Foam Lake Birding No. 123


No. 123

Our trip through southern Saskatchewan was great in every way. The weather was clear and hot but the grasslands were very green with flowers blooming everywhere. Usually, at this time of year, the grasslands are brown because of the heat and lack of rain but this year was pleasantly different. The birding was great also. We did not see any lifers but I did manage to add eleven photos of new birds to my collection. Several of the birds such as the Swainson's Hawk and Western Kingbird occur around here also.

This week I am covering a bird that used to be quite common around Foam Lake but has been in steep decline recently. Originally the Robin-sized Western Meadowlark was a grassland's bird but as farmers cleared the land and seeded many acres into hayfields and pasture the meadowlark moved north to the new ecosystem. Now the reverse is taking place. Farmers in general are getting out of livestock and into intensive crop farming eliminating pastureland. As goes the pastureland so goes the meadowlark. However, the grasslands of the south, unsuitable for cropping, still have many meadowlarks.

There are two meadowlarks in North America, the Eastern and Western with the possibility of a third, the Lillian's, which is still considered a subspecies of the Eastern. Except for the song the two are so similar in all aspects that, where ranges overlap, even an expert birder will hesitate to identify one in the field unless it sings. The one in today's photo is the Western because: one, I heard it sing,; two, the eastern does not occur here.

The Meadowlarks belong to the family of birds known as Icterids (blackbirds) but their looks and songs do not indicate that. The only black it has is a V on its bright yellow breast, while the upperparts are brown and white striped. As the bird flies away it has a chunky, short tailed appearance. The pointed but short tail always shows a lot of white on the outer edges when the bird is in flight. Unlike most Icterids its song is really very pleasant and cheery. Males and females are the same.

This week's photo was taken along a road near Val Marie, SK., Most of the meadowlarks faced away from me when I attempted to take a picture but this one was very cooperative giving me good profile and frontal views. In colour the pictures are very eye catching. Next week - the Lark Bunting.