[Tweeters] Watching Mister Harrier

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sat Apr 25 18:58:28 PDT 2015

It was windy the other day here in Port Townsend and I was out snooping about the dunes at Point Wilson. Watching birds in windy conditions can be kind of a drag, but sometimes...

Sometimes it's pretty cool. Like the other day when I had leisurely looks at a male Marsh Hawk (oops, I mean Northern Harrier). The Harrier was heading into the stiff south wind, rocking about like a drunken sailor at the helm of a light-weight sailboat trying to work upwind.
It was great for me, because the Harrier was close and just about at a standstill heading into the wind, thus allowing me especially good looks at this beautiful and interesting raptor. I was upwind and the male Harrier was, without hardly a wingbeat, tottering at very low speed (like maybe a mile per hour) about 4 feet above the dunes, looking for something to eat. Mister Beautiful.
Yes, it's true, the male Harrier is a beautiful guy. Sexual dimorphism in hawks seems mostly to be size difference - it's a tribe of birds where small guy's are into big women, apparently. But the male Harrier is dramatically different in plumage from the female, as you the birder know.
He's a real cover boy on the raptor mags - frequently featured as " best dressed male of the year","Mr. Natty", etc.
Moving right along, the slow -pokey Harrier also allowed me great looks at it's 'facial disks' - a sort of owl-like arrangement of facial feathers that act as sort of a hearing aid for this hawk that uses hearing a bit more than it's other hawk cousins, in snooping out mice, or whatever. Interesting.
Well, the Harrier gradually waggled low past me, heading upwind. A bit later I saw it up higher as it, catching the wind by the tail, zoomed north at high speed above the dunes, covering about a half mile in a few seconds. It settled back down by the lighthouse, to resume it's low upwind stealth flight south. It was cool how the Harrier could do all this flying with seldom a wingbeat.
Apparently, folks in the military pay a lot of attention to hawks. They even named a (now) Boeing military plane the Harrier. It's got all sorts of VSTOL abilities I guess - that means Vertical/ Short takeoff and Landing. Real Harriers, of course, do that and a lot more. The nerds at Boeing even designed a VSTOL flying gizmo they call the Osprey. It costs like 60 million dollars to make one. And all it can do is land on an aircraft carrier, or on the ground. I would imagine the cost would go way up if it could actually dive and catch a fish.
Jeff Gibsonreporting from Port Townsend Wa

More information about the Tweeters mailing list