Northern Harrier

Well, it’s been nearly 2 weeks since I posted, sorry about that, I just haven’t been able to find the time to get everything organized for a new post.  I have been busy taking photos, though, and have a lot to post today.  It’s been a pretty interesting 2 weeks for birding.  In the last post I had talked about the sandhills at the playa on Hwy 207 north of Panhandle, Texas.  I was impressed with the number of the cranes.  By the following week the numbers had doubled, at least.  Along with the Sandhill Cranessandhill-crane-172-1280x747 there were lots of Canada Geese, sandhill-crane-164-1280x476Mallards andNorthern Pintails, mallard-6-1280x854Northern Shovelers, and Blue-winged Teal.  It was absolutely astounding.  I took a video of the playa last Tuesday but I am even worse at videography than I am photography so, other than to really see the overwhelming numbers and hear the racket, it’s not worth much.

I visited the playa again this morning but there wasn’t a bird in sight.  There was, instead, 3 hunters and their dogs slopping around in the muck left by thousands of Sandhill Cranes, setting out decoys and blinds.  I’m not sure if the birds had already headed south or if the hunters had scared them off.  You’d think if it was the hunters the cranes would have been in the surrounding fields, but I didn’t see any at all.  I’ve nothing against hunters- a huge chunk of the money they spend for licenses and stamps, no to mention the Ducks Unlimited fund raisers, goes for wetland preservation, but they do scare the birds off while they are there.

Since there were no birds at the playa, I decided to drive up north of Stinnett, Texas on Hwy 136 where there are several newly planted wheat fields that have irrigation sprinklers on them.  The sprinklers draw Red-winged Blackbirds to bathe and catch critters coming up out of the saturated soil.  The fields and the blackbirds draw raptors.  I got lucky at the first field I came to–hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds were perched on the sprinkler, flying down to the sprinklers and surrounding wheat.  red-winged-blackbird-70-1280x560I watched for a few minutes and then suddenly all hell broke loose as a Northern Harrier dive bombed them.  He chased them up and down the quarter-mile length of the sprinkler without success and then a rodent of some sort caught his eye in the tall grass next to the field and he concentrated on that for a few minutes.  He never dived, so I guess what ever it was that he had seen went to ground.northern-harrier-49-1280x778

northern-harrier-42-1280x851

It did give the blackbirds a rest and they had settled back into their routine on the near end of the sprinkler.  The harrier buzzed them again and was hot on the tail-feathers of one when it flew into the open window of my truck, crashed into the windshield and plopped down on the dash!  The harrier dived talons-first into the windshield a couple of times while the blackbird sat stunned on the dash.  I had been standing at the back of the truck when this all started and by the time I recovered my wits (I was as dumbfounded as the blackbird) and made it around to the other side of the truck the harrier had retreated.  I opened the drivers door of the truck and the blackbird flopped out of the passenger side window onto the ground and staggered underneath the vehicle where he sat for several more minutes before flying off to rejoin the flock.  Neither bird seemed worse for the experience and my truck was unscathed, but If I had been in that blackbird’s position I would have shit everywhere.  Just thinking about the damage a harrier could have done to my seats and upholstery with those talons makes me cringe.  Good story but no pictures.

Other birds seen the last few weeks:

A Sharp-shinned Hawk at Spring Canyonsharp-shinned-hawk-15-1280x866

A couple of Ruddy Ducks at Spring Canyonruddy-duck-12-1280x867A Long-billed Dowitcher at the playa

long-billed-dowitcher-12-1280x885A Juvenile Blue Jay in my Oak

blue-jay-54-1280x949

Another shot of the Sandhill Cranes at sunrise at the playa.  Those are windmills peeking over the rise in the background.sandhill-crane-112-1280x838

More photos in the galleries.

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