Eat, Prey, Love: I Brake for Raptors

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

A male northern harrier captures a vole in the open field Saturday morning in Cinebar. This is one of the easier raptors to identify on the wing, because no other hawk routinely flies so low. As it cruises across meadows and marshes in search of a meal, it uses both its excellent vision and hearing, which is enhanced by its owl-like face. (Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle)

I was on my way out to meet with the Back Country Horsemen of Lewis County on Saturday, and a mile down the road before I realized I had forgotten my maps and books and needed to turn back.

As I pulled into the driveway there was a northern harrier cruising the field to the north of my house.

I hesitated for a moment, knowing I would arrive late and might miss the group of horse men and women trail clearers, but I can’t help it: I brake for raptors.

There is just something about those sharp-featured avian predators that force me to stop and take notice. These warlords of the air — hawks, falcons, owls, eagles and even turkey vultures — have a power and grace that goes beyond what humble words I can express.

I am hopeful that this northern harrier has decided to call my place home. His owlish face, gull-like pivots and turns, and hawk-like demeanor is fascinating. Watching him hover over the field as he cruises for voles, barely moving a wing is mesmerizing.

I have read that the male northern harrier, once known as the marsh hawk, is smaller than his mate and does all of the hunting while his lady love sits on the nest. I haven’t seen a female Northern Harrier — easily distinguishable from the male with her brown, rather than ghost gray, coloration — but I’m hopeful.

As I watched him snatch the vole from the ground, he flew directly back to the woodland marshes to the west, where I hope he has established a nest and a relationship.

I have a pair of red-tailed hawks that have nested here for several years; I’ve been a bit worried about whether the two raptors would get along. But I haven’t seen any conflicts yet.

I watched the pair of hawks “sky-dancing” with each other over the fields just the other day.

The female had her landing gear down (her legs hanging down) while they circled each other, high in the air. She would reach out and touch her mate whenever they passed each other.

As I sat on the dock at Offut Lake Resort on Saturday afternoon, an osprey circled overhead, looking for his next meal. I have heard that an osprey is bold enough to steal a fish right from the line of an unlucky angler. I hope not. I think I’d have to jump ship if I saw that fierce bird heading my way.

Earth Day Trail Clearing

Well, I didn’t get to the meeting with the Back Country Horsemen of Lewis County as they worked to clear trails at the Lewis and Clark State Park just south of Mary’s Corner on Jackson Highway, but I did hear that they got a lot done. It was a beautiful day for it.

I did, however, get a chance to drop by the dedicated workers at the Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia.

More than 30 people showed up to spread bark, pull ivy and clean up trails. They are a dedicated group.

If you haven’t walked the trail at Seminary Hill, I would encourage you to get up there soon. The songbirds are singing ever so sweetly high up in the treetops, the trees and bushes are budding out and the undergrowth is as green as it can be and holds all the promises of spring.

It just feels good to get out in Nature. Now if we could just find another day of sunshine.

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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in her own backyard in Cinebar. Contact her via email at kz@tds.net.