Mid-Ohio birding in February can be a bit daunting. But like the postal service, "neither snow nor rain nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep me from making" my appointed rounds. Throw in ridiculous winds, three foot snow drifts, and unplowed roads and you have described the general condition of my neighborhood.
|Horned Lark (HOLA in bird bander's code)|
HOLA! What have we here? Hola = Greetings! Hola is not just a Spanish salutation, it is also the bird bander's code for HOrned LArk.
HOLAs, welcome to my winter world!
|Horned Lark (left) and Snow Bunting (right)|
Much has been made of this winter's appearance of Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspurs. Both species are birds of the far north, which occasionally winter in small numbers in Ohio. They are often found gleaning for grain and generally fraternize with Horned Larks in open fields.
|Large flocks of birds feeding in the open field.|
Horned Larks are found year round in Ohio's farm country. However, their dull brown backs blend with the soil in the fields, making them difficult to see most of the year. Snow cover makes them highly visible. Watch along the edge of country roads during heavy snow events, and you may see flocks of birds feeding along the gravelly road edge where snow plows have cleared down to the grass.
|Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris|
This winter, with its exceptional periods of snow cover, drove flocks of larks and snow buntings into feeders and fields baited with small grains or cracked corn on the ground.
|Horn Lark of a different race- the all-yellow face of the Northern race or E.a. alpestris|
- Much of my last two weeks have been dedicated to watching and photographing Horned Larks in the local "baited" ditches. Face-on views reveal stunning yellow or yellow-and-white faces, both with the distinctive "horns," which are not horns at all. They are feathers that stick up, generally when the bird is excited or alarmed. There are 20 subspecies of Horned Larks which occur regularly in the US and Canada, but only three of those probably occur in Ohio. I have found it interesting to try to sort them, but I have no real confidence in my ability to do so. Therefore, I will bow to the advice of expert birder and friend, Kenn Kaufman:
"I think for starters you can say, deep yellow face = Northern, bright white face = Prairie, all those others = unidentified. I don't even try to name the intermediate ones, but the extremes are fairly straightforward."
|Looks intermediate to me!|
|Horned Larks, E.a. praticola "Prairie" male with a very light face and a probable female (right.)|
Apparently, they have that one-up on us humans! I always knew I liked these birds.