English settlers in North America missed the beautiful song of the Eurasian Skylark from their native country and tried to introduce the species to North America. The only success was on Vancouver Island in British Columbia in the early 1900’s with another small population on San Juan Island in Washington State. At its peak, the population was estimated at perhaps 1000 individuals in all of North America.
I saw my first Skylarks as a new birder in 1973 on a trip to Victoria, B.C. I later saw some at American Camp on San Juan Island a few years later. I was not taking pictures in those days. The San Juan population died out in 2000. Beginning in 2015 I made several attempts to find and photograph this rapidly declining species in its remaining few locations in the Victoria area. These attempts were adjuncts to chases for other rarities – Pink Footed Goose, Purple Sandpiper and Redwing and were not at prime times for the Skylarks – in breeding season when they are singing and displaying. The other rarities were found – but not the Skylarks.
Pink Footed Geese – March 2017 – A Great Find but No Skylarks Later
Good friend Melissa Hafting knew of my attempts for a photo of this species and we had tried for it and failed on our successful venture for the Pink Footed Geese. I think it was as important to her that I get my photo as it was for me. Accordingly, she encouraged me to try again – in May when there were reports of singing and displaying Skylarks – mostly at the Vantrieght Farms Bulb fields. On Tuesday, May 15 I left Edmonds early to meet Melissa to catch the 9:00 a.m. ferry from Tsawwassen. A nice surprise was that we were joined by Brian Stech. Brian had been on the Field Guides trip to Northern Peru with me in 2013. Great guy and great birder.
We had perfect weather and when we arrived after the beautiful crossing, Melissa got word from local birder friends that they were at the bulb fields and had Skylarks singing. We couldn’t get there fast enough. They were still there when we arrived – the same place I had last tried for them in 2017 – and we heard the potentially great and potentially awful phrase that I have heard before on chases: “They were here five minutes ago…” Fortunately they did not add – “and then they flew off”.
It only took a couple of minutes until I heard one calling in the field somewhere shortly followed by it flying up above us in a display flight with the full bodied beautiful song that is the bird’s most appealing aspect. I snapped photos quickly not knowing if this would be the only opportunity – I finally had a photo of a Eurasian Skylark!!!
Eurasian Skylark – First ABA Photo
The Skylark flew higher and higher and never stopped singing. We lost sight of it but could still hear its song which continued nonstop for at least 15 minutes. Then we heard another Skylark and another flew up and landed on the road separating the fields – one grass and one dirt. Then there was another. My shutter was going non-stop as I took more than 100 photos – some in flight, some in the grass and some on the dirt. Many were terrible – out of focus or with the bird appearing headless. Some came out OK – and far better than I had expected. A sampling:
Eurasian Skylarks in the Grass and Dirt Fields and in Flight
Melissa says that there may only be 32 individual Skylarks that remain in B.C. Doubtful they will survive much longer – all the more reason to be thrilled with this observation and the photos. Elated and satisfied we moved on and chased a Lazuli Bunting that was a rarity for the area. Beautiful bird, but at least for me – a mere postscript to the day’s early success. This is not a full on post – just important to me to finally get this photo and to share it. The day also ended on a high note as we raced to get the 3:00 return ferry. A signboard said that there might be a wait, so we were tense as we got in line. These are huge (and too expensive) ferries with a large auto holding capacity. As it turned out we were the next to next to last car to get on. It was just that kind of day!!!