Thursday, July 5, 2007

Larks - as promised!

Yesterday was the fourth of July, but I didn't get to celebrate that. I had meant to run in the five kilometer fun run but I couldn't participate, so the fourth came and went like every other long, hot, boring work day in the desert. Actually, I did drink a non-alcoholic beer and eat a slice of pizza after my shift.

There still have been some reasons to celebrate a little. We've now been on active duty for a year - there are only about four months left to go for most of us. Why do I say "most of us?" The National Guard is always broke. If we can get sent to Army schools immediately after coming back from here, the cost of the school will be borne by the federal government, not the state.

Another reason to celebrate is that I finally got my promotion to sergeant, which had been promised to me loooong ago but the paperwork kept getting lost, filled out wrong, etc... So this is the "Sergeant Lost Frenchman blog," from now on! This year I was the number one infantryman for promotion to sergeant, so my chain of command put extra enrgy into the matter and the problems were worked out. Now I can boss everyone around! Actually, no. My job won't change, except that I'll be paid a tiny amount more and I won't have any more excuses for making mistakes.

Lesser people blog about Middle Eastern affairs, Washington conspiracies, and Paris Hilton. This blog post is about what really matters: larks.

Larks seem to be the only bird that can take the heat out here - whereas almost all the other birds are gone, larks have actually increased in numbers since it got really hot! There is something awesome and bizarre abut the fact that they spend the summer in this dry, hot, predator-infested inferno even though a fertile river valley is just a few hundred kilometers away. This one is my favorite, the hoopoe lark Alaemon alaudipes. The hoopoe lark is the biggest of the larks I see around here. It runs more than the other larks, and it has a really neat early-morning flight song ritual that I got to wake up to every morning while I was on southern Iraq missions.

Here is by far the most common bird around here: the crested lark Galerida cristata. Anyone can recognize it; it's the one with the crest. They are always around, but somehow I have been having a very hard time getting pictures of them. I got this picture by waiting for about an hour by a small mud puddle where a water truck had overflowed.

And this one is another very neat species - The bar-tailed desert lark Ammomanes cincturus. Okay, this particular one looks really worn-out and ragged, rather like a stuffed specimen Julien just pulled out of a dusty crate from an eighteenth century museum expedition. It was very much alive, though. Just hot, miserable, and more than due for a molt. This lark looks like a bleached, featureless female house sparrow when landed, but when it flutters about it is easily identified by its soft flight and rounded, ochre wings. Normally the bar on its tail is not as visible as in this picture. I see this lark quite often in places where there is not even a shrub in sight, and sometimes in small groups.

Finally, this is the desert lark Ammomanes deserti. Every time I see a desert lark, it looks different. I always have a hard time figuring out what it is, and every time I am disappointed by how dull the bird is. This one happens to look like a pipit with an unusually thick bill and no streaks, but generally they are just boringly and confusingly non-descript. Some are sandy or tawny, and some are grey like this one. The thick beak, dark above and pale below, and the soft flight are the only real identification criteria that have worked for me.

Then there is only one other lark I have identified here: the really cool black-crowned finch-lark Eremopteryx nigriceps. They got really close to me, but of course I didn't have my camera handy when I found them.

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