Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Amid the stubble

Horned Lark (male)
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a flock Horned Larks that I found in a large agricultural field near where I live.  In that post, I included Henry David Thoreau’s observations on Horned Larks. Like Thoreau, I was frustrated that day by not being able to get close enough to these skittish birds to observe them closely. But yesterday I had an opportunity for very close looks.


I was returning from a trip out of state when I came across a flock of about two dozen larks in a big farm field. I did not see them until they flew up from the side of the muddy road that wound through the field, circled around, and came back to the same spot. Since the road I was on is very lightly traveled, it was safe for me just to stop the truck on the side of the road, turn of the engine, and watch the birds through the open window.

While Horned Larks are pretty jumpy, taking flight at the slightest alarm, they (like other birds) don’t seem to regard the vehicle as a threat. It seems that they do not perceive it as a living creature, though it moves. Thus, it functions as a very effective blind, often enabling me to get very close to birds without disturbing them in the least.

On this day, I was able to observe the birds actively feeding, interacting, walking about, flitting here and there, and often, becoming nearly invisible. Sometimes I wonder if they are aware of how perfectly their cryptic buffy-buttery plumage makes them almost invisible as they move around and between the crushed stalks and ears of corn.

I can’t resist repeating excerpts from Thoreau’s observations about Horned Larks: 
“They… utter a faint sveet sveet merely, a sort of sibilant chip. [You can hear a few of those notes in one of the video clips.] Starting them again, I see that they have black tails, very conspicuous when they pass near. They fly in a flock somewhat like snow buntings, occasionally one surging upward a few feet in pursuit of another, and they alight about where they first were. It [is] almost impossible to discover them on the ground, they squat so flat and so much resemble it, running amid the stubble. [Exactly right!] … They are the Alauda alpestris, or shore lark, quite a sizable and handsome bird; delicate pale-lemon-yellow line above the [eye], with a dark line through the eye; the yellow again on the sides of the neck and on the throat, with a black crescent below the throat; with a buff-ash breast and reddish-brown tinges; beneath, white; above, rusty-brown behind, and darker, ash or slate, with purplish-brown reflection, forward; legs, black; and bill, blue-black. Common to the Old and New Worlds.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), March 24, 1858.
Here is a series of photos, followed by three video clips. Look carefully to see the elongated back toes, which are characteristic in larks. Listen for the sweet sibilant calls. 


Horned Lark (m)
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.


Horned Lark (m)
 showing cryptic coloring

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark
showing cryptic coloring

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
 
Horned Lark stretching wing and tail,
showing black central tail feathers
 and white outer tail feathers.

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark
showing black central tail feathers
and white outer tail feathers.

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.

Horned Lark (f)
showing black central tail feathers
and white outer tail feathers.

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark (f)
showing black central tail feathers
and white outer tail feathers.

Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.

Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
 
Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
 


Can you spot the Horned Lark?
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
There it is!
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
 
Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Can you see the Horned Lark?
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.


When he turns his head, there he is.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Two Horned Lark showing cryptic coloring.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.


Horned Lark with corn.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark with corn.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.


Horned Lark with corn.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Horned Lark with corn.
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.





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