Yesterday I had the good fortune of going to a field with Tony to capture images of female Northern Harriers hunting. Located on the A&M farm just north of Huntsville, AL we were able to spend hours shooting as they flew all around us.
Soaring Northern Harrier Hawk Canon 1DX, EF600mm f/4 IS, EF 1.4 TC
At times they would come fairly close, not seeming skittish at all. The Harriers fly low over the fields searching for mice and prey using their keen eyes and sensitive hearing. When they suspect prey they will dive down and attempt to capture it.
Pouncing Northern Harrier Hawk Canon 1DX, EF600mm f/4 IS, EF 1.4 TC
A common bird through most of North America, this is the only type of Harrier found on this continent. It can also be referred to as a hen harrier, marsh hawk, and American harrier. Worldwide there are 13 different species. It was amazing to watch the Harriers twist and turn over the fields at low altitudes just skimming the tops of the plants.
Cruising Northern Harrier Hawk Canon 1DX, EF600mm f/4 IS, EF 1.4 TC
Like other birds, they have limited movement of their eyes in the eye sockets, so they have to rotate their entire head to see. They are extremely agile and are able do this easily in flight.
Searching Northern Harrier Hawk Canon 1DX, EF600mm f/4 IS, EF 1.4 TC
You can see in the image above, the bird’s head is rotated almost ninety degrees.
The toughest part about shooting these birds is keeping a focus point on them. I use a Lightroom Plugin, Show Focus Plugin, by Chris Reimold to check some of my images. Especially those that are very crisp, to see where the actual focus point is. The following picture is the sharpest shot of the day, below it is a screenshot of the plugin results.
Flying Northern Harrier Hawk Canon 1DX, EF600mm f/4 IS, EF 1.4 TC
From this information I try and hone my skills, at times it can be difficult to maintain a constant focus point with moving objects that don’t necessarily travel in a straight line. With birds I usually aim for the closest shoulder and most times that will ensure that the head is in focus. If the bird is perched, then I try and aim for one of the eyes.
I hope you have enjoyed this entry, all comments are encouraged. Thanks for reading, Jens Lambert
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