Saturday, 3 December 2016

Bird of the week - Shore lark

Here is a bird I had never seen before this week, a shore lark.  Shore larks are rare winter visitors, occasionally seen on the Northumberland coast as single birds, but there have been seven this week at East Chevington which is quite exceptional.  I didn't manage to get all seven in one shot but here are five of them.

Male shore larks have darker face markings and bigger "horns" (feathers) but the sex differences are less noticeable in the winter.  In the first picture below I suspect it is a male in front and a female behind.  The second photo is probably a female and the third probably a male.  The birds are small and were mostly 20-30m away so the photos lack some resolution.

It was a very cold day so when they had finished feeding the birds fluffed up their feathers to keep warm.

The shore lark is Eremophilia alpestris, meaning desert-lover of the high mountains, so you might guess it doesn't live on the shoreline at home.  These birds come from northern Scandinavia and most move down to the shores of the Baltic Sea in winter.  A few make it across to England, mostly to East Anglia and eastern Kent.

This seems to have been a good autumn to see shore larks here.  This is the latest chart from BTO BirdTrack.

There is also a population of shore larks in the mountains of southeastern Europe with grey backs and black and white faces.  They migrate down to lower ground in winter.  The map is from the EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds.

The shore lark is a common bird in North America where it is known as the horned lark.

Despite that John James Audubon's illustration is titled Shore Lark.  There are several races of horned lark in America with varying face and back colours.

I can't find any reference to the shore lark in Thomas Bewick's writings - maybe it wasn't known here in the late 18th century.

You can listen to Chris Watson's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on shore lark here, broadcast only a couple of weeks ago.

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