As many of you have probably heard by now, on 25 September 2017, a EURASIAN WRYNECK was photographed on San Clemente Island. Searches for the bird on the following two days were fruitless. Further, San Clemente Island is active U.S. Navy base and public visitation is not possible, aside from staff working on various endangered species recovery efforts. As this record has, understandably, generated a lot of interest, I wanted to provide a little background to the observation and the context of this record in North America.
On Monday, 25 September 2017, Brian Flick, a U.S. Navy officer encountered an unfamiliar bird while at Lemon Tank, a small, willow-lined reservoir on San Clemente Island. He was fortunate enough to have captured several photos during his very brief encounter and I have temporarily uploaded them to the San Clemente Historic Records account on eBird, viewable here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39430855
Late that evening, after being unable to find anything on-line or in field guides that matched what he had seen, he emailed a sketch to Gary Nunn just as cell service on San Clemente Island crashed. Gary forwarded me the sketch, which I received the following morning, and we agreed it was clearly of a Eurasian Wryneck. The context, however, was entirely lacking as the email contained only a photograph of the sketch and no other information regarding date or location or even who made the sketch.
On Tuesday morning, after viewing the sketch, I returned (as scheduled) to San Clemente Island for my next work shift, and, taking a shot in the dark, went to check Lemon Tank with Nicole Desnoyers. We had little to go on, and found even less. Leaving, we ran into Brian, and when asked about the sketch (I think I ignored all pleasantries and just blurted out, “What’s the deal with the drawing that you sent to Gary!”) he presented the watercolor shown in his eBird checklist below (under his eBird alias, Johnny Galt). Note, he is unable to upload photos via a Navy computer. http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39402191
I asked for more details about the encounter, and he provide a verbal description similar to that in the checklist above. At that point I first learned he had taken photos but that they were, in his words, “too blurry.” Obviously the photos (linked in the first checklist) are not prize-winning, but they clearly show a Eurasian Wryneck! The soil in the background is also that of the sandy bluffs that surround Lemon Tank. I viewed the pictures on this camera, and saw that they were among other photos clearly taken at Lemon Tank on that date.
We checked again that afternoon, together, and then Nicole and I looked again this morning (27 September), using playback sparingly, but again came up empty. Whether or not it is still on San Clemente Island, I cannot say. Until Brian has access to his personal computer, he has provided me with copies of the original files, which I cropped and shared. He plans to submit account and documentation to the California Bird Records Committee.
If endorsed by the CBRC, this would be the first record for California, and certainly one of the most unexpected. From a continental perspective, there are two previous records of this strange, Old World woodpecker, both from Alaska, with an additional unaccepted, but bizarre record from Indiana (Howell et al. 2014).
The first record for North America was one “secured” by a collector on 8 September 1945 at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, the westernmost point of mainland North America (Bailey 1945). My understanding is that this bird was found dead by a local collector, Dwight Tevuk.
On 16 February 2000, a mummified bird (oddly with both legs broken, but fresh plumage) was found on a military base in Indiana, but was presumed to have been “entombed” in a shipping container with European origins and was not considered to be a wild vagrant (Dunning et al. 2002).
The second valid record, and the first Eurasian Wryneck observed ALIVE in North America was one found by Paul Lehman at Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, where it was photographed and present 2-5 September 2003 (Tobish 2004, apologies if there is a better primary source).
San Clemente Island is a known vagrant trap, with such stand-out records as California's first Bluethroat, first Siberian Stonechat, and the state's second Red-flanked Bluetail. A Eurasian Wryneck, however, was unlikely on anyone's list of the next species to occur in California.
Enjoy the rest of fall migration!
Justyn Stahl San Clemente Island
Literature cited (with pdfs if available):
Bailey, A. M. 1945. Wryneck from Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. Auk 64:456. https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v064n03/p0456-p0456.pdf
Dunning, J.B., Jr. et al. 2002. A Eurasian Wryneck specimen from southern Indiana. North American Birds 56(3): 265-267 https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v056n03/p00265-p00267.pdf
Howell, S.N.G., Lewington, I., and Russel, W. 2014. Rare Birds of North America . Princeton University Press.
Tobish, T. 2004. Alaska. North American Birds 58(1):125-128. https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v058n01/p00125-p00128.pdf
Pictorial Highlights. North American Birds 58(1):171-176. https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v058n01/p00171-p00176.pdf