Thursday, 3 January 2013

Larks, sparrowlarks and sparrows

A good part of last Friday was spent searching the dry grassy plains inland from Sabya, Jizan province looking for both Arabian golden sparrow and Singing bush lark

male black-crowned sparrow lark

On one occasion, Mansur Al Fahad and I stopped at a set of two pivot fields growing grass fodder. This proved highly fortuitous. In the scrub between the two fields we literally walked into a large flock of black-crowned sparrow lark.

female black-crowned sparrow lark

Meanwhile high above one of the adjacent fields, a lark was high in the air hovering for at least a couple of minutes singing its heart out.

singing bush lark

At the time and for several days after I had it down as a vagrant skylark which had travelled too far south out of its normal range.

However, I have now identified it as a singing bush lark which are in the habit of singing high above fields and which are within their range there. 

The separation is based on voice, habit and location rather than visual because they are actually (acknowledged to be) very similar looking particularly in flight and at that height.

crested lark

At the time, neither of us realised what it was and continued searching for both it and for Arabian golden sparrow which shares similar habitats. In our search, occasionally we would come across a small number more black crowned sparrow lark and of course crested lark.

Arabian golden sparrow

It was nearing sunset and we were nearly giving up see the sparrow. However we stopped when we saw a flock of about 150-200 passerines flying between two sets of high crops presumably looking to roost for the night. It turns out that the flock was a mix of about half Ruppells weaver and half Arabian golden sparrow with a small number of house sparrow among them.

Our tip is not to spend two or three hours in the sun and heat wondering around the plains.  Wait until near sunset and drive past crop fields until you come across a large flock of small birds!

I have since looked up this behaviour and found it documented for Arabian golden sparrow's closest relative the Sudan golden sparrow.  You live and learn.

Finally, thanks to Mansur Al Fahad. All the photos except the crested lark are his. All have been cropped from his originals.

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