A very busy streaked horned lark season!

Male lark singing on Rice Island. Photo: Rod GilbertWe’ve had a very active season working with streaked horned larks in South Sound as well as the Columbia River.  We’ve partnered with Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to understand lark distribution in these regions, monitor populations, and minimize known direct threats to the species.  By working together we can find solutions that balance the needs of this listed species with the objectives of these federal entities: the Army to train troops, and the Corps to maintain the important navigation channel of the Columbia River.

Jerrmaine and Adam on a boat on the Columbia River. Photo: Hannah AndersonOur CNLM lark crew is bigger than ever, with two new biologists working on Joint Base, as well as looping in existing restoration crewmembers to new roles working with larks.  We have been so impressed with the skill and dedication of our lark crew, now up to at least 7 people. These little critters don’t make it easy. Detecting adults and understanding their behavior can be challenging and nest finding is down right difficult. 

We made visits to sites where habitat may be suitable, but had never been surveyed or larks had never been detected. These occupancy surveys have taken our crew from the furthest southwest tip of Washington State, to the Artillery Impact Area (AIA) of JBLM, to the active airfield of Sea-Tac International. Results from these efforts have documented at least three new breeding sites: two on islands of the lower Columbia and one in a highly dudded area of the AIA.

In addition to expanding our understanding of lark distribution, we have been monitoring known breedingAdam taking data on Crims Island. Photo: Hannah Anderson sites for abundance and productivity.  Although data are yet to be analyzed, absolute numbers of animals in both regions appears similar to previous years, and we may even be seeing a slight increase on some sites.  Breeding activity started very early this year and has held strong all season. We’ve banded 87 nestlings at JBLM this year; a whopping number considering the season is not yet complete.  That’s a lot of successful nests.  To give some perspective, last year for the entire season we banded 68 nestlings. We’ll continue to resight these marked birds in an attempt to understand juvenile and adult survivorship rates and influences. 

On JBLM we’ve been providing to-the-minute information and maps about lark nest locations and vulnerability status to airfield and training land managers.   These maps have helped managers avoid sensitive areas and reduce direct impact to nests, chicks, and young.  Similarly, the information we collect on lark distribution on the River is provided quickly to USACE so they may incorporate larks into their dredge material deposition plans and projects. It is quite satisfying to know that our work is making a real difference for our favorite little bird as well as for important human activities.

Brian the lark in February 2014. Photo: Jerrmaine TreadwellThe Corvallis lark population suffered a blow this year.  What has typically been about 100 breeding pairs, is down by at least half.  Among other theories our Oregon partners who monitor that population speculate the harsh winter may have played a role.  Because of that decline, we did not translocate any eggs to Washington this year as part of the genetic rescue project, a collaboration in its 4th year between CNLM, WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, OR Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and JBLM.  While we did not move new eggs, the Oregon male, Brian, resulting from the 2012 translocation has been quite productive.  He and his unbanded mate are currently raising their 3rd clutch of the season.  Here’s hoping we see some of his young back next year breeding at the site and spreading their genes around!