Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Wryneck weekend

Late August/Early September: loathed by (almost all) schoolchildren as the imminent start of the new school year. To a young birder, however, it's just the precursor to a juicy few weeks where start-of-term homework will be abandoned for staring at weather systems and refreshing bird news services. It's autumn migration, baby.

My most eagerly anticipated autumn 'event' is the annual sweep of Northern European Wryneck across Coastal Britain, when internet pages are stocked with fresh-off-the-SDcard close-ups of barred finery and ringers dream of netting a 'little twister'. 
This year's tide of torquilla (5th - 8th Sept) occurred a little later than last year's record bank holiday (23rd - 25th August) when an incredible 27 were in the Spurn area in one day (25th).

Spurn was the site this year for my first UK Wryneck, having only had experience with migrant birds on the French coast, where they decimate Lasius whilst Sacred Ibis stream overhead. I was not the only one to enjoy the Wryneck weekend, several NGBs connected, the map below showing where. 

Poor, poor inland birders.
Sites ranged from famous bird obs Portland, Spurn (at least 7 NGBs) & Bardsey to Shooters Bottom - E Sussex & Barton-on-Sea - Hants on the South Coast and Hadston Carrs - Northumbs, Seaton Carew - Co Durham & RSPB Frampton Marsh - Lincs on the East Coast. Marooned on Skomer, Liam Langley also saw one while over in Batumi - Georgia, Oliver Reville jammed one in the Chorochi Delta before going back to raptor watching and experiencing the atrocities of illegal hunting. 

Wrynecks, a history lesson:

  • Breeding used to occur in all English counties, except Northumberland and Cornwall (at least, there are no breeding records for these two counties), until 1830, when populations began to fall rapidly.
  • Between 1954 and 1966, the English population declined from 400 to 40-80 pairs. There was no reported breeding in 1974.
  • The last record of breeding in Essex -1950- coincides with the only (unsuccessful) British breeding attempt of Gull-billed Tern in the same county.
  • Conversely, from having no breeding records ever, Scotland began to host singing birds from 1950. In 1969 3 out of 5 pairs were successful in Inverness-shire. They have now bred in other highland locations. This sudden appearance is a result of Scandinavian migrants moving into suitable areas of Scotland. 
  • Nowadays, breeding in Scotland is confined to a very few pairs. 
  • Their decline is a Europe-wide (particularly Western) phenomenon over almost 180 years.
  • Wryneck chicks have been known to have been killed by Tits building a nest on top of them...

-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig, the music of Hall & Oates and being distracted by bugs. 

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