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Posts Tagged ‘Circus hudsonius’

This past week I was thrilled to spot a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) on two separate occasions at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Northern Harriers are slim, long-tailed hawks. One of the things that distinguish these raptors from others is that, “unlike other hawks, they rely heavily on their sense of hearing to capture prey,” which is why they often fly low and slowly over the ground, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology .

During my first encounter, the harrier was flying low over a field. The first photo below gives you an idea of how close to the ground the bird was flying. It reminded me of my military training and the concept of “nap-of-the-earth” flight, a very low-altitude flight course used by military aircraft to avoid enemy detection and attack in a high-threat environment.

A few day later I spotted a Northern Harrier in the same general location. This time the harrier was soaring high above my head. I could not tell for sure if it was hunting, but it sure seemed to be keeping watch over things on the ground and appeared to be looking right at me.

I am not sure how much longer this harrier will be hanging around, so I will be returning to the same location within the next few days with a hope of another encounter with a harrier.

 

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Friday I was thrilled to spot a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had never seen one in action before and it was cool to watch it patrol low over a field at the refuge. Harriers, unlike other hawks,  rely on their sense of hearing to help capture prey, which is why they stay so close to the ground. If you want to learn more about Northern Harriers, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, one of my favorite sources of information about birds.

It was exciting to see this bird, but it sure was a challenge getting any decent shots. The harrier was a good distance away and seemed to vary its altitude in an unpredictable way. When it zoomed low, my camera wanted to focus on the ground vegetation and when it flew a bit higher, the camera sought to focus on the more distant trees, rather than on the bird that filled only a small part of the frame.

The two images below were the best that I took before the harrier disappeared from sight and show some of the features of this awesome raptor pretty well, including the face that guides sometimes describe as owl-like. It is always exciting to photograph a new species, but an inner desire to get more and better images of a new subject is sufficient motivation for me to go out again and again with my camera.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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