A Tale of Two Larks: Horned Lark, January 17th, Taebaek

Bird news from Leslie Hurteau

On a cold Sunday in the middle of a freezing winter, Dr. Amaël Borzée and I went to a mountain near Taebaek in search of Asian Rosy Finches, an area known to have them in previous years. After searching for over an hour in demanding weather (-24°C after windchill, but thankfully mostly in a warm vehicle), we located a large group of 80 or so individuals. 

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 해변종다리, a rarely recorded vagrant in the Republic of Korea © Amaël Borzée

While appreciating these beautiful winter visitors, we noticed a bird on a rock that looked a little unusual. At first it seemed like a strange looking Yellow-throated Bunting, but the size and shape did not match. Then it dawned on us that this was likely a Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris, 해변종다리) a rare (or perhaps overlooked?) vagrant in Korea (listed as a rarely recorded vagrant, V2, in the Birds Korea checklist). We joked about it being a “book bird” as both of us had assumed we would only encounter these in field guides when birdwatching in Korea. After viewing it a bit longer in the cold winds we confirmed our guess and took plenty of record photos. 

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 해변종다리 perched on a rock, the initial moment it was spotted © Leslie Hurteau
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 해변종다리 and Asian Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa 갈색양진이 in the top right corner © Amaël Borzée

One individual was seen for certain with the possibility of two seen in flight, although subsequent visits by others found only one individual. The individual had a brown body and white chest and underside, with yellow on the face split by a black mask along the bill and eyes, and bordered top and bottom with a black “crown” (forming the “horns”) and collar. The bill and legs were black. No call was heard, and no attempts were made to listen due to frigid temperatures. 

Given the yellow colouration and location, it’s assumed this is the flava subspecies, for which Shore Lark is another accepted common name. It was an exciting find for the day, and set off a chain of birdwatchers and photographers to see it for themselves in the following weeks. Little did I know this would be the first of two interesting larks I’d find in winter 2021, with the next one covered in the second part of this blog post.

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 해변종다리 © Amaël Borzée

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