Category Archives: 13) Larks

Horned Lark, not one but six species?

José Luis Copete

Is it time to view the Shore Larks/Horned Larks with new eyes? And for UK birders did you see the bird on the Isles of Scilly in 2001..?

One of the passerines with a widest natural distribution in the planet is the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) since it’s present in boreal and alpine habitats from five continents or subcontinents: Europe, North Africa, continental Asia, North America and South America. Its habitat requirements were a selective pressure to produce isolated populations, especially those inhabiting mountains. So, it was a case to test about its phylogeography and the resulting taxonomic implications.

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris atlas Morocco January © Carlos Naza Bocos

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris atlas Morocco January © Carlos Naza Bocos

Sergei Drovetski, who is working for the University of Tromsø, has been involved during recent years in analysis of the phylogeography of Holarctic species. These cases are especially convenient to be analyzed in the light of the new laboratory and computer techniques, to check whether there are separate species along the break between North America and Eurasia. He entered into the subject more than 10 years ago, studying the phylogeography of species like the Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), some grouse (Tetraonidae) and rosy-finches (genus Leucosticte), as well a first study about the Horned Lark, examining the mtDNA of one subspecies, strigata, present in British Columbia (SW Canada) and NW USA south to Oregon (Drovetski et al 2005 Streaked Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris strigata has distinct mitochondrial DNA. Conservation Genetics 6: 875–883).


Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris brandti Qinghai China July © Carlos Naza Bocos

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris nigrifrons, NE Qinghai China July © Carlos Naza Bocos

Now he and colleagues expanded the range of taxa examined in the same species, sampling the birds from a very wide range, in North America, Eurasia and North Africa (Drovetski et al 2014 Limited phylogeographic signal in sex-linked and autosomal loci despite geographically, ecologically, and phenotypically concordant structure of mtDNA variation in the Holarctic avian genus Eremophila. PLoS ONE 9(1): e87570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087570).

Download: >>> Eremophila <<<


Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris penicillata Turkey May © Carlos Naza Bocos

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris penicillata, Turkey May © Carlos Naza Bocos

They propose a multiple split of some of the taxa present in the Palearctic, and one for North America, where pending of further study they are conservative.

The suggested splits would therefore be:

elwesi, from S & E of Tibetan Plateau

atlas, from Atlas Mts in Morocco

penicillata, from E Turkey and Caucasus E to N & W Iran

brandti, from  SE European Russia (lower R Volga) and N Transcaspia E to W Manchuria, S to N Turkmenistan, Tien Shan and Mongolia

flava, from  N Eurasia E to NE Russia (Anadyrland), S to S Norway, L Baikal and NW Amurland

and finally alpestris, for the whole of North America, pending further study, since in that continent there are around 30 different subspecies described, depending of the authorities.

Moreover, their results suggest paraphyly between Horned (alpestris) and Temminck’s (bilopha), confirming the traditional separation as two species in the birdguides.

Temminck's Lark Eremophila bilopha Morocco April © Carlos Naza Bocos

Temminck’s Lark Eremophila bilopha Morocco April © Carlos Naza Bocos

It’s expected, probably, that more species will be proposed as the study continues as there are many subspecies described for mountains of south USA and Mexico, not to mention the most isolated population in the Sierra de Santa Marta (peregrina) and nearest mountains, in NW Colombia, far away from any other subspecies.

Lesser Short-toed Lark in the Arctic

Hornøya! 30th May 2013

Hornøya is one of the must see destinations during Gullfest in Varanger, Arctic Norway. It’s the last island… Tormod and I have mused on where to look for the big rarities in Varanger and Hornøya is right up there. Ace bird finder Anders Faugstad Mæland struck again on 30th May with this one following this adult Semipalmated Plover just up the coast one year ago in June 2012. Unfortunately this lark didn’t stick around, though Anders got some fine photos.

From where? (any thoughts/knowledge/experience from readers welcome here…)

A tricky question of course. This region of Arctic Norway has had some uber rare birds such as White-winged Lark (twice) and Asian Red-rumped Swallow. So in theory ‘anything is possible’. Must admit my thoughts were soon casting in a more easterly than southerly direction on hearing of this cool find even musing on the possibility of the little known Asian Short toed Lark cheleensis’ (which by all accounts can be very hard to tell from Lesser Short-toed).

LST lark anders

photoAbove 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, Hornøya, 30th May 2013 by Anders Faugstad Mæland

and by way of  comparison:

Lesser Short-toed Lark Lanzarote June 2012

Lesser Short-toed Lark Lanzarote early June 2012Above 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, ssp. polatzeki , Lanzarote, Canary Islands. early June 2012 by Martin Garner. Bit of a scruffy, worn and moulting bird, but at the same time of year.

Lesser Short-toed Lark b Sept 12 Lanzarote

Lesser Short-toed Lark Sept 12 LanzaroteAbove 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, ssp. polatzeki , Lanzarote, Canary Islands. September 2012 by Martin Garner. Taken at exactly the same location as 2 photos in June- though now a nice fresh plumaged bird. Look how apparent size of bill differs!

Alonza’s video of twitching and dipping the Lesser Short-toed Lark…

This was the ‘tweet’ that went out as they headed to the boat…

Breaking news: short-toed lark or poss lesser short-t lark on Hornøya now. Heading out to confirm/docu #birding #Varanger


Hornøya lighthouse tormod AmundsenThe lighthouse and buildings on Hornøya, Varanger. THE ARCTIC. Woop! Lovely mix of summer and winter scene spliced together by Tormod Amundsen. Location of our Killer Whale watch in March 2013 and of spectacular Gyr Falcon hunted seabird cliffs. Within these grounds Anders struck gold with a super far north Lesser Short-toed Lark– from who-knows-where…

More interesting and rare birds are sure to be found here in years to come.

with Anders (on left) and whole bunch of lovely people ‘King Eidering’ at Båtsfjord in March 2013…: Plenty more on all that here

gullfest2013 Ateam of birding båtsfjord Amundsen Biotope

Andrea Corso – Top Team Moments 2012

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photo by Luca Scamporlino
Well, very hard ! I think was the 1st ever alive Bar-tailed Desert Lark (2nd for Italy, the first being shot in ’70 in the very same spot ) which I found nearby my home in Siracusa, in April 2012 together with Brian J Small
but also I would say a Sooty Falcon (2nd for Italy) at Pantelleria island in May and a Rustic Bunting in Linosa last November or the 1st ever Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler for Morocco in March was also good
Which one to choose ? :-((( O.K. 2nd ever for Italy but 1st ever alive 😉
Bar-tailed Desert Lark
ciao to all

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Shore Lark

Full Beach Set

Meant to post this one a while ago! Late October at Spurn was great for the beach passerines. in fact with Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting, Twite and Shore Lark– ALL available at Beacon Ponds. Furthermore all 4 species seen migrating down the peninsular.  Maybe I have, but I can’t  remember where I have  seen all 4 species in one place at one time- We had a FULL BEACH SET!

All photos, Spurn area, late October 2010. The Lapland Buntings were a little too camera shy.

aaaaaaaaaaaaa1st winter male Twite. The Warren, Spurn late October 2010





Shorelark and Snow Bunting, Beacon Ponds.

On this rough weather day, one small bay held 8 Shorelark, 5 Snow Bunting and 7 Twite- very enjoyable if a bit windy-wild!