Northern Harrier

A Northern Harrier formel glides by, always on the lookout for a small mammal.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In fact, with the Northern Harrier, a bird with keen eyesight and talent for being as far from people as they possibly can, I’d say being lucky is the best thing to be.

A female Northern Harrier photographed at Columbia Bottom C.A. in St. Louis County.

During a recent trip to Columbia Bottom C.A., I spotted this formel (an old-school name for a female hawk or raptor) flying back and forth over this small patch of sorghum that was planted near an equipment shed and a small patch of woods that were both near an easy place to park. I doubted I would have the time to get close enough without being seen, but thought I’d give it a try.

Northern Harrier in a typical “V” gliding pattern used to silently move inches above the fields while hunting.

I realized I was in a promising position in which I could move perpendicular to the course the bird was moving. I just needed to make sure I was either hunkered into the scrub-lined woods on the one side, or plastered against the equipment shed on the other. I did this without either being seen by the bird or at least by not being considered a threat.

The Northern Harrier is a rare sexually dimorphic raptor. Males are smaller and colored blue-grey and white while females, like the one pictured here, are full of warm-toned browns.

When I was close enough that I felt I could put my 400 mm f/4 lens to good use, I was ready to shoot the next time she came by. I was able to get some shots on a couple or three passes before she started to move to other locations. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera settings optimized for such an occasion. I left a lot of potential aperture (DOF) and shutter speed on the table (these were mostly shot at ISO 100). But, I am happy with what I was able to get while being sure I did not make the bird too uncomfortable in the process.

The last looks a lot of poor mammals might have – a Northern Harrier overhead.

-OZB

 

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