This June I had the opportunity to go to the Acadia Bird Festival in Maine which is a gorgeous place to get Barry Manilow's Weekend In New England stuck in your head. Maine is a fantastic state to visit and Acadia National Park is one of the coolest federal parks you can check out. Blue and gray seemed to be the overwhelming colors while I was there.
Acadia is especially cool if you're into weird ass water birds like the common eider, Atlantic puffins, black guillemots and warblers like northern parula and black-throated green warblers. Colorful warblers really pop in that somber pallet. If you go to Acadia, either for the festival or on your own, make sure to schedule a boat trip. I didn't do it this time--, but I have before and it's your best bet for seeing puffins and other seabirds. It's also a unique view of this particular national park. Pelagics are fun but they are also exhausting (at least for me) and this trip came at a point when I needed to listen to my body and take things a bit easy.
While I was at the festival I heard a rumor about a northern goshawk nest that had been located thanks to a high school cross country team that was running on the paths in a woods next to the school. They were dive bombed relentlessly by the female. I've worked with goshawks both in captivity and bird banding. I love the northern goshawk, it is my favorite raptor. As an adult it's gorgeous with it's soft gray feathers and maniacal red eyes. It acts before it thinks--something I can relate to. And they take no shit. I once watched a northern goshawk fly through Sax Zim bog and it noticed a red-tailed hawk perched in the top of a tree. The goshawk changed direction, snuck up behind the beefier red-tail and popped it on the head as it kept flying. The red-tail was clearly startled and watched the goshawk power away, seemingly knowing there was no point in chasing it, it would be too fast and not worth the effort.
Goshawks are also fierce defenders of their nest and territory. I've heard from more than one wildlife biologist of how the female will dive right at you if she feels you've gotten too close to her nest. I've always wanted to experience that. And it's not like other hawks that might fly at you. This isn't a mere game of chicken, this bird will hit you if need be. I was envious of the cross country team that got the goshawk experience and wanted it as well.
Throughout the festival as I would chill between field trips and workshops at headquarters I noticed certain bird listers sneaking off to see the nest. Those in the know were trying to keep the nest location under wraps but if someone needs a goshawk for their list and had a reputation for being respectful, word would spread. At the end of the festival, I mentioned casually that I'd like to see the nest and maybe digiscope it. Michael J Goode of Down East Nature Tours knew where the nest was and offered to take me in to get a glimpse. It was the end of the last day of the festival, it was cloudy and threatening to rain. We didn't have a lot of time but it seemed worth it. So with another guest we headed over to the school and the surrounding woods.
We crept into the pine woods. I was glad to have a guide, the trails were meandering and there would have been ample opportunity for me to take a wrong turn and question whether or not I'd find the nest. Also, temptation was everywhere in the woods--so many edible mushrooms like this large patch of oyster mushrooms. If I had means to cook in my bed and breakfast room, that would have been my dinner.
Michael warned me when we were near the general area of the nest. We wanted to be as silent as possible so as not to stress the goshawk and have a chance to see one perched. Oh how naive we were. Before we got to the nest I heard the familiar loud call and a goshawk circled us, periodically landing at the top of the tree, sounding the alarm. We soon found the nest while the bird circled.
The bird finally perched and called incessantly from the top of a pine with branches so thick, there was really only one spot to stand to get a glimpse of him. I got a few hasty documentation shots but that was it. I was so happy to see a goshawk in the wild--any day with a goshawk can NEVER be a bad day. But I did have a pang of disappointment...this was not the goshawk experience I'd heard about--of birds diving at us. I realized this was the male and he would simply call in alarm. The female must have been out on a hunt and I wouldn't get the dive bomb experience.
After I got my shots we decided to turn around and head out. We wouldn't get better photos, we saw the goshawk and we didn't want to stress them out anymore than necessary. Then, something tucked in the woods answered the male's rapid higher pitched cry. This was slower and deeper. The female had arrived. I just happened to have my iPhone out and on slo mo video and held up my phone and pressed play. Before I knew what was happening she was flying right at me! I got the following video within a few seconds of her arrival. The first few seconds are real time. The second half is her coming at us at half speed. WOW. Warning...I swore...justifiably.
THAT was the ultimate goshawk experience I always wanted to have! After she bombed us a second time, she passed a third, this time so low, she almost kneecapped Michael. She perched above us, daring us to go any direction but out. I wanted to digiscope her, but I knew as soon as my objective lens was aimed at her she would dive right for it. And I'm not sure the Swarovski warranty covers talon lens damage.
We hightailed it out of the woods with her in close pursuit and the male circling us above the tree tops. All in all I think we were there less than five minutes but what an exhilarating five minutes of life that was! One of many nature related dreams checked off my list this year.
Here are few highlights from the Acadia Bird Festival. This is definitely one to check out...if for the fresh lobster alone. Make sure to get either a National Park Pass or a weekly pass at Acadia. Some of the field trip locations require meeting in the park without going through a gate and if a ranger catches your car without a pass you could potentially get a ticket.
Below is a red-breasted nuthatch nest we found right on a trail. Another really cool nest that we found was a junco nest. I knew they nested on the ground, but I'd never seen that. Alas, it was so well hidden that there was no way to get a photo, but how cool to watch a female junco with a beak-ful of food disappear into a clump of vegetation on the ground!
Would you like to travel with me? Check out my trip to Cuba in 2017 through Holbrook Travel!