Horned Lark in the California Prairielands near Knights Ferry
With the first days of spring, we are starting to explore the Sierra Nevada foothills and what's left of the California prairie in the eastern part of the Great Valley. On Saturday we were in the Red Hills, seeing many flowers but few birds, but then we headed down to Willms Road out of Knight's Ferry, a backroad providing access to the many ranches in the foothills. There's a stock pond that we like to check out every so often, and along the way we ran across several Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) sitting on fenceposts and searching in the grass for tidbits of food.
In case there's any doubt about why they are called "horned" larks, the post-sitting bird turned his head and showed us the upturned feathers that give him his name. The Horned Larks are common birds, but fewer in number than they used to be (perhaps only 30% of their numbers fifty years ago). A likely suspect could be loss of habitat, either to development or to reforestation efforts.
It was a beautiful day on the prairie, perhaps the prettiest kind of day we get all year out here. It's been a wet year, finally, the grass is thick and green and the usually dry waterways are flowing. The foothill rock layers are composed of volcanic mudflows and ash deposits bespeaking a violent origin, but today all was serene.