Rare Migrants Passing Through

The last few days in August are always an exciting time in the birdwatching calendar as the first passerine migrants from the continent are sure to arrive. Any hint of an easterly breeze, a little early morning mist or drizzle and a number of species that are on the move early may be found anywhere on the east side of the UK. Traditionally there are three regular ‘rarities’ that arrive in these late summer days, Red-backed Shrike, Barred Warbler and one of my favourite birds the Wryneck.


The Eurasian Wryneck is actually a woodpecker but it behaves more like a passerine, it avoids climbing vertically using its tail like our other woodpeckers, more terrestrial, often perching and moving horizontally.

Subtly marked brown and grey above with a narrow bandit eye-mask and off-white underparts with extensive dark barring, this sparrow-sized ant-eater is perfectly camouflaged against trees and branches. In flight they have a gentle undulating style but can quickly dip into cover and disappear for long periods.

Wrynecks can be very elusive on passage and very difficult to locate in bushes and other cover, they generally spend lots of time on the ground searching out ants yet at other times they will happily sit out on dry stone walls, perched up for long periods affording the opportunity to study the subtly beautiful plumage.


This contrary behaviour makes them one of the most photogenic and frustrating of British birds in equal measure. After several years of frustrating views and glimpses of several Wrynecks in Britain I photographed the ones in these images in a town centre park in Israel on Spring passage with cars and people just metres away!

It’s easy to think that a bird as scarce as a Wryneck isn’t likely in your garden but they can and do turn up in gardens, either on first arrival on the East coast or passing through as they move inland and west every year, so they are a species well worth familiarising yourself just in case you’re lucky enough to add one to your garden list.


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.