Male Northern Harrier Diving After Falling Prey – Paying Attention Beyond the Viewfinder

/, Box Elder County, Northern Harriers, Swainson's Hawks, Utah/Male Northern Harrier Diving After Falling Prey – Paying Attention Beyond the Viewfinder

Female dark morph Swainson's Hawk calling in grasses, Box Elder County, UtahFemale dark morph Swainson’s Hawk calling in grasses – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I learned a long time ago to pay attention to what is outside of my camera’s viewfinder when I am photographing birds and wildlife because in nature something else is always going on. Sometimes that means paying attention to the sights I see or the sounds I hear, a bird or animal moving into the area of my subject could mean a possible fight, territorial behaviors or interactions between different species.

Yesterday I was photographing a dark morph female Swainson’s Hawk on the ground with prey, the prey was hidden by the grasses but I had seen her tearing into it and I was hoping she’d move to a location where I had a clear view of the prey or that she’d fly off with it in her talons.

Then I heard the distinctive cry of a Northern Harrier and an answering call so I moved my eye away from the viewfinder to locate the harriers I was hearing. Both male Northern Harriers were flying towards me and the Swainson’s Hawk on the ground so I raised my lens and focused on the closest harrier hoping for some interaction between the harriers or perhaps with the Swainson’s Hawk on the ground.

Male Northern Harrier flying with prey in one talon, Box Elder County, UtahMale Northern Harrier flying with prey in one talon – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I didn’t realize until after I locked onto the Northern Harrier that he was carrying prey in his talons but as I fired away I saw him let go of his prey with one of his feet.

Northern Harrier grasping prey in flight, Box Elder County, UtahNorthern Harrier grasping prey in flight – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The harrier tried to keep a grip on his prey even with just one of his feet, this photo shows him looking down at the rodent while grasping it in his talons in flight but right after this was taken the hawk dropped his prey…

Male Northern Harrier upside down diving after falling prey, Box Elder County, UtahMale Northern Harrier upside down diving after falling prey – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

And turned himself upside down while in flight to dive after the falling rodent. I got a dynamic pose from the bird and a butt shot from the falling rodent.

Male Northern Harrier diving after falling prey, Box Elder County, UtahMale Northern Harrier diving after falling prey – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

In the next photo the harrier twisted his body while keeping a keen eye on his prey falling rapidly towards the ground. This was the last photo in the series of six that I took of the Northern Harrier diving after his prey, I couldn’t twist my body backwards any more than I already had from inside the mobile blind so I missed seeing whether the harrier was able to grab the prey before it hit the ground. If this action had happened while I was on foot and hand holding my gear I would have been able to see and photograph what happened next.

But… I was able to take these photos of the male Northern Harrier diving after his falling prey because I looked beyond my viewfinder and quickly locked onto the action happening overhead.

Life is good.

Mia

15 Comments

  1. kim May 7, 2018 at 6:21 am

    Wow! Stunning images!

  2. Marty K May 5, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Holy cow and WOW, Mia! Amazing series! In my world, he caught the vole. 🙂

  3. Pepe Forte May 5, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    My God! What an incredible series of shots! The concentration of the hawk in recapturing its prey is spellbinding. A defining WOW moment. Thanks Mia.

  4. Jim Strohmer May 5, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Mia, is that mobil blind you referred to leave you standing and could you describe it to me? My wife does much ‘undercover’ photography, but needs , often, a sitting position due to disabilities. Any info might be helpful. Jim

    • Mia McPherson May 5, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Jim, when I refer to a mobile blind that means I am shooting from inside a vehicle. Here it is the best way to approach many of the birds I photograph, if I were on foot they would be gone before I got close enough to photograph them. I use my photo noodle on the window to protect it and the lens of the camera. ( https://www.onthewingphotography.com/wings/making-a-photo-noodle/ )

  5. Elephants Child May 5, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    Wow. Eagle eyes, experience,and lightening fast reflexes from you gave us an awesome sequence to enjoy.

  6. David Sparks May 5, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Awesome sequence!

  7. Liz Cormack May 5, 2018 at 8:44 am

    OMGosh! What a series of action photos. Life IS good.

  8. Victoria May 5, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Life IS Good!!! This made my morning. What a superb moment you captured and shared with all of us. Breathtaking. Thank you!

  9. April Olson May 5, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Great action shots, sure beats the bird on the stick pose. It shows again how birds are the experts at flight.

  10. Patty Chadwick May 5, 2018 at 7:40 am

    WOW!!!!!!!!!

  11. Sybill Reed May 5, 2018 at 7:33 am

    Hi! Wow! what a wonderful viewing of the whole flight! I am so proud of you! love mom

  12. Jerry Ellison May 5, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Mia, I’d call these shots action shots of a lifetime and you nailed them! The light and everything worked, the acrobatic flight capabilities of a Raptor, eyes locked on prey…WOW! Well done.

  13. Ian Holland May 5, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Great, as always, Mia!

  14. Bob mcpherson May 5, 2018 at 7:21 am

    Superb action shots, Mia.

Comments are closed.