Meadowlarks in the Grasslands

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a detailed view.

I had good luck recently to observe and photograph several meadowlarks while on a drive through the grasslands of Sonoita and the San Rafael Valley.

Meadowlarks are inhabitants of open country, and in southern Arizona they are especially partial to grasslands and to the agricultural fields northwest of Tucson. Over the years I have had very good luck finding and photographing these birds in Sonoita and the San Rafael Valley — the seemingly endless grasslands there are punctuated by old fence lines and yuccas that the meadowlarks favor as perches.

We actually have two species of meadowlarks that show up in the grasslands. In the winter, large numbers of Western Meadowlarks migrate into the area. They augment, and for a period of a few months, seem to overwhelm another meadowlark species that is resident year round. Up until very recently that other species was identified as Eastern Meadowlarks. Recently, ornithologists have classified a third meadowlark species, the Chihuahuan Meadowlark, and I’ve been told that the year-round grasslands inhabitants are Chihuahuan Meadowlarks and not Easterns.

The different meadowlark species display nearly identical plumage and it is very difficult for the untrained observer to tell them apart. The Eastern and Chihuahuan Meadowlarks have somewhat paler facial plumage than the Westerns, and the three species have very different songs.

The bird in the first image of today’s post has the beige cheek plumage of a Western Meadowlark. The bird in the second image appears to have paler facial plumage. However, I’m not going to identify it as a Chihuahuan Meadowlark. The distinctions is very subtle and could be affected by the light in which I photographed the bird.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO). First image, ISO 640, f5.6 @ 1/1600, +1 1/3 stops exposure compensation. Second image, ISO 400, f5.6 @ 1/400, +3 stops exposure compensation.

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