Northern harriers at sunset, and that is enough

Two Northern harriers fly in the distance toward the clouds as the sun sets.

The sun finally came out late in the afternoon Saturday, which up until that point had brought nothing but rain and drizzle. I headed out to the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm, hoping for a chance to catch something worth photographing.

In the half hour before sunset, my best bet was to have a chance at seeing a Northern harrier or two hunting over the fields as the light started to fade.

From the Cold Soil Road parking lot, I headed up the central trail, hoping to spot a Wilson’s snipe poking among the puddles in the stubbled fields. I had flushed one (my first!) earlier in the week, but I would not find one this day.

Instead, almost as if on cue, two Northern harriers appeared off to my left, chasing one another far across the field, near the observation deck in that part of the park. I had wonderful looks at them through my binoculars, but they were too far off at first for me even to bring my camera up to eye level.

With the late afternoon light dimming, I couldn’t distinguish whether they were females or one female and a “gray ghost” male. I continued along the path for a bit, then turned back toward the car. Two of them flew up above the tree line, and I snapped a few distant shots of them silhouetted against the sunset.

A third harrier appeared and then a fourth. I watched all four fly simultaneously, and at one point I had three within view in my binoculars.

As I neared the parking lot, I saw a lone harrier flying to one side of the field, and I wasn’t certain if that was one of the four I’d watched a few minutes earlier or whether it was a fifth.

I saw only one other bird out, a young mourning dove pecking on the trail before flying off.

Total count: two species, five birds — one of my lowest Pole Farm totals — plus one so-so photo to accompany this post.

But that’s not what matters. Watching just those first two harriers at play was worth the trip, and seeing the four at once was a delightful bonus. Even that single dove made me smile.

I’ll go back out tomorrow to see what I can see.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

6 thoughts on “Northern harriers at sunset, and that is enough

  1. Sweet! Harriers are cool. Down here yesterday at the Lk. Apopka North Shore Restoration Area, we had 14, all females & immatures harassing the coot, gallinule, & stupid numbers of ring-neck ducks! (NW of Orlando.)

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      1. Yep! Numbers could go up as season progresses. Good variety of raptors including: red-shoulder, usually a couple of Krider’s RTs, Coops, sharpies, peregrine, merlin, kestrel. We have fun! Plus: lots of waterfowl, painted bunting, etc. You really must visit. But I must admit I do miss Brig & the Monmouth Cty shore in winter. Peace.

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  2. A visit south would be great, especially with that variety of birds. We spent a week in Naples when our son lived there briefly a few years back. We did an Everglades run and also went to the Ding Darling preserve, both great spots for birding.

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    1. Great. Don’t know how Ding Darling survived Hurricane Ian. Things down there got pretty best up.
      Happy Holidays! 🎄

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