It’s very cold here in northern Utah (8 degrees F. as I type) and there’s lots of snow on the ground – ideal conditions for photographing hunting Northern Harriers. And yesterday morning everything was covered with a thick layer of hoar-frost which turned the marshes into a frosty fairyland.
I was able to get lots of shots of this particular bird and in the field I didn’t even notice that there was anything unusual about it. Most of the images were flight shots and there just isn’t time pay attention to detail when you’re concentrating so hard on keeping the bird in the frame and in focus.
But when I got home and started reviewing my images I was taken aback. Something’s definitely going on with the right eye of this bird. At first I thought it might be just the closed nictitating membrane but I have dozens of shots of this bird and the eye is the same in all of them. It’s definitely not a normal membrane, if it’s the membrane at all.
A better look at the right eye.
This is probably the sharpest, most detailed image I was able to get of the bird.
An extreme crop of the previous image to show the best detail I could manage. To my untrained eye it looks like there may be some kind of fungal growth in and around the eye that may have discolored the eye ring and nictitating membrane and closed the membrane permanently, but that’s only a guess.
A normal eye (huge crop) for comparison.
I watched this bird, on and off, for perhaps 20 minutes and it’s behavior seemed completely normal – here it’s in a typical hunting flight posture as it scans below for voles. It’s interaction with other harriers also seemed normal.
I’m extremely curious about what’s going on with this eye. I’ve spent hundreds of hours photographing harriers and have never seen anything like it. I know that several of my readers are rehabbers and falconers so I wondered if any of you have experienced such a thing in the birds you’ve dealt with or treated. Or anyone else… thoughts?