Northern Harrier In Very Warm Light

Light doesn’t get much warmer than this (but I don’t always like warm light on birds).

Note: Some time ago I posted a different photo of this hawk but this one is new to my blog.


1/800, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is an older image taken way back in November of 2009. It was a very cold morning at Farmington Bay and I found this Northern Harrier trying to warm up on an old snag just as the sun was coming up over the nearby Wasatch Mountains. Birds on this perch are always sidelit (or backlit later in the day) and that light angle typically doesn’t appeal to me but there are exceptions and this is one of them.

The hawk had fluffed its feathers just enough for that warm light to kiss some of its upper wing coverts and I like that effect because it allows for significantly more detail in the shaded wing. I think the rich colors of the harrier are enhanced by the quality of light and I also enjoy the partially fanned tail.



1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But I’m not always a fan of warm light on birds. A couple of days ago I photographed this Western Grebe with a large fish soon after sunrise at Bear River MBR. It had been feeding its chick (seen begging in the shade to the left of the adult) and the youngster thought it should get this fish too. But apparently the adult knew it was too big for the young bird and with a great deal of effort swallowed it him/her self.

I took many photos of these birds and their feeding activities and initially I had high hopes for them but when I saw them on the screen I just didn’t like the effect of the warm light. For some reason I seldom do on black and/or white birds.

I can’t really explain why though…





33 comments to Northern Harrier In Very Warm Light

  • Todd Blessing

    Ron, can you explain to me the significance of the extender used to take these and all your pictures?

    • Todd, it’s also called a teleconverter. It’s a small optical device that fits between my camera and my lens and it increases magnification. My 5oomm lens with the 1.4 extender attached effectively takes me to 700mm (500x 1.4). Since my camera has a cropped sensor it also, in effect, increases magnification. The crop factor of my Canon 7D Mark II is 1.6 so I’m usually shooting at an effective 1120mm (500 x 1.4 x 1.6).

      Canon’s version 3 of the extender is very high quality and when it’s used it robs me of no noticeable image quality with my lens. They also make a 2.0 extender but simply because of the physics of optics that extender does cause a slight reduction in image quality.

      If you’re interested in seeing what it looks like check out this link:

      PS – I don’t use the extender for “all” of my photos. When I’m very close to my subject I often remove it so the subject isn’t too tight in the frame.

  • I adore the golden light on the harrier – and love that it has fluffed up its duvet while it tries to stay warm.
    And yes, the golden light on the harrier – which accentuates the existing colouration is much more to my taste than on the grebe where the light alters the colours.

  • SkyKing

    …the color on the harrier is spectacular…

  • April Olson

    Beautiful, I remember the other photo of this bird you posted. It is so golden and glowing.

  • Susan Stone

    Interesting, seeing the difference between the two photos. I have to agree that the Harrier photo is much better with the warm light than the Grebe photo. From the colors I’m guessing that your Harrier is a female. I have to say that I like the Grebe photo, too, just because I like the subject, including the begging chick.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Computer problems and work have kept me from perusing your site for a while. Catching up was great inspiration this morning – and I’m absolutely enamored with today’s Harrier photo. Stunning!!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Marvelous Ron!

  • Marty K

    The Harrier is magnificent bathed in that warm light! Wow! I may be in the minority, but the warm light doesn’t bother me in the Grebe shot. I wish the youngster had a little more light on him or her, though. That is one big fish — I can hear the Grebe bragging to his poker buddies. 😉

    • Marty, I actually liked that particular grebe shot better than most of the others because the effect of the warm light was more subdued. But when warm light turns natural whites almost to a golden color it just grates against my sensibilities…

      • Marty K

        I can understand that. I definitely see a difference between the crisper white of the begging youngster and the more yellowy white of the adult.

  • Judy C

    That really is a magnicent shot of the Harrier with that golden light Ron. Just wonderful!

  • The Harrier almost appears to have a source of illumination from within its breast ! I think that the illusion is enhanced by such a very pale , almost colorless sky——just gorgeous.

  • Dick Harlow

    Since I haven’t seen a picture/image of yours I don’t like, all I can say is what terrific pictures! However, I will note that if you remove the warm light on the Harrier that you are not as enamored of, you do have one beautiful image of a Northern Harrier. The face is excellent, the feathers fluffed up and the tail give a great perspective to the cold day and the need for warmth from the sun. I will say would have loved to see the Grebe trying to swallow that fish!
    Thanks for sharing!

    BTW, when I hit post comment I do not receive check subscription from your website, which means I have no way of accessing comments unless I go back to your original post. Why?

    • Dick, That same thing happened to Elephant’s Child a couple of weeks ago.

      Eventually she fixed it on her end. When I asked her how she did it this is what she said:

      “I went to the subscription management page and fiddled.

      Among other things it told me that some ‘unactivated subscriptions’ were preventing others from loading. Which I only found out about when I followed a link from an old comment which arrived.

      It was intensely frustrating and I turned the air around me thick with choice phrases.”

      Actually I DO like the warm light on the harrier. It’s the grebe photo where I don’t like it.

  • Marina schultz

    That harrier picture is to die for!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ann

    It’s amazing the feelings I get when viewing your photos of birds. Without reading the description, I just knew it was a cold day and could feel the warmth of the sunrise just by looking at that Harrier’s fluffed feathers. Good job!

    • “Without reading the description, I just knew it was a cold day and could feel the warmth of the sunrise just by looking at that Harrier’s fluffed feathers”

      I agree, Ann. That photo almost doesn’t need words to describe the situation. Thank you for the kind words.

  • Judy Gusick

    The Northern Harrier is beautiful with the warm light – Western Grebe not so much tho it certainly is a great picture of the HUGE (for it) fish it had captured! Don’t know how these birds get them down without choking! Suspect you/we KNOW B&W Birds are supposed to be B&W and tend to just look scruffy in the warmer light.

    • “B&W Birds are supposed to be B&W and tend to just look scruffy in the warmer light”

      You said that well, Judy. Warm light on black and white birds rarely works for me.

      This bird almost DID choke on that fish! I thought it was going to give up but eventually it got it down.