Northern Harrier – Gray Ghost

The "Gray Ghost", male Northern Harrier in hovering flightThe “Gray Ghost”, male Northern Harrier in hovering flight – D200, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 640, +1.0 EV, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not a setup, not baited

The male Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) is often called “The Gray Ghost”.  The blue-gray color of the male is quite different than the browns the female displays plus the eyes of the male are a striking yellow while the females have straw yellow eyes. I see harriers here in Utah during the summer but the numbers during the winter far exceed those of warmer months.

The image above was created under the challenging circumstance where the light was low. I primarily photograph birds using Aperture Priority, I turn off the auto ISO on my camera, then I am able to change my ISO and aperture to get the shutter speed I feel is needed for the subject. Normally for a bird in flight I would want a shutter speed of at least 1/1000, I was not able to obtain that for this photo so there is some motion blur of the wingtips. I used ISO 640, which might be pushing the limits on my Nikon D200 as far as producing images without excessive noise, then selected f5.6 to help with increasing my shutter speed. The biggest issue was the low light and I had to use +1.0 evaluation compensation to expose the bird well, that slowed my shutter speed down some.

I did not apply Noise Reduction to this image in post-processing but did have the Auto Noise reduction feature of my camera turned on, that feature applies noise reduction automatically at ISO 400 and above.

I will have more opportunities with northern harriers in better light this winter and while I wouldn’t consider this image perfect, I am happy with the results I obtained while photographing this “Gray Ghost”.



  1. Tania Simpson April 5, 2012 at 9:02 am

    That is a fantastic shot of the Gray Ghost. Really beautiful work despite the conditions.

    • Mia McPherson April 6, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Thank you Tania, Gray Ghosts are truly beautiful birds.

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