Identification of Kordofan Lark: a potential vagrant to Western Palearctic

By MaghrebOrnitho | 18 April 2018

Kordofan Lark (Mirafra cordofanica). The name sounds familiar to Western Palearctic birders because until recently the species was included in the WP list. However, Crochet & Haas (2013) suggested that the species should be deleted. Here is a (slightly edited) quote from this article:

The distribution of Kordofan Lark as shown in Snow & Perrins (1998) covers large areas of the WP in Mauritania and Mali, even abutting on the border with Western Sahara. B. Lamarche confirmed that he recorded the species in many areas north of the Adrar Plateau in the WP. However, all subsequent visits to these areas have failed to record the species and visitors have found Dunn’s Lark Eremalauda dunni in the area instead. Indeed, it is striking that Snow & Perrins (1998) do not show Dunn’s Lark in the area, where the species is in fact widespread, occurring north to Morocco in southern Western Sahara (Aousserd area) and even Tafilalt (Merzouga area).

The only records of Kordofan Lark accepted by Isenmann et al (2010) for Mauritania were obtained much further south in Sahelian habitats, so in very different ecological conditions.

Given the lack of reliable information on the identification of Kordofan Lark and Dunn’s Lark, we believe that past confusion between these species cannot be excluded and that occurrence of Kordofan Lark in the WP areas of Mauritania should be rejected pending conclusive evidence. As we have been unable to locate any substantiated record of Kordofan Lark in the WP areas of Mali or Niger either, the species should be deleted from the WP list for the time being.

Following this recommendation, the Kordofan Lark was indeed deleted from the different available WP lists. However, its occurrence in the WP as a vagrant should still be a possibility (especially in the Aousserd area, northern Mauritania and southern Algeria).

Widespread but poorly known African lark species

The Kordofan Lark remains one of the poorly documented African lark species (with relatively large distribution range). In the North African and Sahel context, this poor knowledge was (until recently) ‘shared’ with another less known, but widely distributed, lark species: the African Dunn’s Lark. It’s no wonder that it was these two species which were confused in northern Mauritania in the past decades as shown in the article quoted above.

Before its discovery in the Aousserd region just over a decade ago (Lees & Moores 2006; Copete et al. 2008), the African Dunn’s Lark was also poorly known (until then, this taxon was not illustrated in papers and books, and there were almost no published photos). The African Dunn’s Lark, which some authors consider as a separate species from the Arabian Dunn’s Lark  or just Arabian Lark (Eremalauda eremodites), is now well documented (thanks in big parts) to the breeding population in Aousserd.

Identification of Kordofan Lark

On 1 March 2018, a Belgian tour group led by Miguel Demeulemeester observed and photographed a Kordofan Lark near Richard Toll, northern Senegal. Since this is, most likely, the first ever photograph of the species, Simon Cavaillès and Bram Piot took this opportunity to review and publish a detailed article about the species in Senegal Wildlife blog. In that article, they summarized the previous observations of Kordofan Lark in Senegal and adjacent countries. And, importantly from the WP perspective, the article presented the main known identification criteria for this species. Here I quote some part of the text:

As written by Nik Borrow & Ron Demey in their reference bird guide, Kordofan Lark is a “small, pale sandy-rufous lark with stout whitish bill and distinctive tricoloured tail pattern (rufous, black and white). When fresh upperpart feathers fringed buff with narrow blackish subterminal crescents”. Its structure is rather similar to Singing Bush-Lark, but the plumage is noticeably different. The picture shows a head and breast pattern that nicely fits the plate in Borrow & Demey, with limited well-defined brownish streaking on the upper breast, sandy-brown head with paler supercilium and nape and a white throat patch extending below the ear coverts. The bird also shows a few fresh scapulars with a neat white fringe and a subterminal dark bar, typical of the species. Its bill also perfectly corresponds with the description given in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, describing the bill as “pale whitish horn, slightly darker tip and dorsal side of upper mandible“. The juvenile is said to have “broader pale feather fringes on back and wing-coverts, heavier dark spotting on breast“.

To sum up, the main characters to look at are the bicoloured bill, brown-rufous upperparts, pattern of fresh upperparts feathers, upperbreast streaking, pale supercilium and the tricoloured tail. These characters are a unique combination amongst larks from the desert.

During their search in the internet for previous photos of the species, the authors found only one set of pictures taken in Niger, though it appears that these birds are actually African Dunn’s Lark and not Kordofan Larks as initially thought. See the article for a full discussion about their identification.

The Black-crowned Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps) is also discussed as another possible confusion species (some females) with the Kordofan Lark. And indeed, it’s also confused sometimes with the African Dunn’s Lark photographed in Aousserd.

References:

Cavaillès, S. & Piot, B. 2018. Identification of Kordofan Lark and status in Senegal. Senegal Wildlife. Published 9 April 2018.

Crochet, P-A. & Haas, M. 2013. Western Palearctic list updates: re-evaluation of five species from continental Mauritania. Dutch Birding 35: 28-30.

Copete, J.L., López, F., López Velasco, D., Castelló, J., Armada, R. & Mariné, R. 2008. Breeding of Dunn’s Lark in Western Sahara. Alula 14: 132-137.

Lees, A.C. & Moores, R.D. 2006. Identification and status of Dunn’s Lark in northwest Africa. British Birds 99: 482-484.

Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (Mirafra cordofanica), Richard Toll, northern Senegal, 01/03/2018 (Johannes Heip)

Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (Mirafra cordofanica), Richard Toll, northern Senegal, 01/03/2018 (Johannes Heip).

4 thoughts on “Identification of Kordofan Lark: a potential vagrant to Western Palearctic

    1. MaghrebOrnitho Post author

      Thanks to the observers and to both of you for this excellent synthesis about the species.

      Regarding the Horus Swift, actually I was aware of the observations and was waiting its publication, but you published the Kordofan Lark article first. Earlier Frédéric sent me several photos of the swifts which I forwarded to my colleagues in the MRBC, B.M. and J.F. (I known only the Moroccan species but they have more experience with both our species and Horus swift).

      Reply

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