Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Nature of the Grey Goshawk - a skulker in the tree tops.

There is a wonderful bird of prey (a "raptor" - that is the generic word) which lives in the rainforest country around Robertson. It is not a commonly seen bird, but every few months I will be lucky enough to record a "sighting". Yesterday, was such a day. The bird in question is a Grey Goshawk (Accipter novaehollandiae).

As I was driving across the Railway Crossing in Meryla Street, Robertson, there was one of these birds, sitting quietly in large, dead Blackwood tree - trying to pretend that it was camouflaged with the moss-covered branches of the dead tree. I drove home quickly to get the camera, and when I returned it was still there. By the time I had stopped the car, it had flown off. Damn.

Grey Goshawk -
disappearing through the tree tops

I looked around, and saw it hiding amongst the top branches of the neighbouring Californian Redwood Trees in the "School Forest". Great, I thought, I might get a middle-distance photo, at least.


It was "off", as soon as it saw me get out of the car. (See photo at left - look closely - click on the photo to enlarge it - it is a large image, so be patient).

Look for the white wings (the under-wings) and even the yellow legs, as it is flying away.

Grey Goshawk playing "Peek a-Boo"

It did settle on another tree, at a safe distance of about 100 metres. But, it kept hiding its head. Like a young child, playing "Peek-a-Boo" it seemed to think if it could not see me, I could not see it. It was actively moving to stay hidden, as I tried to get a better line of sight. (I was at the railway crossing, with its brand new fence, so I could not freely walk in and try for a better view. Besides, I knew it would fly, if I came out in the open. I was staying close to the "Boom Gate" mechanisms, to make myself less obvious.)

I was amused, but frustrated by its sneakiness. With such birds, however, one tends to take whatever photos one can - for when will you get the chance for a perfect photo?

This skulkiness is typical behaviour for a Goshawk. Unlike many other raptors, which love to sit in prominent positions, to maximise their view of potential prey, these birds rely on a sneak attack, and the element of surprise. One could say they are engineered for exactly that.

Sir David Attenborough had a wonderful TV program episode on European Goshawks, years ago. He pointed out that they are strong birds, built for sprinting (short sharp burst of speed, not sustained flight). Eagles are soarers. Falcons are built for speed, with incredibly well streamlined bodies and wings. The Goshawk has wide wings - good for getting maximum power with control, when flying through trees - and being able to twist and turn to avoid obstacles at high speed. Even their tails are wide, again for the same reason. Falcons and Eagles are open air fliers. Goshawks are birds of the tree tops.

Grey Goshawk - landing.
Note the wide, powerful, wings and tail

Anyway, this bird, despite its obsession with avoiding my gaze (and my camera) did give me two classic (distant) views.

One is of the white sh
ape, disappearing through the dense foliage of the trees (photo 1 above). That is probably the most typical glimpse one gets of the Grey Goshawk.

The other is of it landing on a more distant tree - showing its wide, rounded wing shape, and its very wide tail - exactly the attributes which David Attenborough described as being the keys to its success as a hunter of birds within the forest canopy. Sorry about the poor quality of the image - still, the image is diagnostic.

Grey Goshawk, perching amongst the tree branches

The Grey Goshawk is a separate species, rather than an albino form of the more usual Brown Goshawk.

It is a beautiful bird, with a white body, grey wings, and prominent yellow legs, a yellow and black beak and a dark eye. It lives in the dense forests of the east coast of Australia and the Northern Territory. The hot link above takes you to the Australian Museum site, and gives a close-up photo of the head of this wonderful bird, and more on its life story.

Grey Goshawk allowed me a clear photo
- but only at a "safe distance"

A beautiful bird of prey. It is only a mid- sized bird of prey, not like a Whistling Eagle, or other large raptor. But it is well built and powerful. It is about 10% longer than a Pied Currawong, but it weighs nearly twice as much (according to the Australian Museum data files on both species).

This is almost certainly a female bird. Females are significantly larger than males of the species (a characteristic common to most raptors).


Leo said...

Hi Denis,
You're lucky to have seen one of these guys. I used to have a goshawk pair nesting near the trail where I walked the dog (they moved out when logging started back there). Magnificent birds when they swoop in total silence through the trees (a different species here of course). And very territorial when there were chicks in the nest as me and Verdi (the dog that owned me at that time) found out. I almost lost my hat, and Verdi got punched (with closed fists) on the back of the head by the male... we used a different trail for awhile...

Denis Wilson said...

Leo makes some good points - powerful flight through trees; silent approach. Obviously territorial, and like most raptors, fiercely defends its nest (Wege-tailed Eagles are an exception), but falcons can be terrifying - I speak from experience!
Finally, as Leo is commenting from Nova Scotia, Canada, you can see that the genus is universal. But with strong family characteristics.
Thanks, Leo.