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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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