alanpeterson
alanpeterson

Northern Harrier at Sunset



A young Northern Harrier patrols the freshwater ponds at Arcata Marsh as the sun sets.

A young Northern Harrier patrols the freshwater ponds at Arcata Marsh as the sun sets.
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Winner in North American wildlife Photo Challenge
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Contest Finalist in Covers Photo Contest Vol 25
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11 Comments | Report
jamesgiles
 
jamesgiles October 16, 2015
Gorgeous lighting great image
texaaronpueschel Platinum
 
texaaronpueschel November 27, 2015
This one gets it. It is a winner. It is so gorgeous.
JDLifeshots
 
JDLifeshots November 30, 2015
Awesome capture! Congrats.
carrie00813 Ultimate
 
carrie00813 December 03, 2015
Wow, amazing shot.
Inyan
 
Inyan December 05, 2015
Jealous...
skiin007
 
skiin007 December 20, 2015
Ditto with Indah below-Jealous!! Nice Shot!!
nandicmb PRO+
 
nandicmb February 22, 2016
Congratulations on your Contest Finalist win in Covers Photo Contest Vol 25!
18ricco Platinum
 
18ricco March 21, 2016
Great shot!!!! Amazing!!!!
Bannekh
 
Bannekh June 03, 2016
Great shot
davidlipsy
 
davidlipsy August 24, 2016
Beautiful... nice tight DOF. Great capture!!
alanpeterson
alanpeterson August 24, 2016
Thanks! I made an educated guess about where the harrier would swoop up above the tops of the reeds, and it came up there long enough for one clear shot.
Bren_Ruiz
 
Bren_Ruiz November 22, 2017
Spectacular

Behind The Lens

Location
This photo was taken at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, a man-made marsh that uses natural processes to treat the wastewater from Arcata, California. In the three decades since the marsh was constructed, it has come to support a staggering level of biodiversity and is an excellent place to see wetland wildlife up close. I'm in the process of filming a documentary project about Arcata Marsh, and I carry a camera to shoot photos there when I'm scouting for wildlife to film.
Time
This was taken during the last 15 minutes before sunset. After the Peregrine Falcon I was observing during most of the afternoon took off to hunt out on Humboldt Bay, I decided to do one last loop around some freshwater and brackish ponds to see what kind of animal activity would happen at dusk. Right as I turned onto the trail, the harrier turned in my direction and started looking for songbirds and coots in a reed bed right along the path. While I sometimes stake out a wildlife hotspot during the best light of the day, it was just luck that I happened to have this encounter during the short window of golden-orange light before sundown.
Lighting
Only natural light is at play here. I usually look for wildlife in the mornings and evenings, both for the quality of light and because animals are more active toward the beginning and end of the day.
Equipment
I shot this with a Nikon D800 and Sigma 300-800mm zoom, handheld. When I'm out scouting for animal activity, I carry this combination around on a Joby sling strap.
Inspiration
I've been keeping tabs on this Northern Harrier since it first arrived in Arcata Marsh during the summer. Over the last few months, it's gone from an awkward hunter that was struggling to catch voles and was constantly being mobbed by crows and blackbirds to an adept hunter of birds and rodents that can defend its favorite hunting spots from rivals. As it flew toward me that one evening, it dipped below the top of a stand of reeds to look for prey around the edge of a pond. I decided to take a guess at where it would swoop upward to try to capture an extreme closeup before it noticed my presence. I focused my camera on the tops of the nearby cattails where I was expecting it to appear and waited. Just as I was about to give up and turn to look for it further down the pond, it flew up right where I had originally anticipated its appearance. After allowing the autofocus a split second to lock onto the harrier, I held down the shutter and got off one clean shot before it dove back below the reeds.
Editing
I adjusted the color balance and contrast curve slightly and cropped out a bit of dead space that was in the upper-left of the frame. I brushed in a slight burn on the harrier's pupil to bring out the contrast in its eye without crushing the blacks too much in the overall image.
In my camera bag
I shoot with a Nikon D800 and usually keep it paired with the Sigma 300-800mm zoom if I'm going to be around birds. Unless I'm shooting video, I usually don't bother with a tripod because shooting handheld allows for quicker movement while tracking a moving subject and the ability to sit or crouch behind partial cover more easily.
Feedback
I've found that the best way to get close to an animal is to figure out where it will be and wait silently for it to arrive. Observing the behavior of an animal and figuring out when and where it likes to feed goes a long way toward getting good wildlife action shots. Spending enough time with the animal to get a feeling for how it moves and how it reacts to a nearby photographer really helps while tracking it through a long lens. Waiting patiently by a feeding spot doesn't always get me the shot I want, but I almost always see something interesting if I put in an hour or two sitting quietly by an area with a lot of prey activity.

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