Monday, 3 September 2018

Sep 3rd Winterton

I remember back in 2013 when I saw my first ever wryneck. It was hopping around the path along the river trail near the pump house at Strumpshaw Fen, trying hard to avoid every visitor walking past as it kept flying back to the same spot to feed from an ant nest. It was very convenient that it was staying at the reserve I volunteer at and remained there for a few days until it finally disappeared for good. However, the camera I had at the time was not good enough to take a decent photo of it, resulting in a small distant fuzzy blob on the ground effected by heat haze. I've been trying to look for one ever since without any luck. My luck could be in today, though, as one has been staying at the dunes at Winterton. I persuaded my mum to take me there to see it this morning.

The dunes at Winterton
We arrived at the car park by the café. Mum asked the car park attendee if she knew the whereabouts of the wryneck. I was surprised that she knew what we were talking about as she pointed the general direction that we needed to go. "Follow the coastal path until you come to some ponds. Its a 20 minute walk." Sounds simple enough we thought. With 2 hours on the car park, it shouldn't take us long. We stopped at the café for a drink and a bite to eat before setting off into the dunes. The landscape from along the top edge of one dune was beautiful. To my right, the sandy beach and calm blue sea was rather inviting. To my left, a landscape that was like from a different planet was just as interesting. Mum was enjoying the views, that is until a meadow pipit flew out from the marram grass a few metres from her feet, making her scream in surprise. I tried not to laugh.

One of the ponds in which rare Natterjack Toads breed in
Twenty minutes past and the ponds were no where to be seen. Mum was starting to hate being here and was constantly complaining about where we were going and that her legs were giving up on her. I was also starting to have doubts. Everything here looks the same with dune slacks hiding the view ahead. Where were these ponds? A passing dog walker hinted that they were marked out by fencing. Eventually, we found something that matched the description and hobbled over to it. It was just a single pond. While Mum took a short rest, I noticed a whinchat sitting atop of a bush. A stonechat then took its place. Two good birds but not the one I wanted to see. Then two men with binoculars appeared over the ridge adjacent to the bush the two chats were in. I made my way towards them through a thick cover of heather. It turned out that it wasn't too far away now. A third man then showed up after thanking the other two. This third man hadn't seen the wryneck either, so he tagged along with me to wherever this bird was.
Wryneck watching
It was a bit more of a walk than I thought, but we finally found the promising sight of a group of people armed with cameras and binoculars in front of a fence that marked out two ponds. It wasn't long until I had the bird that made me walk what felt like miles over rough terrain to see it. Wrynecks are small brown woodpeckers that feed on ants. They spend most of the time on the ground, but their brown-grey plumage makes really good camouflage. What gives them their name though is the way they twist their neck around. The neck's movement is often described as snake-like and are thought to be able to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. Wrynecks used to breed in the UK, but now they are only passing spring and autumn migrants. Still, they are usually obedient birds when you see them, staying put to one spot for a few days for hours on end.
I took a few photos and was about to leave in the knowing that Mum was still waiting for me. But as I turned, there was Mum! I showed her the wryneck and then made our way back. It was a long way back and Mum was struggling to walk up the dunes. I suggested that we should walk on the beach where it was flatter. It was just as bad for her. She remarked that she hated wrynecks now due to the exhausting walk I've put her through. At least we saw it. For me, it was worth it. Though looking through the photos when I got home, I realised that they were mostly obscured by vegetation. Curses!

Sea Rocket

Sea Holly

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