Sunday, March 2, 2014

Elusive Grey Ghost

Several weeks ago, while scanning for Horned Larks and Snow Buntings in my meadow, I spotted what I thought was a Grey Ghost – a male Northern Harrier – away in the back of the meadow, where brush and grasses have been left standing, off to the left of this photo: 

Way back here:

I had caught the startling flash of white underwing from a bird that dipped and wheeled low over the russet remains of meadowsweet, asters, and goldenrod. On several return trips, I again saw the white wings, rising and falling, but never near enough to see entire, and no path allowed me closer access.

More recently, as I was studying the lights and contrasts of frost and foliage during a particularly cold period, the white wings rose again and brought the bird close enough for me to see it easily …. Yes, there it was, a Grey Ghost, a male Northern Harrier.
Elusive bird...It hunts low over the ground, listening for small birds and mammals, using its owl-like facial disks to focus the slightest sound, then wheeling suddenly to pounce on its prey.

While I watched over the course of about twenty minutes, it caught and ate two birds, probably taken from the flock of American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Vesper Sparrows that were feeding in the golden grasses. It would bring the prey out of the shrubby area to the open field, where it rested on a corn stalk or on the ground while it consumed its meal.

It's in this photo:

Here it is:

Here are a few short videos of this bird eating, resting, and (very briefly) flying:

Read more about the Grey Ghost, one of my favorite birds, here:

Part of this meadow is going to be developed next year.  Many people see no value in open land unless it is used for people. Birds and animals are largely invisible, and if they are noticed, they are too often perceived as nuisances or pests.

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