What is the ID and status of “long-billed” Crested Larks at Aousserd?

By MaghrebOrnitho | 8 February 2018

Based on the study of Guillaumet et al. (2005, 2006 and 2008), the IOC Checklist (Gill & Donsker 2018) split Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorhyncha) from Crested Lark (G. cristata) in 2009. Two subspecies of Maghreb Lark are known: macrorhyncha in south-east Morocco and north-west Algeria south of the Saharan Atlas, and randonii in Hauts Plateaux of eastern Morocco and north-west Algeria.

The IOC Checklist as well as the HBW Alive (who have not yet split the species) added “WC Mauritania (Atar area)” to the distribution range of the nominate macrorhyncha (presumably because the birds in this area are also “long-billed”).

Why birds from Atar area included with macrorhyncha?

The single Mauritanian sample used in the study of Guillaumet et al. (2006, 2008) was most likely from or near Atar (where the local Crested Lark is treated as G. m. macrorhyncha according to IOC and HBW Alive as mentioned above). The haplotype of that Mauritania sample found to belong to the senegallensis group of Crested Lark (this group includes birds from eastern Algeria, Tunisia and western Sahel of sub-Saharan Africa). The larks in this group (at least birds from Tunisia) have bills of intermediate length (in general). However, there is variation with some birds have shorter bills similar to G. cristata while others have longer bills similar to G. macrorhyncha (Guillaumet et al. 2006). The isolated populations in the Sahara or in sub-Saharan Africa are characterized by shorter size and bill (Guillaumet et al. 2006, samples for the morphometry were from Senegal, Mali and Chad but not from Mauritania).

The questions that should be asked: 1) are all the birds in Atar area have longer bills or there is variation as in the case of the birds in Tunisia? and 2) why these birds are included with macrorhyncha by IOC and HBW Alive despite that the only genetic sample from that area is shown to belong to the senegallensis group?

On the other hand, Crested Larks on the coastal area of northern Mauritania (subspecies balsaci, which belong to the senegallensis group) have longer bills as well (but still shorter than in macrorhyncha, at least the typical birds found in the core area known to birders – between Merzouga and Ouarzazate).

Some photographs:

  • See photos of Crested Larks of the senegallensis group (subspecies balsaci?) taken at Nouakchott, Mauritania in January 2017 by Robert Tovey.
  • See photos of Crested Larks of the senegallensis group taken at Ndiaël, northern Senegal in January 2016 by Frédéric Bacuez (the last five photos).
  • Here are a few examples of Maghreb Larks as well: at Mhamid, at the edge of Ouarzazate and at Rissani.

Galerida larks at Aousserd and Oued Dahab in general:

Here is a summary of the current knowledge about the distribution of Galerida larks in Oued Dahab based on the data compiled in Bergier et al. (2017):

  • Thekla’s Lark (G. theklae): breeds along a narrow area along the coast, more discontinuous south of Dakhla. No confirmed records deep inland (e.g. around Aousserd).
  • Crested Lark sensu stricto: only isolated records along the coast. However, the authors added “to date, there is no capture or incontestable photographic documentation of “short-billed” Crested Lark in the Atlantic Sahara”. There are no data on the interior of Oued Dahab (that is around Aousserd from all sides).
  • Maghreb Lark: no confirmed records in the whole Oued Dahab (and further north as well).

Identification:

What is the identity of these larks photographed last January at Aoussed by Swedish photographer Lars Petersson?

The birds are not Thekla’s Larks as the long bills alone will exclude this species. At the same time, the bills are too short for the typical Maghreb Lark (G. m. macrorhyncha).

When I saw the photos, here is my thought: “the bird on the rock looked good for Maghreb Lark, but I am not 100% sure for the other bird on the ground”. I asked two colleagues, B. M. and J. F., and they basically said the same thing “the bill seemed long enough for the Maghreb Lark, especially the bird on the rock”.

P. A. Crochet said: “Difficult … it’s not a Thekla’s Lark (bill too long, bird structure, color). But after that, between Crested Lark sensu stricto and Maghreb Lark it’s difficult in the photos…. In addition there is the ‘senegallensis’ clade (present just to the south in Mauritania) which has a long bill, but of which I do not have photos… Knowing that in Aousserd we find a lot of Sahelian fauna, nothing prevents these birds from being from the senegallensis group”.

Any idea or comment is welcome. And of course any photos of non-Thekla’s Galerida larks are welcome as well.

References:

Bergier, P., Thévenot, M. & Qninba, A. 2017. Oiseaux du Sahara Atlantique Marocain. SEOF, Paris, 359 pp.

de Juana, E. & Suárez, F. 2018. Crested Lark (Galerida cristata). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/57674 on 7 February 2018).

Gill, F. & Donsker, D. (Eds). 2018. IOC World Bird List (v8.1). doi: 10.14344/IOC.ML.8.1. www.worldbirdnames.org [Accessed 07 February 2018].

Guillaumet, A., Crochet, P.-A. & Godelle, B. 2005. Phenotypic variation in Galerida larks in Morocco: the role of history and natural selection. Molecular Ecology 14: 3809–3821. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02696.x

Guillaumet, A., Pons, J.-M., Godelle, B. & Crochet, P.-A. 2006. History of the Crested Lark in the Mediterranean region as revealed by mtDNA sequences and morphology. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39: 645–656. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2006.01.002

Guillaumet, A., Crochet, P.-A. & Pons, J.-M. 2008. Climate-driven diversification in two widespread Galerida larks. BMC Evolutionary Biology 8: 32. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-8-32

Update:

Both M. Thévenot and P. Bergier agreed with P. A. Crochet that these larks should be treated with the Crested Lark of the ‘senegallensis‘ group. Here are the quotes from their detailed responses:

M. Thévenot:

Je suis assez d’accord avec P.A. Crochet qui penche pour faire des oiseaux d’Aousserd plutôt des Cochevis huppé du groupe senegallensis que des Cochevis à long bec au vu de leur morphologie (taille du bec, etc…) et de la répartition géographique respective connue des deux espèces.

P. Bergier:

L’oiseau photographié par Lars me semble très proche des ‘senegallensis‘ de Frédéric Bacuez. La présence de quelques senegallensis (ou proches de senegallensis) à Aousserd ne serait finalement pas très étonnante, sachant qu’il semble commun à Atar qui n’est distant que de 250 km environ.

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

‘Long-billed’ Crested Lark, probably belonging to the senegallensis group of Galerida cristata, Aousserd, western Sahara, 21 Jan. 2018 (Lars Petersson).

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