Northern Harrier at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
It's been a long drought of birding trips. It's the very end of the semester when things are the most hectic, so things like exercise and meditative breaks at bird refuges have become rare. I got most of my grading for the weekend done, so as an afternoon reward, we headed down to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge (Bear Creek Unit) to see what's going on now that the arctic birds have headed north. We spent several relaxed hours on the auto tours, and much to my delight, we got pictures of three new bird species to debut here on the blog. The first pictures are the least artistic, but they're the first I've taken of the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) that are at all identifiable. The birds (there were several of them) were flying low and slow over the grasslands.
The Harriers are a little bit strange for a hawk, having a foreshortened owl-like face that allows them to hear their prey better in vegetation. They also have a distinctive white band on their backside that is a distinctive mark in identifying them at a distance, which is good because that is just about the only place I see them: at a distance.
I did a bit of searching, and it turns out that I did catch a few photos of a Harrier last fall at the Merced Unit of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. A little closer each time...maybe a nice sharp picture next time around.