Hikers and runners feel the sting of Goshawks' talons

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Phoebe Rohrbacher and Meghan Salveson were running the Treadwell Ditch Trail when they heard a goshawk's screech echoing from the spruce trees.

Moments later, the raptor swooped down and beaned Salveson's scalp with its talons. She felt blood trickle down her neck.

''I was, like, 'Phoebe, this hawk is kind of aggressive,'''Salveson said. ''Then I see the hawk coming back around for me again, and he came and clocked me again, and we just booked it.''

The two young women and a handful of other runners and hikers have felt the sting of raptor talons on the same stretch of trail over the past few weeks.

According to local biologists, a pair of goshawks who've nested there see the runners as a threat to their fledglings. Goshawks are brown and white speckled birds about the size of ravens and are known for aggressively protecting their nests.

State Fish and Game biologist Polly Hessing recommends that people avoid the section of the trail from Lawson Creek to Fifth Street in Douglas for the next few weeks until the chicks begin to fly and the parent hawks become less protective.

''We're not going to close the trail down, but we are encouraging people to hike somewhere else,'' Hessing said.

Hessing and other biologists have posted signs near the birds' nesting site to warn hikers of attack danger. The hawks have done some damage to people, but the more serious harm could be to the hawks because of the constant traffic on the trail.

The activity on the trail stresses the birds, Hessing said.

''Any time she (the mother hawk) spends chasing people, she could be spending bringing food to her young or just being with them,'' Hessing said.

Timothy Kell, 22, has 10 scabs on his head from an encounter with a goshawk last weekend.

Running the Treadwell Ditch Trail for the first time Saturday, he came upon one of the biologists' warning signs, but decided to go on anyway.

''I had no idea how current or how old the sign was and being two or three miles out in the woods on a run, I didn't want to turn back,'' he said.

Just a few minutes later, the bird plunged from a treetop and caught hold of the back of his head.

''I didn't want to turn around and directly face it, I went into a full-out sprint,'' he said. ''I thought once I took off, it would leave me alone, but it followed me for a couple minutes. It kept coming and coming.''

The bird made half a dozen passes at him before he escaped. He won't run the trail again this summer.

Goshawks are not endangered, but they are protected by federal law, and harming them carries penalties.

Fish and Game Biologist Rich Lowell, from Petersburg, spent nine years studying goshawks in Alaska and has years of experience with the nesting site off the Treadwell Ditch Trail.

He said the birds are most aggressive when they have chicks in the nest from late May to early July. Dogs particularly agitate them, he said. They also prefer to attack from behind.

''If you make eye contact with them, they are unlikely to hit you,'' he said. ''You might wave your hand over your head if they are diving on you.''

Hessing advised hikers and runners to hold sticks above their heads because the birds will attack the highest part of what they consider to be a threat.

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