My top five birds. ( Wryneck )

16th December 2012
The truly enigmatic Wryneck, although considered part of the Woodpecker family it is a very different proposition indeed. It can be an extremely difficult bird to locate and you can spend years trying to see one. It's not a bird you can go out to look for, it's almost like a gift that some higher power allows a birder to see once in a very long time with a caveat that says 'don't expect to see one again, you've had your share now'!
The same two birders I mentioned in the Red Backed Shrike blog who have been birding regularly since the fifties told me they had never seen a Wryneck, that is a testament to its enigmatic nature.
I had numerous encounters with Wrynecks in Norfolk and everyone was incredibly difficult to see. I've seen birders just sat around for hours on end waiting for one to appear out of a bramble patch only to leave totally disappointed. These birds can stay concealed for days at a time, everybody knows exactly where they are eg in a particular area of scrub, but they will not show. Then for the lucky observer they will just pop out for five seconds and then disappear for days again. They are such fickle birds, sometimes they can sit out on the top of a fence line in full view of everybody, or wander around a golf course eating ants while golfers walk by, such is their nature, in general though they are very difficult to see.
I remember being in Winterton on Sea in Norfolk many years ago after a good Easterley blow and I had already seen a Snow Bunting and a Juv Red Backed Shrike there and Winterton has a justified reputation as a hot spot for rare migrants turning up in these conditions so I was hopeful of more birds. There was an isolated Oak sapling about a hundred yards away and I could see a bird moving around in it so I zoomed in with my telescope and there was a Wryneck sat there looking at me, what a bird, I was delighted.
Then one of those special moments happened, a couple came walking along and they stopped to talk to us and I told them about the Bunting and the Shrike but before I could say anything else the woman said that her dream bird of all time was a Wryneck, she had been looking all her birding life for one with no success and she thought that it was never going to happen for her because she had never even been lucky enough to be in a place where one had even been reported. 'Well never mind, one day' I said 'but there is quite an interesting bird in my telescope'. She looked through the viewfinder straight at the Wryneck, she looked back at me with tears in her eyes and I knew what she was feeling because it can get you like that sometimes. It was very nice to help someone realise their dream.
On another occasion my wife Susan and I were on holiday in Cyprus standing looking out to sea one evening on the old Roman ruins above Pafos, before it had all been fenced off and totally commercialised. I caught sight of something moving on the ground about ten feet away and I said to Susan, 'don't make a sound, just look down at your feet', she looked down and to her astonishment a Wryneck was just sat there, unbelievably looking up at us completely unconcerned, then it just hopped away like a typical Woodpecker and disappeared.
I became totally fascinated by the Wryneck's cryptic plumage and also the way it twists its head around which gives it its name and it's because of this and those experiences and just the total uniqueness of these birds that it's in my top five.
Next blog...Hawfinch