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Saanich Sky Larks - September 1 2013

Posted by Liron on Tuesday, September 3, 2013
I've known about the Sky Larks in Saanich pretty much since I got into birding six or seven years ago, but until a couple days ago I had never gone to see them.

I did lots of research prior leaving to find out as much as possible about the larks, where I could find them, how I could find them, and more. Russell and Richard Cannings wrote a great book called "Birdfinding in British Columbia". This book has info about birding sites all around the province, and it also has a great section on finding Sky Larks. A page on this site also has some good information.

The Sky Lark is a bird native to Eurasia. It is famous for its incredible song that it sings from January to July. The Sky Lark was attempted to be introduced in multiple locations in North America. None of these populations survived except for the group released in Saanich on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The population climbed in this area. Soon the larks had spread to nearby areas like the San Juan Islands, where they were known to breed. The numbers reached the thousands and peaked in 1965. Then, due to habitat loss and other disturbances, the Sky Lark numbers plummeted and now just 100-200 birds remain on the Saanich Peninsula near the southern end of Vancouver Island.

On the Saanich Peninsula, there are three known sites where the birds are still regularly seen. These sites are the grass fields within the borders of the Victoria International Airport, the Vantreight Bulb Fields in Central Saanich, and a site called Martindale Flats.


In the afternoon of August 31st, I left on a ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (the ferry terminal for Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula). I looked for birds from the ferry but there wasn't much. Apparently some people saw a few Orcas surfacing while the boat crossed the George Strait.

I arrived at Swartz Bay, and headed to Butchart Gardens to spend the evening. These gardens are supposed to be some of the best gardens, and they were definitely very pretty. Nothing beats complete nature to me though, but it was still very nice. After spending the evening walking in the gardens and watching the fireworks after dark, I went back to Sidney and spent the night in a hotel.

After a quick breakfast the next morning, it was time to go "Skylarking"! I was very excited! I decided to first try for the birds at the Vantreight Bulb Fields.

I got out of the car at the bulb fields and looked around. At the bulb fields, birders are allowed to walk through the farm fields as long as they stay in the tractor tire paths and don't damage crops. When I was there, only one or two of the fields at the site had plants growing in them. I entered one of the fields and began walking around looking for the birds. After a while of walking all around the fields, a brown bird flew up from very close to my feet. It called: "cheer up!". There it was: my lifer Sky Lark!

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I watched the bird as it landed in an area with thicker cover. I fired off some photos at the spot where the bird landed captured the bird as it walked into cover and disappeared into the background. It is quite incredible how these birds can land and somehow disappear, even if they land in the middle of fields.

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I walked around some more, but no new Sky Larks were to be found. It was time to head to the airport to see if I could find any others larks. The first place I stopped at the airport was the Canora Road overlook. No Sky Larks were here, but there were some Brewer's Blackbirds:

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I had no luck scoping at the high points along the road the goes around the airport either. I decided to go back to the bulb fields to see if I could find any more Sky Larks. Not long after I arrived back at the bulb fields another birder arrived and we searched the fields. After some walking around, a bird flew out of some cover and landed in the middle of a field. I fixed my eyes on where the bird landed, but I could not see it. The other birder I was with did see it though, and we went a bit closer. Talk about camouflage!

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It was very hard to see the bird and I would only see it for a few seconds before I would lose it again. It was amazing how the lark could literally hide in plain sight! During the times I did have the bird in my eyesight I managed some nice shots that I am very happy with!

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Along with the Sky Lark there was also some Savanah Sparrows around. After you see a Sky Lark it is easy to tell by size who is who even with a quick glance (the lark is larger). Here is a shot of the more plentiful Savanah Sparrow:

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Soon we left the Sky Lark in the field. More success felt really good! Back into the car I went and after a nice lunch in Sidney, I walked along the water there. Wildlife of intrest in that area included a Mink and some Harbour Seals:

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After a walk along the shore, I went for one last look for Sky Larks before going to Swartz Bay to catch the ferry back to Tsawwassen. I had no luck with the larks this time, but there was a Northern Harrier that successfully caught itself a small rodent. Later I enjoyed an assortment of gulls on the ferry ride back to Tsawwassen:

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It had been a great trip and I am very happy with the looks I got at the Sky Larks.


Thanks for looking! :)



 

 

 

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