Every time I see a bird species for the first time I have to go through a drill to note obvious field marks and to try to remember them long enough to find the bird in a field guide. I always appreciate it when I’m with someone else who knows more about birds than I do and who knows the species when seen. Such was the case with my first view of a Horned Lark. I was wildly pointing my camera out the car window trying to compose an image while I made wild guesses about the ID. My friend, Steve Howes, sat in the driver’s seat and waited patiently for me to finish. When I turned to him he suggested that I look at Horned Lark in the guide. Bingo. Then he wanted to know why I was taking photos of a bird perched on a cow pie. When it comes to recording a Life Bird, I’m not picky.
I’ve seen hundreds of Horned Lark since that moment. We see large flocks of them on the Waterville Plateau in the winter. That doesn’t mean that I’ve had numerous great photo opportunities of the birds. The flocks tend to mass on the road surface and tend to stay put until the very last moment before getting hit. To my knowledge we have never hit a Horned Lark as we pass through a flock. At least one of my friends refers to them as “radiator birds” based on her experience with them.
The above photo was taken on November 1, 2018. We had seen only a couple of Horned Larks previous to this and are expecting the large numbers to form soon. This was a solitary bird that sat on a fence post and let me shoot several poor, back-lit portraits. It then flew to the other side of the truck and landed on a barbed wire fence. The bird was not only closer to me but it was now positioned in better light. The background is wheat stubble on the bottom and blue sky on top. I tried to get the camera into different positions to vary the horizontal line between wheat and sky but, for the most part, failed. I shot numerous photos as the bird sat and preened. I was grateful to see one image showing the bird with it’s beak open a bit. We did hear some faint calls but the bird was mostly silent.
After the bird tired of my antics it flew deeper into the shrub-steppe where it perched atop a small sage plant. At 150+ yards I knew that the photo would be a challenge. Getting focus on a small bird that far away is more luck than skill.
The photo above is a very heavy crop of the file to make the bird large enough to see. I’m pleased that it is as sharp as it is. Someday I hope to see a Horned Lark sitting near me in good light and on native vegetation – not on a cow pie or a barbed wire fence. Someday. It could happen.