Saturday, February 1, 2014

Honeypot Harrier


In December I traveled to Amherst-Hadley on family business, and, as I always do when I’m there during daylight, I made time to do a little birding in the beautifully preserved and managed agricultural areas in the region. My favorite fields offer fabulous raptor shows (Gyrfalcon!!) sparrow stravaganzas, and more.

Today I was lucky enough to get prime views of a juvenile Northern Harrier on the hunt. First the video, then a few stills and words of appreciation:



Isn't that beautiful? Oh, I love this bird. Here are a few stills:


This is a juvenile, identified by the bright chestnut breast and belly. Harriers in all plumages sport the brilliant white rump.



Too bad the bird dipped behind a chain-link fence; still, the colors are brilliant on this young bird:


As the harrier wheels and drops toward possible prey, the banded tail spreads and the white rump flashes:



More rich color:

Note the blunt owl-shaped head:



That head looks as though it belongs on an owl instead of a hawk. I've written about why this is so, with an illustrative photo.

Such elegant, economical flight!

An beautiful bird, and one of my favorites.


As always, Thoreau’s observations are eloquently perceptive. Note the use of the old folk-names for this bird: “frog hawk,” “marsh hawk,” and “hen harrier.” These hawks do eat frogs, and frequently hunt over marshes and low areas.

“See a frog hawk beating the bushes regularly. What a peculiarly formed wing! It should be called the kite. Its wings are very narrow and pointed, and its form in front is a remarkable curve, and its body is not heavy and buzzard-like. It occasionally hovers over some parts of the meadow or hedge and circles back over it, only rising enough from time to time to clear the trees and fences.” Journal, April 23, 1855.

“The marsh hawks flew in their usual irregular low tacking, wheeling, and circling flight, leisurely flapping and beating, now rising, now falling, in conformity with the contour of the ground. The last I think I have seen on the same beat in former years. He and his race must be well acquainted with the Musketicook and its meadows. No sooner is the snow off than he is back to his old haunts, scouring that part of the meadows that is bare, while the rest is melting.” Journal, April 8, 1856

“A marsh hawk, in the midst of the rain, is skimming along the shore of the meadow, close to the ground, and, though not more than thirty rods off, I repeatedly lose sight of it, it is so nearly the color of the hillside beyond. It is looking for frogs.” Journal, April 22, 1856.

“At Hubbard's Crossing I see a large male hen-harrier skimming over the meadow… It flaps a little and then sails straight forward, so low it must rise at every fence. But I perceive that it follows the windings of the meadow over many fences.” Journal, November 5, 1855.


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