harrier at sunset

“She went down!”

Three minutes passed. It seemed an eternity. Then, Gini let me know, “Here she comes, right at you!” Was three minutes enough to eat a mouse or lizard or frog?

We had come to this lake in the hope of spotting a wintering Horned Grebe. It was about a half-hour before sunset. A rough count showed about 1200 Lesser Scaup had settled onto the lake’s surface for the night. A few dozen Ruddy Ducks were mixed in with the larger Scaup. There! Just passed that group of ducks. A lone Horned Grebe. Mission accomplished!

The golden rays of the waning sun washed in from our right. As we scanned the lake for more Horned Grebes, a Bald Eagle passed in front of us. Apparently not in hunting mode, the big raptor flew straight and fast. Assorted herons, egrets, anhingas, cormorants and gallinules all were gathering in the shallow water near shore and it would soon be dark.

Materializing from the glare of the sun’s last gasp of brightness for the day, flying low along the shore with that lilting, buoyant almost lazy flight – a Northern Harrier appeared. My first impression felt that it was a young female, but with an unstreaked belly and cinnamon wash, it could as easily have been an immature male at this time of year. We shall call her “she”.

Formerly known as a Marsh Hawk (Circus hudsonius), we are fortunate to see these magnificent birds during migration. In a few weeks, they will head back to their breeding territory in the far northern United States and Canada. While they are here, we will watch as long as they allow.

An owl-like head turns left, right and then concentrates directly below her. She initially followed the shoreline, reversed course after a few hundred yards and returned along the same flight path but somewhat inland. The pattern was repeated over the next 30 minutes, each time bringing her farther inland and nearer our position. We could not have wished for better entertainment.

We think when she disappeared into the weeds near the end of her first pass that she scored a meal. She was on the ground about three minutes and as she became airborne she cleaned her talons with her beak as she flew. The aerodynamic display was fascinating! A sudden 90 degree flip of a wing and a quick dive, the constant movement of her head like a radar dish in search mode, the effortless cruising through the tops of the weeds – and then – she was gone.

Gini and I soaked up a few more minutes of the day’s afterglow. A couple of satisfied sighs. A memorable sunset with a beautiful bird.

Yeah. There are pictures. Wish you had been there.

(Photographs were made with a Nikon D750 and Tamron SP AF 150-600mm lens. Most images were at 600mm, f/7.1, 1/1600 and due to the fading light ISO 1000-3200.)

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.

20 Comments on “harrier at sunset

  1. Excellent collection. I have been trying for years to get such pics but the birds will just not cooperate and get close enough. Great job and it is quite challenging in FL where there is so much territory for them to roam.
    I always enjoy your posts. Look forward to the next one.
    Perhaps we are related!!!!!


    • Dan,

      First, thank you for visiting and making such gracious remarks. It is appreciated.

      Second, as with most photographs of nature, serendipity plays a huge role in my outcome. Of course, it helps to be “out there” as often as possible!

      Third, a visit to your website has left me speechless. Almost. I still have some images to gawk at, but – WOW! I hope to take a photograph like that some day.

      Finally, since there are relatively few Joneses in Florida, there is a very good chance we ARE related! 🙂

      Hope to see you again.
      (Gotta get back to those cypress trees and sunsets and ….)


  2. I do believe you, despite the fake news I hear about Florida being eternal sunshine and optimism. I must ask – did you both delve into the bottom drawers and seek out the thermal underwear? Until then you have not experienced cold as we in Lancashire know it to permeate our very bones and blight our poor existence.

    I would even vote in unprecedented ways to be able to take pictures like yours of a Hen Harrier. To think that these magnificent birds are targeted to death each year because they pose a threat to a few reared Grouse is I fear, unfathomable to you?

    If Boris relents and I ever get out birding again I may even see one – at great distance. Stay warm my friends.


    • As a native Floridian, I remain optimistic that our sunshine shall return just in time to keep the thermometer above the freezing point.

      We have delved into our drawers and cannot find anything labeled “thermal underwear”. Some interesting socks were discovered, however, and now adorn our frost-bitten feet.

      Having seen the quality of your photography, all that is needed is patience for that Harrier moment and that quality I embrace as my overarching goal: “Luck”. In a sane world, the grouse would be reared exclusively for Harriers to hunt.

      Here’s to warm weather, light wind and freedom to bird.


  3. Any harrier is fabulous to watch, Wally, but my own sightings (of Hen Harrier and Marsh Harrier) have usually only been very brief. Having one perform for you like this one must have been a real thrill and, yes, one that I would have loved to have been there for and have you share it with me!

    Bit of good news today – Lindsay and I got a call to go for our first vaccine shots on Wednesday afternoon!

    With my very best wishes to you and Gini – take great care – – – Richard


    • Thank you, Richard! We wish you had been there with us, too.

      Excellent news about your vaccine shots!

      We are doing exceedingly well here. A new week is being ushered in by a cold front. Extremely windy today, but it bodes well for birding the rest of the week!

      All the best.


  4. Fabulous photos, Wally – you got some very good looks at this bird! I really like the ones where she’s looking back at you with her head turned,

    As an aside, I worked on the Harrier Jump Jet program for the US Marines. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make any photos at the time.



    • Thank you, Ed!

      Part of my job in the Air Force included periodic intelligence meetings with NATO combat pilots. It was pretty cool when the first Brit Harrier pilots showed up as everyone was curious about the new birds.

      A new week is here!
      Let’s make pictures.


  5. Hello,

    Beautiful series on the Harrier! They are fun to watch! Take care, happy birding.
    Enjoy your new week!


  6. Thanks for this wealth of photos. After studying them and reading the Texas Parks &Wildlife page about them, I’m certain I’ve seen them at the Brazoria Refuge, but didn’t know what they were. That fast, low flight over the grasses, the occasional V-shape of the wings, and the generally sleek shape certainly suggest it. I have heard local birders talk about seeing ‘marsh hawks’ — there’s another clue. I’ll pay more attention the next time I’m out and about.

    When I read your title, the first thing I thought of was the Harrier Jump Jet. I didn’t realize until about three minutes ago that the aircraft was named after the bird.


    • I have some (very old) Harrier, the jump jet, photos from European air shows, but I prefer the feathered variety!

      Another key feature to look for with Harriers is that white rump patch. Distinctive even at a distance.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. These are such fascinating raptors. I have seen fewer harriers in our local “Wounded Wetlands” in recent years. Large areas of wet prairie have been allowed by the Water Management District to turn into Phragmites and exotic Melaleuca, Australian Pine and Brazilian Pepper (among a multitude of other invasive plants). I have complained, but their excuse is that ATV riders are ruining the habitat and resources must go to excluding them before any restoration can occur. Three years ago I had a “Gray Ghost” male as my only visitor, so welcomed as it flew back and forth over the degraded prairie.


    • So sorry to hear about your local wetlands, Ken. A story too often repeated around the state.

      Any chance to watch a Harrier is one I’ll jump at!


  8. Beautiful shots! I saw my first harrier yesterday at Circle B along with the large group of bird paparazzi. I would have preferred a little less crowd but it was still fun seeing it.


  9. Beautiful, beautiful birds but then you probably realise I have a soft spot for Harriers.
    Before our daughter was born Tina & I would go out on a winters afternoon, cross the marshes to view a huge reedbed where the Harriers came to roost. 20 to 30 of ‘our’ Marsh Harriers and if we were lucky 4 or 5 Hen Harriers which look like your Northern would fly in and swoop and rise before settling down for the night. Then in the dark we would have to carefully negotiate the marsh back to the car. Happy days.


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