(Photo : Black Harrier by Mike Watson)

Sighting a Black Harrier quartering low over the fynbos must surely rank as one of the most memorable birding experiences one can enjoy in the Western Cape . Having one flying parallel in close proximity for over minute constitutes a rare and very special experience unlikely to be repeated. Such an encounter happened when Mike Watson of the UK headed up the West Coast road with me in January this year…

After reviewing Mike’s list of sighting requirement for the day I decided to set off early to give ourselves the best chance of ‘connecting’ with a Black Harrier in flight during the early morning hunting period.

Objective was to search in earnest for the bird once we had reached the West Coast Park gate.

Although usually successful in my quest for a sighting the odd ‘blank’ day has occasionally presented itself and, as a consequence, I like to put in as much scanning time as possible on entering the target area.

Weather on the day was near perfect for photography and on leaving the outskirts of Cape Town, with the classic post card shot of Table Mountain receding into the background, I requested Mike to ‘make ready’, just in case we encountered our target hunting along the roadside reserve. This continuous strip of typical fynbos vegetation lies between the fence line and the tarred road and is relatively undisturbed by livestock and as a consequence holds a rich variety of rodents, reptiles and ground dwelling birds.

I had no sooner passed the comment when almost on cue an adult Black Harrier, resplendent in its distinctive black and white plumage, materialized out of nowhere and proceeded to fly in the direction of our line of travel in the soft morning light with the sun in our favor.

In no time Mike had the window down and I had throttled back to 40kms to maintain an even pace with the harrier holding its eye level position no more than 20 yards away for well over a minute and by so doing provided Mike with the photographic sequence of a lifetime.

Throughout the harrier appeared to be totally oblivious of our presence and eventually having spotted a prey form somersaulted into a thicket and disappeared from view. All in all a fantastic start to what proved to be an exceptional days’ birding up the West Coast.

On his return home Mike very kindly sent me the pick of the many

images taken and this is attached for your visual enjoyment.

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