Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Horned Larks (Alouette hausse-col) in the snow, and in other stuff too.

Grass Lake Area
Cambridge, ON
24 February 2015

     Today was not the kind of day one looks forward to when going birding - but I went anyway! It was very cold and the winds were fierce, so the combination of weather and wind chill meant it was not a day for the faint of heart. In the rural areas the snow was being whipped into drifts so the driving was sometimes treacherous also.
     My search was for the classic winter species in our area and I was not disappointed. Initially the area seemed barren of birds, but then I saw what I was pretty sure was a flock of Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis on top of a barn roof. As I drove towards the farm where the barn was situated, more Snow Buntings started to lift off the road and the adjacent fields. In total I estimated there were about three hundred birds.
     None of the pictures in this post are very good, but the conditions were simply appalling and this is the best I could do, shooting in poor light through driving snow. The barn was also seventy-five metres or so from the road.
     As you can see in the images below, some of the Snow Buntings burrow right into the snow.

      After spending about twenty minutes patiently searching through the flocks of Snow Buntings, searching without success for a Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus, I drove a little farther along the perimeter of the farm fence.
      Almost immediately I spotted a couple of Horned Larks Eremophila alpestris
hunkered down in the snow.

     Then my attention was drawn to a good deal of activity taking place on a dung pile which was sheltered somewhat from the snow since it was located on the leeward side of a barn.
      There about thirty Horned Larks were feeding continuously as were Snow Buntings, House Sparrows Passer domesticus and Rock Doves Columba livia.
      These pictures, poor though they may be, give an idea of the concentration of larks on what was obviously a productive food source.

      The following shot shows a Snow Bunting, and behind it a Rock Dove.

      The predominant species, however, was Horned Lark and it was a bit of a mystery to me why the majority of the Snow Buntings were gleaning whatever morsels they could find in the windswept fields and were ignoring what was obviously more readily available food.

     The weather was pretty awful, and the road conditions far from the best, but it perhaps added to the satisfaction of enjoying these winter warriors. It was an hour well spent.


  1. You're obviously a dedicated birder!

  2. There's no accounting for taste! Snow Buntings seems to be tough little birds, and I'm hoping to see Horned Larks later this year so it's good to see them in your photos.

  3. We get both these species here too but they are rather scarce, especially the lark............

  4. Hello from Poland :)
    I had only a little snow in the winter. I have a beautiful spring from a few days. Beautiful photos :)
    Regards :)

  5. Oh dear, they do look miserable but valiant in this awful weather.
    You were really brave to overcome it and get out to bring those shots back!
    I just read this morning that the Hudson river had 60 cm of ice in some areas.....
    What about global warming...?!!
    Cheers, keep well, hugs to you both :)

  6. Great photos, given the circumstances, David.
    You're a birder at heart.
    Gr Jan W

  7. I love the Snow Buntings, they are so cute. Great sightings and photos.

  8. Hello David,
    Beautiful photos of the snow buntings.
    Photo 3 is my favorite.
    Best regards, Irma

  9. Brave birds and you as well David. Such a cold winter. I hope the big chill will be ending soon.
    Did not know that Larks stay for winter in such harsh conditions. Love the Snow buntings on the roof.

  10. What a wonderful combo of birds. Very nice spotting of the Snow Buntings! Beautiful birds!

  11. Buen post David, unos pájaros preciosos. Saludos cordiales desde España.

  12. You say that none of your pictures very well in this post but I do not agree with you. True harsh conditions of bitter cold and if you can make more of these pictures that is really an achievement. I like the snow buntings quite nice on it.

  13. I didn't know that Snow Buntings dig themselves into the snow like that, David. I'm sure it would be very effective protection agains the elements.

    I'm wondering if it was just food in the dung heap that was attractive to the Horned Larks. I suspect that there were some exothermic reactions going on in that pile too. I've often seen dung heaps steaming and it's not because they've just been excreted!!

    A great post - well done you for battling your way through Arctic conditions. We've had 12 deg. C today, but expect to be back to zero tomorrow!!

    Best wishes to you both. - - - - - - Richard

  14. Mr G, I salute your birding determination in the face of such adversity, weather conditions which make our rain seem like a walk in the park. As you point out, birds can be very picky (no pun intended) at times and seem to ignore what to us appears to be an equally as good source than the stuff they are intent on eating. Unlike many human beings birds know to eat a balanced diet.

    Your weather made it to UK TV if only to remind us soft Brits what real cold is. Pictures of the frozen Falls and huge snow drifts. I thought of you shoveling your way up and down the driveway -but not for long.

  15. Piękne ptaki:) Pozdrawiam i zapraszam do mnie na rocznicę bloga:)

  16. I saw my first ever horned lark this past Autumn...they're beautiful. As are your photos.

  17. Beautiful birds, beautiful to look at.
    Greetings Tinie

  18. Just got your comment on my blog!!
    Well HB, dear friend!! :)
    You're welcome to do as you wish with one of the Green pecker shots naturally, I am very honoured you thought of this!
    Things are slow regarding the property but the 2 families are doing their utmost to put ASAP an offer down.
    I am keeping my fingers crossed for CR......
    Cheers David, hugs to you and Miriam :)