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Northern Harrier

Gray Ghost in a head on pursuit

To say I am happy with these images would be an understatement. I have long struggled to get quality images of a male Northern Harrier, aka the Gray Ghost, but I finally had success recently.

I thought my day of picture taking was done and was heading for home. A fellow shutterbug was driving in front of me and suddenly came to a stop. I could see what for but as I stepped out of my vehicle I saw what got his attention. A Northern Harrier was feeding on a road kill rabbit right in the middle of the road.

The hawk did not particularly appreciate us being there but also did not want to leave its easy meal. It circled multiple times, landing once or twice to have a nibble.

These two images were taken as it approached head on during one of its passes. The gray plumage and brilliant yellow eyes are striking and the intense stare of the raptor is awesome. I have some more of this encounter to share in the future but these two are my favorites of the bunch.

Taken in Adams County, Colorado.

A male Northern Harrier - the Gray Ghost - flies head on. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier – the Gray Ghost – flies head on. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier - the Gray Ghost - flies head on. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier – the Gray Ghost – flies head on. (© Tony’s Takes)

The Gray Ghost on patrol

To say these hawks are elusive would be an extreme understatement. Whether male or female, Northern #Harriers rarely allow you to get close and their erratic, low flight patterns make getting a decent picture difficult.

The males, seen here, are probably the hardest of the two and are quick to avoid people and pictures – hence its nickname, the Gray Ghost. Yesterday I was lucky enough to come across one north of Denver International Airport that gave me a few nice captures as it flew by.

A Male Northern Harrier patrols a field in northeastern Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Male Northern Harrier patrols a field in northeastern Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Male Northern Harrier patrols a field in northeastern Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Male Northern Harrier patrols a field in northeastern Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Female Northern Harrier struts her stuff

It isn’t too often these raptors come close but yesterday I really lucked out. This Harrier was hunting a field in Adams County, Colorado. I sat and watched, hoping it might come close. Not only did it come close, it flew within about 20 feet of me. The lighting was tough due to clouds but the pics didn’t come out too bad.

You’ll find these hawks across much of North America, Europe and Asia depending on the season. Typically they fly very fast and low to the ground using their keen eyesight and hearing to spot and listen for their prey.

A female Northern Harrier patrols a field in Adams County, Colorado looking for a meal. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier patrols a field in Adams County, Colorado looking for a meal. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier grabs a meal

Patrolling low over a snow-covered field, this female Harrier saw something of interest. In a heartbeat she dropped to the ground, landing right on its prey. I’m not sure what is captured, likely a vole or mouse although I couldn’t see any sort of tail. It was kind of fun to witness, even if a good ways off in the field.

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier grabs a rodent in a snow covered field. (© Tony’s Takes)

Elusive gray ghost finally captured on film

Well, not really a ghost and not on film but you get the idea. 😉

Northern Harriers are notoriously difficult to get good pictures of. Their erratic flight patterns mere feet off the ground coupled with their reluctance to come close to humans make getting pictures of them a challenge.

Females are brown in color but males are this gorgeous gray and white pattern, hence the nickname the gray ghost. The male also seems to be more elusive and reclusive – at least it always has been to me. I have historically had little luck getting quality images of the gray ghost, something which has been frustrating.

Last week I finally was able to capture my first decent images of one as it hunted a field north of Denver International Airport, Colorado. Such a beautiful raptor and those yellow, piercing eyes are mesmerizing.

In addition to North America, these hawks are found in Asia and Europe where they are called Hen Harriers.

Scroll down to view the complete series of images of the gray ghost.

A male Northern Harrier - the gray ghost - patrols the Colorado plains north of Denver. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier – the gray ghost – patrols the Colorado plains north of Denver. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier - the gray ghost - patrols the Colorado plains north of Denver. (© Tony’s Takes)

A male Northern Harrier – the gray ghost – patrols the Colorado plains north of Denver. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier keeps close watch

These hawks are notoriously difficult to get quality images of. They rarely sit still and when they fly, they move fast and low to the ground with very erratic movements.

Thankfully this female was taking a break from hunting and gave me a brief opportunity to get a nice image of her. She did however keep close watch on me with those piercing, yellow eyes. Given the many times these raptors have frustrated me, I was absolute ecstatic with this capture.

Northern Harriers are believed to have extraordinary hearing allowing them to hone in on their prey.

A female Northern Harrier keeps close watch while resting in some grass. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier keeps close watch while resting in some grass. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier patrolling the fresh snow with Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in the background

My photo excursions this weekend were a bit disappointing. Either lighting was horrible or subject matter elusive. I’ve got a few things to share though including this one.

This female Harrier was working the fields north of Denver International Airport looking for breakfast this morning. Yesterday we received a bit of snow and as usual that seemed to bring these raptors out in force as there were quite a few on the prowl.

Northern Harrier patrolling the fresh snow with Colorado's Rocky Mountains in the background. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier patrolling the fresh snow with Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in the background. (© Tony’s Takes)

Harrier ordered to taxi and hold

With the Denver International Airport tower in the background, it appeared this female Northern ??Harrier? and been ordered to delay take off. While she was waiting for clearance to take off on Saturday, I was able to snap this image of her.

Staying true to her species, she didn’t wait long though and soon took to the air being sure to take a flight path that prevented me from getting any decent pics of her. I love these hawks but my goodness they can be frustrating to get quality pictures of. They are quite skittish, always on the move and always low to the ground making focusing difficult.

A female Northern Harrier rests in a tree with the Denver International Airport control tower in the background. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier rests in a tree with the Denver International Airport control tower in the background. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl

Working together, some fellow shutterbugs and I were able to find a Snowy Owl in rural Adams County, Colorado yesterday. We were absolutely giddy with excitement, even if the owl stayed a good ways away and never let us get very close.

While I managed some ‘okay’ pics of just the owl, this particularly event was the most interesting. Out of the blue, a Northern Harrier flew in and started making high speed passes at the owl. It was clear the hawk did not appreciate the Arctic visitor intruding on its hunting grounds. It never did actually strike but came quite close and certainly made its feelings about the owl’s presence known.

It was a lot of fun to watch but I couldn’t help but be yelling inside, “leave the owl alone!” Snowy Owls are such a rarity, I didn’t want anything to scare if off. 😉

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Northern Harrier hassles a Snowy Owl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

Northern Harrier enjoys a meal of mouse

These hawks have always proven elusive for me. They are quite skittish and their flight patterns have them flying erratically and low to the ground making them tough to zero in on. Much to my surprise, I came across this female today just as she snagged a meal. Best of all, she let me grab some pictures of her chowing down before she decided she preferred privacy for the rest of her meal. It was a good morning for me, a good meal for the raptor and a really, really bad day for the mouse. 😉

Taken in Commerce City, Colorado.  Scroll down to view the complete series.

A female Northern Harrier holds tight to a mouse she was eating. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Northern Harrier holds tight to a mouse she was eating. (© Tony’s Takes)