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ADVENTURER | CHARLIE JOHNSTON
Few places on earth offer the kinds of perspectives afforded from the thousands of ridge tops that punctuate Nevada’s more than 300 mountain ranges. From these lofty earthen turrets one can marvel at the endless expanses of the Great Basin stretching out beneath them and ponder their place in all of it.
One such prominence, the crest of northeastern Nevada’s Goshute Mountains, looks, at first glance, much like any other Nevada ridgeline. But a closer inspection reveals that this conspicuously populated perch and the substantial camp scattered about its rock escarpments and juniper trees holds higher significance than just a stunning view.
The ridge is home to the HawkWatch International Goshute Research Site, and the work that is done there during each fall migration offers crucial perspective on the wellbeing of the world around us. Eagles, falcons, hawks, and other raptors are apex predators with large ranges and distributions and are thereby especially sensitive to environmental contamination and other human disturbances. For these reasons, they are exceptional indicators of the health of their ecosystems—the talon-clad canaries in the mines that are our planet’s various bionetworks.
HawkWatch, as the name implies, utilizes the unique position of these animals in an effort to conserve the environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors, and, in turn, sustaining and protecting the birds themselves. Born in 1986 of founder Steve Hoffman’s desire to learn more about raptor migrations in the West, HawkWatch has counted, banded, observed, gauged, and gathered data on millions of birds by briefly capturing them during the animals’ winter migrations.
And that’s where the Goshute Mountains come in. One of HawkWatch’s longest-running Raptor Migration Project sites, the Goshutes lay along the busy Intermountain Flyway. Each year, from August 15 through November 5, between 18,000 and 25,000 migrating raptors from up to 18 species are counted at the site, one of the largest concentrations in the western United States and Canada.
Hoffman first started observing and banding raptors in the Goshutes in 1980, and standardized counts at the site began in, and have continued since, 1983. The counts conducted atop the range monitor long-term trends in raptor populations using the more than 55,000 birds that have been banded there. HawkWatch also tracks raptors banded at the Goshute site using satellite telemetry, allowing the organization to learn even more about the breeding, wintering distributions, and migratory habits of various species.
As though the Goshute site weren’t already unique enough, there’s more. A heart-pounding 2.5-mile trail leads 1,800 feet up the eastern flank of the Goshutes, and those up for the challenging hike are welcome and encouraged to visit and learn more about HawkWatch’s work.
DIRECTIONS & MORE INFO
While the hike itself is strenuous, accessing the trailhead is easy with a high-clearance vehicle. From the Ferguson Spring Nevada Department of Transportation Station, 24 miles south of West Wendover via U.S. Highway Alternate 93, turn west onto the well-traveled dirt road. The road leads to a “T” after 1.8 miles; turn right and continue 1.3 miles to another fork atop a hill. Turn left at the fork and continue two miles to the parking area and well-marked trailhead.
There is no water at the research site nor any water sources along the road or trail, so bring plenty of your own. Make sure to dress in layers; a warm summer day can turn blustery and cold in a hurry in Nevada’s mountains, and the research site sits at nearly 9,000 feet. To help ensure minimal impact, HawkWatch asks visitors to practice “Leave No Trace” backcountry ethics and discourages groups of more than 10 people without prearranged reservations.
Full-time HawkWatch volunteers spend many hours observing, capturing, tagging, and releasing birds atop the Goshutes, and infrequently get off the mountain for the comforts of civilization. They are always appreciative of visitors that bring them fresh fruit, and will gladly let you carry some of their recycling back down the mountain if you’re up for it.
The problem with traditional pets is that it can be rather time consuming to properly care for them. Which makes adopting a hawk an easy way to claim a pet without any of the day-to-day responsibility. Adopting a hawk costs anywhere from $35 for a sharp-shinned hawk to $250 for a Peregrine falcon and entitles you to a certificate with your specific bird’s band number and information about the species and a photo, a one-year membership to HawkWatch, and, in the case of satellite telemetry raptor adoptions, the opportunity to name and receive periodic updates on the whereabouts of your bird. To clarify, “your” hawk isn’t coming to live with you, but your donation to HawkWatch will help ensure that it and its offspring will be around for future generations to appreciate and, perhaps, even adopt.