Zion Crossroads 12/12/12

All photos are Marshall Faintich

I saw and took my first photo of a Northern Harrier almost six years ago. Although I have gotten lots of good photos of adult female and juvenile Northern Harriers, seeing, much less photographing, a "Gray Ghost" (adult male Northern Harrier) has eluded me, even though I have been chasing reports of them for the past three years.

This morning I picked up the current issue of Birdwatching magazine, and was pleased to read a great article on "Gray Ghosts" and Northern Harriers in general. I didn't know that it would be a harbinger of today's birding. I learned something new - juvenile and adult female Northern Harriers are usually seen over large, open fields, but adult males preferred more confined areas - had I been looking in the wrong places for them?

I had an afternoon appointment in Charlottesville, and had planned to head 12 miles farther east to Zion Crossroads after the appointment. There have been recent sightings of a Rough-legged Hawk sitting on a bale of hay along E. Jack Jouett Road near Brackett's Farm, and I had been there twice before as the location is a good place to find Short-eared Owls during the winter months. In the back of my mind I also knew that I had seen at least one Northern Harrier both times I had been there.

The afternoon was supposed to be sunny, but the sky was completely overcast when I got to Zion Corssroads. As soon as I turned off of route 15 onto E. Jack Jouett Road, I saw a large hawk sitting on a bale of hay on the north side of the road. I stopped the car to take some photos. Could I have found the Rough-legged Hawk right off the bat? No, it was Red-Tailed Hawk.


Red-Tailed Hawk

And then I saw a strange "stump" in that field. It was the upper back side of a Northern Harrier.


Northern Harrier

The Harrier took off, circled around, and soon landed in the field. When it took off, I could see that it had grabbed a meal.


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier

And then, one the south side of the road, I saw a gray bird flying low over the field. My heart raced; could it be? YES! A "Gray Ghost."


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier

As soon as the male Northern Harrier left the field, a large flock of Eastern Meadowlarks came out of "nowhere" in the grasses on that field, and they flew to another location.


Eastern Meadowlarks

A few minutes later, two more Northern Harriers arrived over a field to the east. At first they hunted separately, then together, and then one of them broke away, followed something in the field, and then - munchies!


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier



E-mail comments on this report


Return to blog page home