Normally I would not write two blogs within a few days of each other but Saturday was a spectacular day in my pursuit of a male Northern Harrier. I just had to share with you all.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that another consideration was the fact the 2022 World Cup begins today. I expect I will be spending much of my free time cheering on both England and Canada in the tournament. How much time I will be spending outdoors or writing blogs I can’t say. Born in Coventry – home of the 1987 F.A. Cup Champions Coventry City – I remain football crazy, after all!
Anyway, back to Saturday’s encounters.
It was pretty cold and windy out there but the light was beautiful in the morning. As I drove slowly along these now familiar roads, with my son’s dog Chango along for the ride, I was delighted to see the male Northern Harrier which has eluded me for months, was out hunting.
Unlike other hawks Northern Harriers don’t sit high on a perch and wait for prey to appear. Nor do they fly high in the sky surveying the ground. They fly constantly less than ten feet above the ground with an undulating pattern, rising up before rapidly descending and then sometimes reversing direction entirely. They are, to me at least, a challenge to photograph.
Like owls they rely on their hearing in order to hunt rodents beneath the vegetation. Their faces are quite ‘owl like’ and help direct sound to their ears. While the female is larger and mainly brown the male, as you can see from these photos, is a silver grey colour.
After a delightful morning with this bird I returned home to look at my images. I also decided I would go back and see what activity I might discover later in the day.
Considering the number of times I have tried unsuccessfully to get decent images of this bird how could I possibly have two positive encounters in one day? Nevertheless, I loaded up my camera bag and my pal, Chango, and we set off into the countryside.
I patrolled the same area. Thick clouds blocked any sunlight in the afternoon and so I pushed the ISO on my camera very high in anticipation of a sighting. A pair of red tailed hawks soared overhead in the middle of a field too far away to attempt shots. I looked to several trees where the local bald eagles sometimes perch. They weren’t there.
But then, to my surprise, the male harrier appeared in the same vicinity as the morning – in the field just across the road from where I had seen him five hours earlier. As Chango looked on puzzled I got out and stood beside my car trying to focus on this raptor as he made his way towards me, battling a strong westerly wind, and then allowing the wind to rocket him back in the direction he had come.
Again he flew the same stretch of field offering me several chances to capture images. When he landed on the ground having snatched prey I knew this was a unique chance to get something special. Though the light was rather dull the colours were beautiful.
Saturday was a very special day that certainly made up for all those times where I have come home empty handed.
A few days ago I drove up to the area I call ‘snowy owl country’ looking out for my favourite species. My feature on them is the cover story for this month’s Canadian Geographic as a matter of fact. Despite the cold I did not see any owls although the trip allowed me the chance to catch up with one of the farmers I know. He couldn’t be sure but he thought he saw an owl one night on a grain silo. I will give it another week before I return there.
Between cheering for England and Canada on the soccer pitch, I will also check in on the harriers occasionally before turning my attention fully to the snowy owls. No doubt they will make their appearance shortly.