I tend to keep some kind of a photographic agenda. That means I make notes of possible subjects and when and where to photograph them. Amongst the entries for the winter months is the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus, Blauwe Kiekendief).

This magnificent raptor is a relatively rare breeding bird in the Netherlands, but many northern individuals spend the winter months over here. A friend of mine has his enormous backyard converted into a private nature reserve, and part of this consist of non-harvested grainfields.

These fields offer food for mice, voles and all kinds of seedeating birds like Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Goldfinches and Treesparrows. In turn, they make for a very well-stocked dish for the Hen Harrier (and the local Sparrowhawk). Every winter, between one and three individuals, both male and female, patrol the fields for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I park the car strategically against the wind, because they will fly very fast to the far end of the fields and then perform their characteristic, slow and swirling hunt against the wind (and thus the car). Often the wait is long and when they do show up, they will inevitably choose the wrong field or fly somewhere the lens cannot reach from the vehicle. But every now and then, it all comes together and I get a decent image. I was very happy when the male flew past the car during a snow flurry the day before Christmas, as this is a photograph I had previsualized and had really wished for.

Hen Harrier; Canon 1D Mark III w. 500/4 IS and 1.4x; 1/800s at F5.6 and ISO800; handheld from car