Patience pays off, in birding and nature photography

On most Saturday mornings, I start my day at the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm. I don’t have the pressure of having to get back in time to catch a bus to work, so I have more time to wander the fields.

This morning, I arrived before dawn, hoping to catch sight of the short-eared owls that have been visiting this winter. I also thought I might have a chance to spot a woodcock that had been reported this week on the Reed Bryan Farm side of the park.

I would strike out on both of those counts, but I did make one fortuitous decision. As I looped around the park, I came to an intersection with a turnoff to Reed Bryan. I had been in too much of a hurry to get out of the house to put on my knock-off Bean hunting boots, and as I stood in my low-rise, slip-on Merrell hiking shoes, I hesitated to make the turn that would take me across a long run of muddy trails.

But the temperature was a notch or two above freezing, and I figured the ground would still be frozen enough for me not to get stuck in the muck.

That call turned out even better than I’d imagined. Immediately after turning onto the trail, I saw a Northern harrier sailing ahead of me. I kept along the trail and at spot where the woods stopped and the terrain was mostly open field, I could see the harrier parked in the stubble a hundred yards ahead.

I walked up slowly, took a few shots from a distance and slowly crept up to a trail-marker post to steady my camera. Anticipating that the bird would sense me and take off, I switched my camera dial to shutter priority and aimed. On cue, Ms. harrier took flight, and I pressed the shutter. The bird landed another hundred yards or so away, too far for me to get a fair shot of her on the ground.

About that time, my friend Mark — whom I often encounter on the trails on Saturdays — came up from behind. We walked the remainder of the circuit back to the parking lot, and at some point on the way I mentioned that I was still hoping to get a killer harrier shot. I’ve shot many previously, but never one when the light was just right and the bird was within a decent range and facing me. I said I knew that shot would come eventually, as long as I remained patient and persistent.

When I got home and brought the day’s catch of shots up on screen, one frame stood out, and it tops this post. I had managed to get this one sharp frame of the harrier as she was looking back toward me. Because of the warm, low-angle light, the detail on her feathers was good, and her wingtips were nicely displayed. There was also a catchlight in the eye. With a few minor adjustments in Lightroom, I could happily point to the best harrier photo I’ve ever taken.

Now to go back out and get a better one!

Published by Dan

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

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