Female Northern Harrier Hawk. Probably taking a second look to see if we're worth the effort of eyeball removal.
Female Northern Harrier Hawk, North Dakota
I see you!
Soaring harrier hawk
What bird is this? It's a hawk. Northern Harrier.
Low Ri-Der. Sing it!
She's got something in her sights.
Sometimes people get in their heads that summer programs are just for kids and since we are polite around here, allow us to practice the priceless art of fake smiles. Summer has been full of programs where fledgling nerds of all ages develop their inquisitive wings and finally find a group of friends that appreciate their nerdy sense of humor.
So what makes a bird a raptor? Take a quick inventory. If the bird is equipped with a hooked beak, sharp talons, powerful eyes and built to take your face off, then it's a raptor.
There are always different ways to approach your subject, but Jess is definitely the "Walkabout" variety. If you like to set up a shot in a hide, that's cool, but Jess can't sit that long. Along the hike, you can take in plants, geology, or even a little star gazing if it isn't cloudy and Jess goes on too long. Which she probably will. In her defense, we were lucky enough to see loads of animals and honestly, when was the last time you walked through a petrified forest?
Here are 7 tips from Jessica Magnus-Rockeman to help you take wildlife photos of raptors:
Take the camera. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
Know where to look. Eagles build some famous nests, but MANY raptors don't. Harrier hawks like it low-they hunt low to the ground, they nest on the ground, they perch on low trees. They have a fear of heights apparently.
Know when to look. It sounds simple, right? But it's easy to miss. Family season for many animals is a short, open window. If you miss it, well, there's always next year. With these ND hawks, they build a next site in usually about a week in the grass, and the incubation can be over a month, but their nesting period is only about 14 days. Timing is everything.
Watch the lighting. Wildlife loves to not sit in the right spot. They are helpful like that.
Be respectful. That one seems obvious, but sometimes you see people that push beyond the line. Having a camera doesn't give you special privileges-harrier hawks can take off, but other animals, such as bison, could tap dance on your skeleton. It's never a good idea to stress your subject. Be nice. Life in the badlands is tough enough.
Harriers are a great subject because they are fairly common in North America. And the females have this brilliant, owl-like face markings. In winter, you won't find them in Canada/North Dakota. Go slow.
Ask. Wildlife photographers are usually a pretty fun bunch. Stop in the visitor centers, such as the one in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Wildlife sightings/locations are updated there daily.
Keep your sense of humor out there! Cheers! PS: All photos by Jess, but you probably knew that already.