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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Feb 12, 2010

Norther Harrier

Northern Harrier in flight

The Northern Harrier is singularly responsible for my interest in all members of  the raptor family.

It was the fact  that she was slim and stream lined much  like a falcon and had eyes like an owl that did the trick.  I have never forgotten exactly how she was perched on that baseball diamond fence, because like all magic moments, the image seems to be permanently imprinted in the memory banks of my brain and teases me still. At the time I didn't have internet access, so my curiosity about this bird continued to burn brightly within me for quite some time.

As typical when I make the best sightings of birds, it was early  morning on a bright and sunny spring day.  I was walking the kids to their daycare.  I didn't have a camera at the time, as I wasn't in the habit yet of carrying one around and I truly didn't need one.   The Northern Harrier, a female I learned later, was perched very quietly on the top of the fence, unconcerned and very still.  That very stillness is what caught my attention, because it was so uncharacteristic of bird behavior.  After all, even sea gulls will take flight at the sounds of noisy  kids approaching, and my kids, being little still, were anything but quiet.

She sat straight and proud.  My first impression was that she was tall and clearly unafraid. We stopped  and stared at her for some time and she stared right back, merely tolerating our presence like someone whose space had been invaded and didn't truly mind.  She wasn't exactly completely relaxed, in that her feathers  were not  fluffed out, but she didn't hold her feathers close to her body either like most birds do when  they are afraid.  She didn't twist her head this way or that, looking for a direction of escape. In fact, she radiated confidence, or so it seemed to me at the time.
Northern Harrier changing direction

These precious minutes allowed my mind to take in all details of her physical characteristics.  She  was a beautiful shade of brown and had clearly defined rings around her eyes just like an owl.  I was fascinated, and questions about her immediately began filling my mind.  I wished to know everything I could about  this bird. She was so unlike any bird that I had ever seen that she represented a mystery and, as it turned out for me, she represented change.  I knew right then that I would very much like to see this bird again, and again.

I was in fact I was so drawn to this bird, that I unconsciously took a step forward  to get a closer look.  An action that, quite naturally, and unfortunately, shattered the moment.  The Northern Harrier simply took flight, without sound or panic, as if she knew all along that her advantage over us, and therefore her safety lay in her ability to fly.  To someone who had never seen a hawk up close before she seemed huge  once she spread her wings to take to the air, and then she was gone in a flash.  I didn't see her again for many years and it was several years before I learned anything about her at all.

Northern Harrier Male

They say that all birds are messengers of spirit, and this bird had clearly reminded me that I enjoy exploring the natural world, and that doing so brings me peace, although that message took some time to become truly apparent. This, and one or two other events, eventually led me back to the knowledge that for me fulfillment could be found in bird watching, as well as in exploring nature through the observation of wildlife.

My wish to see this bird again, was of course fulfilled as most  wishes are for me and I see her quite often now in the neighborhood where I live.  Northern Harriers as it turns out, are not transient to this city, except during migration, returning every year.   I have learned that Northern Harriers are indeed unique to the raptor family.  The ring of feathers around their eyes for example directs sounds to the Harrier's ears during its hunt, just like those of an owl.  Northern Harriers have very long legs, nest on the ground and the male Harrier unlike most Hawks species differs in color.  The male Harrier is gray with a white belly, while the female is brown.  Unlike most Hawks this one hunts close to the ground.  If you wish to see it in action there is a really good video at the following site:


If you, like me, wish to learn more about the Northern Harrier just  follow these links:

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