The Status and Occurrence of Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) in British Columbia
by Rick Toochin
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Introduction and Distribution
The Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) is a grassland species of the Great Plains of North America (Dunn and Alderfer 2011). It breeds from southeastern Alberta, across southern Saskatchewan, south through Montana, North and South Dakota, eastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, western Nebraska, western Kansas, western Oklahoma, northeastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas (Dunn and Alderfer 2011). It winters from southern Oklahoma, south through Texas, west through southern New Mexico and southern Arizona with many birds wintering in southern California near the Salton Sea area as well as in Mexico from the Baja Peninsula across the central northern regions of Mexico to the Gulf Coast (Sibley 2000, Howell and Webb 2010). In migration, the Lark Bunting has turned up throughout the eastern United States and the Eastern Canadian Provinces (Dunn and Alderfer 2011). Along the west coast, the Lark Bunting is a regular species in California with both migrant birds and wintering birds turning up every year (Roberson 1980). It has been recorded breeding in California after eruption years when the species is exceptionally common in the state (Roberson 1980). It is a rare but regular vagrant further north along the west coast. There are 23 accepted records by the Oregon Bird Records Committee and 11 accepted records for Washington State by the Washington Bird Records Committee (OFO 2012, Wahl et al. 2005, WBRC 2012). In British Columbia, the Lark Bunting is a casual, to rare, regular vagrant with over 30 Provincial records (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). There are no records for Alaska (West 2008, Gibson et al. 2013).
Occurrence and Documentation
The Lark Bunting is a casual to very rare, almost annual, vagrant in British Columbia with 35 Provincial records (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). The bulk of records are from interior parts of British Columbia with 18 records, including 1 in the Peace River (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). There are 9 records from the Lower Mainland area (which includes Chilliwack and Hope) (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). On Vancouver Island, there have been 6 records of Lark Bunting (Toochin et al. 2014b). It is unrecorded on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Toochin et al. 2014a). The vast majority of Provincial records have occurred in the spring and early summer with 9 records for the month of May and 15 records for the month of June (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1 and Table 2). These records are likely referring to spring overshoots in May and birds that looked around in the month of June for a potential breeding mate. Though no nesting pairs have ever been found in the Province, there is suitable habitat in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. Given the size of the region and the lack of coverage by observers, it is entirely possible that this species could be found in the future in this area as both a vagrant or as a potential breeding species, particularly since Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) has been confirmed as a breeder in this region (McConnell et al. 1993). Late summer records are few with only 2 July records and 3 for mostly the latter half of August (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). Fall migration records are extremely scarce in the Province, with one record from September, three from October and one from November (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). There are no winter records for British Columbia (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1).
Conditions on the Prairies could also account for many spring overshoot records. Lark Buntings are known to wander in years of both drought and extreme flooding conditions on the Prairies, which likely explains why most records occur in the month of June (Shane 2000, Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). Such was the case in late May and June 2013 when there was severe flooding on the Prairies (M. Meredith pers. comm.) There are 5 records of Lark Bunting for British Columbia (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1).
In both migration periods and in the breeding season, Lark Buntings are preferentially found in grassland and shrub-steppe habitat, including agricultural areas and, therefore, could turn up anywhere in the Province (Shane 2000, Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). In British Columbia, Lark Buntings have occurred as single individuals and have stayed, on average, for only one day (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). There are only two records of single birds staying for 2 days (Toochin et al. 2014a, see Table 1). This species should be watched for in the future in known vagrant traps and areas that continually produce species that prefer grassland habitat. Given the almost yearly frequency that the Lark Bunting is being found in British Columbia, more records will likely be found by keen observers in the future.