Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Blair Hawk Project

I mentioned in Backpacking in the Bob that I got buzzed by a protective mother goshawk on my trip.  In spite of my close encounter with the grizzly, the goshawk was the scariest part of the trip.

It was a dark and stormy night—okay, it was really a rather pleasant afternoon, but still . . .  A haggard-looking lone backpacker approached and gave me this warning:  "Watch out—about three quarters of a mile ahead, there's some kind of hawk or falcon that must have a nest, because it dive-bombed me several times."  I thought "Cool.  It'll be neat to see a hawk up close as it makes a few passes among the treetops."  At that time I had no experience with raptor aerial assault tactics.

Just as foretold, about three quarters of a mile up the trail the screeching began out in the woods.  I scanned the dense forest, looking for a large nest, but it was too far back and the trees were too thick, so I couldn't see anything. 

I continued on, thinking maybe I'd get off with just a verbal warning.  Then the screeching got louder, but I couldn't see any movement.  The shrieks grew still louder, signaling that the raptor was getting very close.  I scanned the treetops, but saw nothing. Then swift, low movement caught my eye. Through a gap in the trees a very aggravated northern goshawk sped toward me, right at eye level.  I raised my hiking stick in front of my face, straight up and down so it protruded a couple of feet over my head. The hawk adjusted on the fly, so to speak, gained a little altitude and flew a few feet above the top of my stick, screeching all the while.  It passed so close I could hear the swoosh of its wings.

The goshawk landed in a tree behind me and screeched for a few seconds before launching another sortie at my head.  I raised my stick again, assuming something similar to an Obiwan Kenobi defensive Jedi posture.  The goshawk passed overhead and lighted in a tree.  I snapped a couple of quick photos before hurrying up the trail to get out of the attack zone.  I had to defend against two more attacks before I could get out of range.

I passed through the same area on the return trip, thinking maybe this time I could get an action photo of the goshawk as it was bearing down on me.  That would be a cool pic.  So, lens cap off, camera turned on and held at the ready, I proceeded down the trail.  The screeching began again out in the woods.  I raised the camera and scanned the trees, but saw nothing until the hawk materialized in a gap in the trees at eye level.  It approached so quickly that I lost all interest in taking a picture.  It was then I understood I could never have filmed the Blair Witch Project because the moment I knew there was a real witch after me, I'd have forgotten about the camera and started looking for a big stick. 

On this attack the goshawk changed tactics and flew to high branches in trees closer to the trail, after which it launched near-vertical assaults, perhaps to get past my raised stick.  I tried one more time to get a pic but didn't have much luck.  In this pic, the goshawk is diving behind a tree, swooping down and to the left to circle around the tree in a flanking maneuver.  I took this picture and then got the hell out.


  1. Wow - do they sell angry bird spray or do you recommend the Obiwan Kenobi defensive Jedi posture? Jackson could help you with a few Jedi moves before your next trip.

  2. The Obiwan Kenobi defense worked pretty well. As D-Liz reasoned out after the last post, the bears will be scared of you, Penni, so if you take Jackson and his Jedi moves with you when you go camping, you'll be set.