Bald Mountain B (as peakbaggers call it) is where I saw my first ptarmigans a few years ago. It's also where I lost the trail just below timberline without a flashlight at around midnight on my way back down from a sunset summit. That was an adventure.

July 23, 2013 at 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Glenda Cotter said...

Mule deer, goshawks--what is it they don't appreciate about you, Jeff?

Just kidding, of course. Sounds like an amazing encounter.

July 29, 2013 at 1:02 PM  
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August 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM  

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