13 February 2012 by Julienne du Toit

A bit of a lark

A day in a reserve leads to some twitching – and the realisation that we really do have a lot of larks in this country.

I am the most frivolous kind of birder. The larger and more colourful the bird, the happier I am. Ask me to identify an LBJ (little brown job) and I’ll immediately find something better to do.

But there I was, on Saturday, in the Mountain Zebra National Park (only 12km from my door, hence my favourite reserve). We’d stopped to take pictures of a handsome black wildebeest. But right beside us, a small group of identical larks seemed to be doing their best to get our attention.

They tumbled about on the edge of the road, took turns to stand on little rocks, posed in front of flowers, scuttled through the undergrowth and chirruped happily.

I had occasion to reflect on their brilliant collective noun – an exultation of larks. They posed for so long we were able to take really clear pictures of them. Hah, I thought. Finally I get to identify a lark.

Back home I hauled out my Birds of Southern Africa and started paging through it, with the image on my computer screen. Well, who knew there were so many kinds of larks? Pages and pages of them, all looking dismayingly similar.

There are probably more larks in South Africa than most countries have bird species. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, let me list them:

The dusky lark, the flappet lark, the Eastern clapper lark, the Cape clapper lark, the Agulhas clapper lark, the melodious lark, and of course, the monotonous lark.

There are probably more larks in South Africa than most countries have bird species.

Moving right along, there is the dune lark, Barlow’s lark, the Karoo lark, the red lark, the sabota lark, the fawn-coloured lark, the large-billed lark, the rufous-naped lark, the red-capped lark, the short-clawed lark, the Cape long-billed lark, the Agulhas long-billed lark, the Karoo long-billed lark, the Benguela long-billed lark, the eastern long-billed lark.

But oh, there’s more: Rudd’s lark and Botha’s lark (serious twitches for birders unlike me), the pink-billed lark, Sclater’s lark and Stark’s lark.

And as if that wasn’t enough, 1 species of lark can sometimes have different colour forms.

Then the book headed into the land of sparrowlarks and I started to despair, because I still hadn’t identified my particular exultation of larks. I prayed they weren’t cisticolas or pipits, because those are even more cryptic – and there’s no shortage of them either.

Finally, finally, the very last lark on the very last lark page was the 1 we’d seen. There it was, its little upright posture, its white throat, its longish bill – unmistakable. It was the spike-heeled lark, 1 of the most widespread in southern Africa, the south-eastern form. Twitch of the day for me. I was as happy as a lark.

Category: Wildlife

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