Larks, which are notoriously cryptic ground-dwellers, are well represented on the African continent. With over 90 species worldwide, nearly 70 can be found in Africa, and more than 50 of those species are endemic, which makes this family a favorite among twitchers. I’ve traveled widely across Africa and of all the larks, from Beesley’s Lark, one of Africa’s most endangered birds (a species restricted to the Angyata Plains in view of Mount Kilimanjaro), to the lark-rich fields of Wakkerstroom, South Africa, the Dune Lark stands out as one of my favorites. I’m fascinated by larks, plain and simple, but the Dune Lark offers a degree of uniqueness and adaptability – a lark that has evolved to subsist in one of the driest regions of the world.
Two years ago, I found myself backpacking across nine African countries while living in Cape Town, South Africa. From Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, I hitchhiked west towards the coast and watched as the vegetation slowly changed from scrub, to gravel plains, and eventually to rolling sand dunes. It was then that I found myself in the world’s oldest desert – the Namib.
Based out of Swakopmund, I devoted one day to finding Dune Lark and headed to an area called Rooibank, one of the best areas to begin such a search. Found nowhere else in the world, the Dune Lark‘s preferred habitat consists of sparsely vegetated sand dunes, where it does not drink water but instead feeds solely on seeds or insects.
The Dune Lark is Namibia’s only true endemic; their range is entirely within the borders of the country between the Kuiseb River to the north and the Koichab area to the south. They tend to avoid bare sand dunes. Fortunately, nearly all of the lark’s global population exists within protected land, including the Namib-Naukluft Park, which offers a good measure of protection for this incredible species.
If like me you enjoy challenging identifications, the pursuit of highly range-restricted species, and the general ecology and evolution of these incredible birds, then Africa should be high on your list of destinations.
You can see Dune Lark if you quietly explore the dunes of the Namib; they are often found running up and down the rolling dunes of red sand.
If you find yourself in Namibia, you can trace my path in finding this bird: From Walvis Bay, head inland on the C14 just past the dune wall; turn right to head south until you reach the small settlement of Rooibank. From here, walk southwest across the dry river bed to the vegetated sand dunes on the opposite side. These dunes are prime Dune Lark habitat. Be sure to begin your day first thing in the morning as they will become inactive as the day gets progressively warmer. Under the heat of the mid-day sun, they will find refuge under the sparse vegetation.