What a lark — Birders flock to peninsula to see rare Eurasian visitor

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Laura Burke. A sky lark was seen at Deep Creek State Recreation Area on Oct. 19.

Redoubt Reporter

It was a lark, in both name and the fact that it showed up on the Kenai Peninsula, or mainland Alaska at all. At least that’s what avid birders said, who flocked to Deep Creek to see the rare avian visitor late last month.

“People were driving 500 to 600 miles and pulling all-nighters to get here and see this bird, that’s how special it was,” said Toby Burke, a wildlife technician with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The bird is a small, cryptically colored ground-dweller formerly known as a Eurasian sky lark, but now, since the forming of the European Union, just known as a sky lark. They can be found from Europe to Asia in their home range. Sightings in Alaska are rare.

“This is the first record of one on mainland Alaska. Typically when they’re spotted in Alaska they’re seen in the Western Aleutians, the Pribilofs or occasionally St. Lawrence Island, but not here. It’s an anomaly. So the Anchorage birding community, people from Seward, even Fairbanks, started coming down because, usually to see this bird you’d have to go to the Bering Sea and spend a lot of money,” Burke said.

According to fellow refuge technician Todd Eskelin, it was Steve Waltz, a birder from Anchorage who makes frequent bird-watching trips to the peninsula, who first spotted the lark.

“Most people headed down that way stop at Ninilchik or Anchor Point, but not usually Deep Creek, so it’s really cool he did. He took photos and described it, and posted to the Alaska Birding list serve,” he said.

The next day Burke and Eskelin made the drive south to confirm the sighting and see the rare bird for themselves.

“I re-found it exactly where he left it,” Eskelin said.

In British Columbia there was an introduced group of sky larks that have spread and been spotted in the western coastal areas of the Lower 48, but Burke said this bird looked like it was from the original Asian population.

As to how it came to be here, Burke said it was speculative, but it seems many of the rare avian visitors show up after the breeding season, when they would be headed into a migration in another location.

“During the migratory period, some birds get switched around as flocks mix with other flocks or they can be blown in with a big front,” he said.

Burke speculated the latter based on when this bird arrived. It showed up following a big windstorm that brought the cold, clear weather of a long-lasting low pressure system that hovered for days.

“The 18th of October was the first sighting and it hung around until the 23rd, but it hasn’t been seen after that date,” he said.

He couldn’t say where it went, but for those who missed it, Eskelin said avid birder Aaron Lang wrote a synopsis about its visit on his website, http://www.birdingak.com.

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