This might just be my favorite raptor to try to photograph. And until this day in January of 2021, a really good shot had eluded me. They’re very skittish and wary. Plus shooting birds in flight is just hard. It’s a technique that needs to be practiced. Last winter I spend days on end working on photographing birds in flight – practicing lots on seagulls – refining my technique. The seagulls were good for that because they’re so very common…and they don’t seem to have much problem flying close. And, as an aside, with wildlife photography, nothing can beat proximity. Sure, it’s easy to get a speck of a blur of a vulture circling overhead… But to get fine detail of the eyes or feathers, the closer you are, the better the shot.
The Northern Harriers (also known as Marsh Hawks to us older people), don’t think much of proximity to humans. I’ve got hundreds of shots of them from a distance…but very few as close as this one. They’re ground-nesters and seldom fly very high (compared to Red-tails, for example). You’ll often see them 20 or so feet off the ground, flying over farmland in search of rodents and other small prey. One of the places they like to hunt is along the sides of dirt roads. They’ll often fly along the side of a road…and in the case of this one, she was flying toward me (while I was in the car, stopped). I managed to acquire and keep focus as she approached, and this shot is when she was nearly parallel to me. The blue in the background is an iced-over marsh in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. And she’s just gorgeous. Look at that eye!
Sometimes I’ll take a shot and wonder if the camera grabbed what I saw. Often, we’re not in sync. However as I fired this burst, I knew I’d succeeded. Couldn’t wait to get home to see it on the larger screen. And…it turned out to be the first of a number of good ones. That time with the gulls had been well spent.