Larks in the Cape Provinces of South Africa

SpikelercheMany species of larks are one of the big treasures of southern Africa. Visits to the Western Cape and the Northern Cape Province provide the best chances for arid country specials like larks. If you want to see an excellent selection of larks in Continental Africa, you have to go for the western and northern part of the Republic of South Africa (RSA). The western part is located along the West coast. The central and northern part is the Bushmanland. Leaving cape town for 200 km, the landscape is characterized by a vast and sparsely populated semi-desert of impressive beauty. Continuing from Clanwilliam northeast towards Loeriesfontein or Brandvlei, you will notice the landscape becoming markedly more arid until you enter Bushmanland. Roadside birding in the morning is always rewarding. Bushmanland stony plains are scattered with low bushes, punctuated by broken country and the occasional dune field. The keen birder can appreciate a great selection of Larks as well as some other southern African endemics. The diversity of larks is marked with more than a dozen species occurring regularly. There are Spike-heeled Lark (Chersomanes albofasciata), Karoo Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda subcoronata), Black-eared Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix australis), Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix verticalis), Sabota Lark (Calendulauda sabota), Red Lark (Calendulauda burra), Sclater’s Lark (Spizocorys sclateri) and Stark’s Lark (Spizocorys starki) to name but a few. The Lark Gallery give you some examples.

As a birder mainly spezialisied in western Palearctic birds, I birded larks in deserts mainly in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Near Tagdilt, Morocco I was lucky not only with the Temminck’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha), or the Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), I also stumbled over a pair of Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes). The Karoo Long-billed Lark of South Africa is an interesting reminiscence of the Greater Hoopoe-Lark and – like this species – a bird of dry open country, preferably semi-desert. When I arrived in May 2002 on a barren stony desert near the town of Boumalne du Dades I a saw an adult species first. After a while I found a juvenile individual in the same area, too. From inside my SUV I could photograph these usually shy birds from the immediate vicinity, although – after feeding – they always ran away pretty quickly. Again and again I had to move & stop the car. I only had a chance, if I could catch the moment when they to come to feed the chick.

Fortunately the spring 2002 had been quite rainy and the desert was still green enough to provide this nice lark with enough insect prey. Looking for larks, I spend a whole afternoon on a plateau at 1,600 m above sea level at the edge of the mountains called Ibel Sarhro.

Like 13 years ago, seeing Larks often means sitting on the crest of a sparsely vegetated red sand dune or a hill in the early morning watching the high diversity of lark species interacting with one another while fluttering back and forth over their respective territories.

Within in Bushmanland Pofadder, a town in the northern part of Bushmanland, is an extremely productive area.  Already on the road from Pofadder to the southwest, towards Namies on gravel roads, you should search the open plains. It is advisable to check the water troughs for Sclater’s Lark (Spizocorys sclateri) and Stark’s Lark (Spizocorys starki). Further on, south of Aggenys Sabota Lark and Karoo Long-billed Lark are common. The former one is quite common between taller scrub whereas the Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark preferred the open desert especially a water supply for cattle.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots birds, is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western Palearctic. Trips to productive locations in Germany but also to remote places in the world to capture images of rare birds were very successful. The nice images of the Lark gallery were shot in the Bushmanland and near West Coast National Park. The images are only first impressions, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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