Rapt with Raptors


This week’s photo, taken December 5, 2012 at West 90 (Samish Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area, WA), features an adult male NORTHERN HARRIER skimming the ground as it prepares to pounce on its prey.

After driving 75 miles north from Seattle and another 5 miles west, I finally pull over to the shoulder of a narrow farm road, roll down the window and take a couple dozen photos of a NORTHERN HARRIER as it tilts and teeters and hovers and glides near the road. Although I haven’t stepped out of my car yet, I suspect I already have the best images I will get today. After the harrier moves on, I climb out of my vehicle, and with my binoculars glued to my face, I methodically scan the fields while slowly turning 360 degrees. I count at least 17 birds of prey, either perched or actively hunting. They are mostly harriers, but a few hawks (ROUGH-LEGGED and RED-TAILED) and a BALD EAGLE are also in view. Other than during a migration, I have never seen such a concentration of raptors in my life.

Near sunset, I arrive at Eide Road, west of Stanwood. As the light begins to fade, 3 SHORT-EARED OWLS fly and hunt remarkably close to my parked car. Off in the distance, my first SNOWY OWL of the season sits motionless on a raised mound of dirt. Even from far away, North America’s heaviest owl, with its massive size and bright white color, is easy to spot.


About Joe Sweeney

I photograph birds to share the beauty and wonder I find in nature.
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