Bimaculated Lark: October 9th 2001, Gageo Island
Nial Moores

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata

One, Gageo Island, Jeollanam Province, 9-10th October 2001. Seen also by Kim Su-Kyung and Charles Moores.

Arriving back on Gageo Island on October 8th 2001, significant raptor and other visible migration was in evidence that day and the next (with for example 280 Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus in one flock on the 8th, and 15 Pechora Pipits Anthus gustavi migrating southwest together on the 9th). On the evening of the 9th, visiting Hang Ri headland in the northwest, Nial Moores flushed a heavy-looking lark at very close range, from a patch of rock and short grass. Although approximately the size of a Northern Skylark Alauda arvensis spp, the bird (1) appeared much bulkier, with (2) a very short tail that was contrastingly dark and (3) appeared to show an incomplete or near-complete white tip. The white was clearest at the corners, but appeared to extend thinly almost completely across the whole tip. (4) On rising it gave a soft "brrrippp" call. Flushing the bird a second time, it again appeared very bulky, short-tailed, and (5) very broad winged, giving an overall impression not unlike a small quail. The underwings appeared (6) rather dark brown, with a faint pale trailing edge, and as it landed, it appeared overall rather pale, but (7) with very obvious black neck patches. The upperparts were mid-brown, variegated darker, and the underparts largely white, and (8) not obviously streaked. In addition, the bill was seen clearly: (9) very large and pale, even yellowish-tinged. Then it seemed to disappear into the long grass that covers much of the headland. The three observers, KIM Su-Kyung, Charles MOORES and Nial Moores tried to move slowly towards the lark to either video it or at least to get better views. However it flushed again, and flew about 200 m. it was seen a total of 5 times that evening in strengthening westerly winds. Aware that this was a Bimaculated Lark, and that only Nial Moores had seen the diagnostic features sufficiently, the three observers spent several hours on the morning of the 10th trying to relocate the lark in the same general area. Only two more brief views were made, during which Kim S-K also noted the white tail corners or tip to the tail.

Reference to MacKinnon and Phillipps (2000) and other field guides allow all other similar species to be eliminated. The much larger Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima shows white outer tail feathers, while the European and west Asian Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra(a species with which both Nial Moores and Charlie Moores are familiar) looks rather bulkier, shows much blacker underwings and a broad white trailing edge to the secondaries. The possibility of a tail-less Northern Skylark was considered, but again the overall structure was much heavier, the secondaries lacked a whitish or obvious trail, the tail sides were not white, but the tail corners/tip were. In addition, the call was clearly different.

Although apparently previously unrecorded in Korea, and ca 3000 km to the east of its range, Bimaculated Lark is strongly migratory (many apparently breeding in western and central Asia, wintering southward towards Pakistan and India). As a result, it has been recorded in Japan 5 times prior to 1990 (Brazil 1991) and several times subsequently, usually in winter.