A studio for bird study

Tag: circus

The Gray Ghost

by Bryce W. Robinson

Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus. 11×18″ Prismacolor on Bristol.

Deneb Sandack has been involved with the Goshutes Raptor Migration sight in some way or another since its inception in the early 80’s. For many years she has acted as the lead bander at the sight, going above and beyond to ensure that the sight runs smoothly and achieves its goals each season.

Her passion for trapping birds is unmatched. I admire her greatly for this passion. Over the years she has trapped and processed thousands upon thousands of birds. Each year she returns to the mountain with hopes of trapping what is her personal white whale, a bird that has evaded her tremendous luring and trapping skills for years. This bird is the Gray Ghost, the adult male Northern Harrier.

The Gray Ghost, a name known among raptor enthusiasts and birders alike. Termed such because of its ghostly gray plumage, and intense yellow eyes. It hunts just above the ground, floating along in search of prey, reminiscent of a specter in search of a soul. A truly remarkable and mystifying creature, very deserving of its super natural epithet.

Because the male Harrier is the single regular migrant that has avoided capture by Deneb all of these years, I thought it prudent to honor her and her goal by illustrating the bird. This bird is for her, as my tribute to her hard work and dedication, and hope that next season at the Goshutes Raptor Migration Sight she finally pulls the Gray Ghost from the sky.


Female Juvenile Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

by Bryce W. Robinson

Female Juvenile Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus. 11x15" watercolor on paper.

In honor of the delicate beauty of everything female, I painted the Northern Harrier. Although common, I find myself enamored and entranced with every view of this bird. The young females seem especially vivacious, with the teetering wander to hunt for prey and the dainty image while perching to preen. My goal with the female juvenile harrier was to capture the youth and liveliness in  character, portraying femininity common to all creatures, yet remaining true to the birds identity and wild nature. Perhaps a lofty goal, but worthy of the effort nonetheless.

Adult harriers are sexually dimorphic, but differences can also be seen in juvenile birds as well. Typically, a juvenile Northern Harrier is a cinnamon brown with a beautiful reddish breast. The difference between the male and female is seen in eye color. It becomes a challenge to sex juveniles in the field, as you often see harriers on the wing, and hardly perched. When the chance arises that you find a tolerant youngster, take note of the eye color and any other differences that stand out. I remember a day while photographing harriers with Jerry Liguori, when we were taking shots of what we thought to be an adult female. After reviewing the photos and seeing a few key details, namely eye color, Jerry recognized that the bird was in fact a young male. These particulars can add more fun and excitement to the challenge of raptor ID.

This painting was created while listening the musician Lisa Hannigan. I suggest coupling the visual with a like artist. It is sure to enhance the experience. Enjoy.

The Harriers of Farmington Bay

by Bryce W. Robinson

Yesterday, I said goodbye to the marshlands of the Great Salt Lake. Tomorrow, I head to an area near another large saltwater body, the Salton Sea. The birds and topography are sure to change, and with that, come new stories and experiences. As exciting and sweet as exploring new lands can be, it comes with the bitterness of leaving the loved behind. Life is fluid, and this dynamic is inevitable. Embracing the shift, I decided to bird a favorite spot, Farmington Bay WMA, for one last time before I head south. Undoubtedly I will reunite with the place, but it will be long before I do.

The day was clear and sunny, and the birds were active. I accompanied a friend, Mitch, on his second day with new camera equipment. It was nice to see someone as excited as myself with the opportunity to search out winged creatures and capture their allure on film. Throughout the afternoon, we watched the plentiful usuals with delight.

The wandering flight of the Northern Harrier is a spectacle. Although the bird is plentiful, I never grow tired of watching its slow travel above the Phragmites, and the occasional dramatic flip when unsuspecting prey is found. If you sit sedentary and wait, eventually a Harrier will wander overhead, and provide perfect opportunities to capture their fierce gaze.

Male Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

Many who see the Harrier for the first time comment on its owl like appearance. Truly the bird has a face reminiscent of an owl, due to a similar morphology. Harriers possess a facial disc much like that of the owl. This disc allows sound to funnel directly to the birds ear, creating hypersensitive hearing. As the bird wanders the fields, it hones is hearing to any rustle of its small prey. When it senses anything, it rolls dramatically to pounce upon the poor creature. I have never observed a tactic like this from any other bird. The behavior is incredible, and as I stated before, it is a spectacle to behold.

Juvenile Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

The Harrier is sexually dimorphic. The male is a ghostly grey above, white belly below, with black tipped wings and piercing yellow eyes. The female wears beautiful brown, with a heavily streaked belly. Juveniles resemble the female, differing with a brilliant orange belly. With long wings and tail, and distinctive flight and hunting behavior, the Harrier is among the easiest of the raptors to identify at a distance.

Male Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

Mitch and I had an afternoon full of fun, and as the sun sank and our souls relaxed, we watched the golden light highlight the hunting birds. It was a satisfying goodbye, and as we left I felt comfort with my move, and the place I was to leave behind. As they say, out with the old, in with the new, and as I travel on I pledge to continue to chronicle the life of birds and b.