Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Gray Ghost: Northern Harrier

Sunlight touches the fog rising over the Wet Prairie:

Sunlight touches fog 01-20180317

I grew up calling it a Marsh Hawk, and the same species is known as Hen Harrier in Europe and Asia. This slender large diurnal raptor has long, narrow wings, a long tail, and a conspicuous white rump patch. It has an owl-like facial disc, and  is commonly seen flying low over open land. 

Like a Turkey Vulture, it glides with wings tilted upward in a dihedral, an adaptation for slow and low flight. For both species, this configuration allows the wings to stall alternatively as they lose lift, causing the bird to wobble or "teeter" rather than suddenly plunge down to the ground. 

Adult female:

Northern Harrier 2-20111127

A harrier photobombed my session with a Bobcat family:

Harrier over bobcats 20111103

Another appeared unexpectedly at the edge of an Illiniois cornfield, as I watched a Coyote walk away:

Coyote and male harrier 20130225

Coyote and female harrier 2-20130225

Note the yellow eyes and bulging crop of this adult female:

Northern Harrier 20110220

Northern Harrier close 20110220

Few of my photos are in good focus, as the bird's movements are difficult to track and predict:

Northern Harrier 20111204

Northern Harrier 02-20111204

Northern Harrier 09-20111204

In my collection of Northern Harrier images, nearly all are of the larger brown females or, more commonly, immature birds with cinnamon-colored underparts. The younger birds have dark eyes, while those of adults become bright yellow. This immature has spotted (or heard) prey in the high grass:

Northern Harrier 5-20131210

Northern Harrier 2-20131210

Northern Harrier 4-20131210

I got a poor image of this female Northern Harrier, through our daughter's kitchen window in Illinois. Her cinnamon undersides, which may be an artifact due to the warm morning  light, suggest she is immature but her eyes are quite bright yellow as in an adult:

Northern Harrier 4-20130114

Northern Harrier 20130114

She flew up to display her distinctive white rump:

Northern Harrier 3-20130114

This is a young Male Northern Harrier. It looks quite brown:

Northern Harrier Male 20090328

As they age, males mature into a  beautiful plumage of white, gray and black. I had only very poor and distant photos of male harriers until, in January 2018, this one flew overhead in the local wetlands and afforded me one shot as it sped away:

Northern Harrier male 01-20180123

I was thrilled as this adult male, perhaps the same one, approached my position in the Wet Prairie on March 23, 2018. It veered erratically and I thought the "Gray Ghost" would turn away:

Northern Harrier male 009-20180323

Northern Harrier male 011-20180323

Northern Harrier male 007-20180323

Northern Harrier male original 001-20180323

Males are a bit less common than females, but seem greatly outnumbered during the winter because of the similarity between adult females and the abundant immature birds of both sexes. Far north, on their breeding gounds, the males may collect a "harem" of several females.

Perched on road sign at Brigantine preserve in New Jersey:

Northern Harrier at Brig 20091208

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display



  1. Fantastic shots and very good description!

  2. Lots of critter encounters. Yeah. Lovely first shot.

  3. A wonderful collection of "Gray Ghost" shots! I also like your opening shots with the beautiful fog blanket.

  4. Incredible photos of the hawk, and a little bit of out-of-focus is no surprise with a bird that moves so fast.
    Your first photo, with the pink mist, is delightful, but your hawk series is spectacular. Photo bombing! And coyotes! Nothing missing here.
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  5. I beg to have captured some excellent bird images, notwithstanding their being in flight. And that Harrier glancing over her 'shoulder' is precious. Finally, your top image with the fog is very nice [although I would have wished for more foreground and less sky].

  6. Such gorgeous photos and interesting information. Strikingly beautiful birds, especially the males.

  7. I admire your ability to get the Harrier and Coyote in one shot. Nicely done!

  8. Spectacular first photo. How you manage to capture the harrier in flight I have no idea.

  9. Fantastic photos as usual. The beauties of wild creatures are endlessly fascinating, glad you are able to capture some of it. When I saw the first picture, with the mist illuminated by early sun, I thought it must surely have been warm and balmy.. but then i saw the snow in subsequent pictures!

  10. wow...that coloured fog is amazing!! And gorgeous shots of the hawks!

  11. Wow, amazing captures of the Harrier. I love the Gray Ghost. They are beautiful. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Thanks also for the comment. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

  12. Wonderful pictures . . .
    Interesting wing styles, movements . . .

  13. Amazing shots! I especially like the northern harrier looking over her shoulder, but each is wonderful. Love the fog shot.

  14. Amazing hawk photos! I think the focus on your photos of the hawks in motion is great. And I enjoyed reading the narrative along with them. Hope you are having a great weekend!

  15. Awesome captures, thanks for sharing :)

  16. Great shots. Love looking at the wings.

  17. I see more female harriers...only one male in all my years birding. Gorgeous flight series!!

    For this week, I send my thanks to you for sharing with us bird lovers at I'd Rather B Birdin'!

  18. That first photo is incredible! Amazing!

  19. Those birds don't miss much going on at the ground.
    Love the last and third last photos!

  20. Many of your photos took my breath away, birds and prairie. You must be using a heavy lens and yet you've got a steady hand. I was looking for birds today after a pretty good blanket of snow in south central WI and heard them but couldn't pick them out of the landscape.

  21. Your photos you say are "poor image" far surpass by sharpest ones. Truly. Birds are majestic, I wonder if they know. That first photo. She looked like a ballet dancer in flight. :-)
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  22. Great fog shot. Guess that's where the Harrier airplane got its name. - Margy

  23. That first photo is outstanding - all of them are beautiful but the first is mesmerizing to me.

  24. Gorgeous photos - absolutely wonderful!

    Thanks for joining us at

  25. Absolutely stunning photos of the flying patterns of the birds, Ken! In Holland I have never seen a vulture (because 90% of the country is flat low land). Here in the mountains I see them often, but my lens is not strong enough to take sharp photos. We are privileged at All Seasons to have a skilled photographer like you among us!
    Have a beautiful week - not to forget the "pink" layer of fog is stunning!

  26. Awesome series of photos! It's always fun to capture such a great bird.

  27. I'm guessing that this aerial hunter exceeds the speed limit on a regular basis. Very nice set of images in flight. Have a blessed day.

  28. Wow, I think there are some great photos here and I especially the close up in flight that is amazing. Interesting post. Diane

  29. You got some great dynamic shots here


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