The eight minutes I spent photographing this male Northern Harrier in flight were both exhilarating and frustrating to the extreme. I’ll set the stage as best I can.
Just after dawn two days ago we were on the causeway and headed for Antelope Island when we encountered this male northern Harrier hunting the north side of the road. There was a moderate north wind and the harrier was traveling east which meant that he had to face northeast as he rode the air currents obliquely and very slowly in the direction he wanted to go, barely flapping his wings as he hunted very low over the edge of the causeway. I turned around, rushed to get ahead of him and waited until he came into range and then fired away. I did this again and again, thinking my activity might spook him but it didn’t (quite unusual for a harrier). In fact he almost completely ignored us as he hunted. It was very exciting to spend this much time with a harrier in flight.
1/5000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
But it was also frustrating to the extreme. Because of the quartering wind the harrier was mostly kiting in the same flight posture (wings held horizontally), facing the same direction (mostly away from me) and looking down as it hunted. That wind direction, sun angle, flight angle of attack and hunting activity meant that the eye was nearly always shaded for the entire 8 minutes. A rear/side-view with the wings held horizontally and the eye impossible to see well just doesn’t cut the mustard for me.
But out of the 110 shots I took of him in flight there were a very few like this one that I thought were interesting. The bird had momentarily dipped his wings to light up most of the dorsal surface and there’s just enough light on the face to (barely) reveal the eye. I like the overall effect of the lighting, the spread of the tail and with this crop we get a hint of the brown and green vegetation and how low the harrier was hunting.
1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
Once during those eight minutes he caught prey (presumably a vole, it can’t be seen at his feet in this shot) and gobbled it down in just a few seconds. This image gives a different look at the bird and the habitat it was hunting. The mud flats of the Great Salt Lake begin in the upper background of the photo.