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Northern Harrier: My First

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Crouched down at the edge of the water, looking through my new to me, used 600mm, I was failing my search for the camera shy wood duck. Instead, there were a plethora of Canadian Geese and what I have always called sea gulls. "Rats with wings." I can still hear my dad say those words as they swooped down at us at the beach, waiting for the opportunity to steal a potato chip or cheese puff.

A couple bird watchers stealthily joined me and made small talk when a bird breached the tree line behind them. My large camera, attached to the oversize lens that was attached to the tripod, was too heavy to pick up and swing around.

"There goes a falcon!" I pointed out to them. I had a small sense of pride that I could point them in a more interesting direction than the cluster of noisy birds in the water. They calmly turned, picked up the binoculars to their eyes, and gazed on.

After a few seconds one says, "Oh, that's not a falcon... that's a... marsh hawk. But they don't call it that anymore." I instantly felt stupid. Way to show off my vast knowledge of the wildlife that I'm here to photograph. But what is a "marsh hawk?" I'm familiar with the red tail, cooper's, and sharp-shinned hawks. What am I missing?

"Northern Harrier!" She exclaimed when she finally remembered the name.

It was that moment that I stopped listening to anything else. A Northern Harrier?? As in the bird that contributed its name to the fighter jet that hovers? That bird that is on my bucket list that I thought was in upper New York and Canada? I needed to exit this makeshift conversation as soon as possible so I can chase this thing I didn't realized exists here.

"OK," I said as I put my shoulder under the lens/camera combination and stood up with the tripod dangling underneath. "I think I need to follow that bird."

The couple, as nice as they were, kept the conversation going as I walked backwards toward the majestic bird who was hovering and diving in the field across the street. I attempted to not be rude but all I could hear was the grass under my feet turning to mud and the mud turning to water. In a few steps my boot was half submerged in a murky mess. "Watch out!" The delayed warning came from the woman.

I looked down and gave a carefree smile and shrug. "It's all good. That's why I wear these boots." They were water proof. I've been in this situation many times before. I rarely even look where I'm stepping half the time. "Don't let terrain dictate your movement" was a familiar saying in the Marine Corps Infantry.

The conversation finally came to an end and I darted down the stone road and across the paved street. By the time I setup my tripod the Harrier was too far for anything good. It rested on a bird house across the field. But this was my first Harrier so I started shooting. Maybe I can make something worth posting.

It wasn't until much later, when viewing the photos on my laptop, that I noticed the bird of prey did in fact have a kill. As the bird leapt from the birdhouse, it revealed a dead rodent clenched in its talons. I felt lucky to have shared this moment in nature. Even if I didn't see the act of the hunt. Now, I just can't wait to get back out there and spend more time, waiting for my bird friend to give me a second chance at a better shot.

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