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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spanish Bird of the Week #16: Eurasian Wryneck

By James

As much as I’ve enjoyed blogging about the many lifers I found in Spain, I’ve struggled to remember the story behind every bird. I remember the first time I saw a Rose-ringed Parakeet, preening in a knot of a tall tree in Parque Maria Alvarez. I remember the first time I found a Great Tit, feeding on a low branch at Parque Alamillo. However, I don’t remember exactly how I found them, or whether I was able to instantaneously identify them, and writing up the story of my experiences with them has been difficult. That said, there are a few species where I clearly remember the first time I laid eyes on the bird, where my memory goes well beyond the picture I have in the “Birds” folder on my computer. The Eurasian Wryneck is one of those birds.

At this point in my semester, Spring migration in Spain finally began to pick up. This really started to test my ability to identify birds by myself. During very previous migration of my career, Robert birded with me, picking out calls while the two of us worked together to figure out the source, sometimes a nice warbler flitting in some low trees. But in Spain, I had no clue what I was listening to. I trained myself to ignore the constant calling of Serins and Eurasian Blackbirds, and would instead listen for something unique.

As I walked up and down the reeds that lined the large pond of Parque Alamillo, my ears heard something they hadn’t before. An odd song that I knew was a bird I’d never found, and it was close. It kept calling, and I tracked it to a small but dense tree. I tried some “pishing” that is so effective in the States, not knowing if it would work as well across the pond. Suddenly, a small passerine shot out of the tree. For whatever reason, I had a feeling that this was not the mystery caller, and I did not pursue. Another 15 seconds passed, all of the sudden a second bird flew out, and landed on an open branch not more than twenty feet from his original perch.

The second the odd woodpecker landed I knew exactly what I had: a Eurasian Wryneck. I’d thankfully taken a long look at the field guide for Parque Alamillo, which suggested that the wryneck is a very good bird for the park, listing it as escaso (scarce) for the park, for AndalucĂ­a and for Spain in general. eBird confirmed that this was an unusual find, with no reports for AndalucĂ­a outside of the coastal park of Donana. I was lucky enough to get several excellent shots of my lifer before it flew back into dense foliage.

While I had over 120 lifers in my time in Europe, this is undoubtedly in the top five. The second I heard the distinct call I knew I had something unique. I still remember being in a state of shock for a little over a second as one of the weirder birds I have ever seen landed out in the open, seemingly asking me to photograph him. I wish I had as crisp a memory of every lifer I’ve gotten, but not every bird is as rare, as awesome or as cooperative as that one Eurasian Wryneck.