vrijdag 5 september 2008

Wryneck - Jynx torquilla

Until last year, I had never even seen a Wryneck. I had tried to twitch it, but without succes. I missed birds, while friends had just seen it a couple of minutes before. And I had searched for them during Spring and Autumn migration. This species however stayed an enigma. Not only because I wasn't able to find one, but also because every birdwatcher in the Netherlands gets enthousiastic when they start talking about Wrynecks. What is it, that makes this bird so special?

First of all, it's rare in the Netherlands. Rareness makes a bird often more special. Simply because you won't get to see it very often and every time you do, it gives some extra excitement. This is probably a human trait, since human interest often increases if things are uncommon or rare. You'll also find this in economics or in art. Coals and diamonds are both allotropes of Carbon, but people get much more excited when they find a diamond then a piece of coal. And this also accounts for art, since true masterpieces are rare.

Wrynecks are Woodpeckers. They have, like other woodpeckers a very long tongue for grasping insects out of places that are otherwhise hard to reach. Their toes are placed zygodactylly (i.e. two toes pointing to the front and two pointing to the back) and their call is somewhat comparable to other woodpeckers. For the rest they don't look like them at all and are therefore placed in their own Genus. The Genus consists of two Species. The Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla and the African Rufous-Necked Wryneck Jynx ruficollis.

Although Wrynecks are woodpeckers, they don't behave like them. They usually don't climb vertically on treetrunks, they don't excavate their own nest and they don't drum. If you are lucky to get to see this bird (otherwise take a look at my pictures), you'll easily find these behavioural differences in it's morphology. Most woodpeckers have a pointed tail with very strong tailfeathers. They use their tail for support when they vertically climb treetrunks. The Wryneck however, doesn't very often climb this way and therefore doesn't need such a tail. Their tail is rounded. It's bill doesn't look like that of the true woodpeckers, not a chisel shaped strong bill, but more that of an insect eating Passerine. Furthermore the Wryneck is the only woodpecker with a regular long distance migration. They winter in Africa and migrate every year. Some other species of woodpecker sometimes disperse over long distances, but they won't do so every year and they won't make the same distances as the Wryneck does. Other species of woodpeckers show small irruptions, when unfavourable conditions force them to move. But these shifts are uncomparable to the long distances that Wrynecks fly.

Wryneck... Strange name, isn't it? If you wonder why it bears this name, take a look at this small movieclip:


You'll see a Wryneck wrynecking. It is twisting its neck in all directions. In many languages it bears a name that is pointing to this weird behaviour. In Dutch it is called "Draaihals" and the latin "torquilla" means turning. But why does it do this? Apparently the stretching of the neck and the turning make it look like a snake. It even makes a snake-like hissing sound. Wrynecks breed in old used woodpecker holes and if they are disturbed they can probably scare the predator with this behaviour. But they also seem to use it in courtship.

I was very lucky when my friend Casper Zuyderduin discovered this year a wryneck in Katwijk, since it was the first time I had a reasonable view of this bird. I had seen my first last year, but that was not really satisfying since it was on our bird ringing station and I had to leave the bird, because I was disturbing our nets by watching it and we had a small chance of catching it. So I was asked "friendly" to get into the hut. Off course we didn't catch and I was not as happy as I expected to see a bird so high on my whishlist. The Wryneck, Casper dicovered wasn't easy to find. At first we didn't find it and I made plans to never twitch a Wryneck again, but then suddenly Casper saw it again. And so did I, Magnificent! But things got even greater this year, when I was present when two Wrynecks were caught.

One was at the famous bird ringing station Castricum, where my friend Vincent van der Spek and I were to do our bird ringing exam for a Dutch ringing permit. I got to ring a Wryneck! Fantastic, but also a bird I had never ringed before and this didn't make my exam easier. Of course the identification was no problem, but the ageing was a bit harder. The pattern on the primary coverts was important to age the bird and this bird appeared to be a first calender year. It was an incredible day, with a lot of new ringing species, but because of all the excitement and the number of birds we got to ring, there was hardly time to enjoy the birds. The next day was therefore a fantastic second chance.

Vincent and I both got our permit. We were very excited and couldn't wait till we could ring on our own station (V.R.S. Meijendel). The next day we arrived at Meijendel where Maarten Verrips (one of our tutors) had already set out the nets and welcomed us. There were many many birds and we had to work very hard. Luckily Kasper Hendriks and our guest Engbert van Oort were also there to help. Then when numbers decreased a bit, Vincent and I walked a round to get the birds. We were joking and laughing a little and celebrated our ringing permit. Then ... a Wryneck!! Vincent got a Wryneck from the nets.. We walked on and unbelieveble, the next bird we got was a Thrush Nightingale!!! But that's a story I will write about later.

The Wryneck was beautiful. It looked like a moth or a reptile. At least something ancient. The cryptic colourpatterns were very nice. Now there was time to enjoy the bird. The sound, the feet, the twisting of the neck... We took some pictures and released the bird. It flew off on it's way to Africa!

I found this interesting blog about European woodpeckers, where you can read more about the wryneck: http://woodpeckersofeurope.blogspot.com/search?q=wryneck