Hunger Games

It was the second week of March at Otter Slough Conservation Area, but winter still held the marsh in its grasp thanks to a polar vortex sending a mass of Arctic air surging south across the Midwest. It had snowed again three nights ago, only a couple of inches, but it was on top of the six inches already there. Temperatures had climbed to the mid-30s this day, melting some of the snow, but the ground remained mostly covered.

A female Northern Harrier comes in low, riding the stiff wind and coursing back and forth above the dead grass and stubble. She is alert, focused, searching for a mouse or vole to make a meal of. There are large numbers of geese and ducks nearby, but the geese are simply too large and she would have to get very lucky to take a duck. No, a mouse or perhaps a sparrow, or even a meadowlark, would serve her purposes, thank you.

Wait! What was that? Something rustled in the grass, her disk-shaped face funneling the tiny sound directly to her sensitive ears.

She quickly drops lower, hovering only a few feet above the ground.

She hangs there for long seconds, long slender legs dangling, while her yellow eyes search the grass for the source of the sound.

Unable to find anything, she reluctantly gives up the search.

A couple of powerful wing beats to regain momentum and she is again on her way.

Dipping a wing, she banks to the left, resuming her low, zig-zag flight, searching, searching.

There aren’t many Northern Harriers here in the Ozarks, but they’re reasonably common during the winter in the open country of the lowlands not far east of here. They are one of my favorite photography targets, though I haven’t had a lot of success with them. This series of photos is easily the best I’ve gotten. But lets face it, they aint great and I want better. Adult males are a beautiful gray color and, at least for me, harder to find than females and juveniles. I actually saw two in one day last January, one at Mingo, the other near Coon Island, but didn’t get close enough to either to have a chance of a decent photo. I’ll keep looking…

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