VisMig Highlights April 2018

Another month has passed, already. April had highlights, of course, but overall it was still a bit of a disappointing month, with still quite low numbers of summer visitors. This is quite an unusual situation, possibly a result of adverse weather conditions on the Sahara crossings for many species taking a Westerly route. But, nevertheless, here we go:

Interesting records in chronological order

April 2nd, 2018 — De Vulkaan

A very long count given the circumstances: seven hours in continuous rain. However, I predicted this would push birds down, and so it did. By the end of the day we had counted a new record number for The Hague: 373 White Wagtails (spec.)! This has contributed significantly to the best ever spring total of these birds, with already over 2000 counted birds on April 3rd, whereas the previous maximum for an entire ‘spring’ period (until July) was only 1561 birds (in 2005). Perhaps not the most spectacular species, but a fantastic number nevertheless! Also, my first Barn Swallow and no less than 3 Little Ringed Plovers.

April 4th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

First House Martin for the year and also the first photographed bird for The Netherlands. And a cracking migrating Tree Creeper, taking off right above our heads up to an altitude of around 30 meters and then flying north. Nothing spectacular apart from that.

 The Netherlands' first photographed House Martin of 2018.

The Netherlands' first photographed House Martin of 2018.

April 6th, 2018 — Breskens

Actually my first ever visit to Breskens, The Netherlands' prime migration hotspot in Spring. What a place and what a day! Highlight of the day was an adult Glaucous Gull, a bird I was so flabbergasted to see I forgot to photograph it, despite flying by so close. Incredible record for April and generally in The Netherlands (adults are very rare). Very enjoyable numbers of Meadow Pipits and Barn Swallows, but still really low numbers for this time of the year. Bramblings, on the other hand, were flying in crazy high numbers, with 2215 birds counted in a day, mostly passing in compact groups very close to the counters.

My first Purple Herons of the year.

Other birds worthy of a mention: my first Purple Herons (finally), a Black Kite I picked up a few kilometers south but didn't come any closer, a Hooded Crow, a fantastic Caspian Tern just before my departure and a Corn Bunting.

A curious White Stork flying overhead very closely.

April 7th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

I was expecting to see my first for roughly 2 weeks already, and there it was: my first Osprey of the year. As applies to so many other species, a late first. Another Black Kite, 4 Ring Ouzels, a possible Corn Bunting, a ticking bunting that turned out to be a Little Bunting, an oddly sounding Tree Pipit (could be Olive-backed), and a nicely showing Short-Eared Owl. A slow day with quite enjoyable birds in the end.

April 9th, 2018 til April 15th, 2018 — Georgia

Upcoming Autumn I will be one of four coordinators of the Batumi Raptor Count. To prepare more efficiently for this year's count, we went to Georgia for a week. The week was mostly filled with meetings and administrative work, but there was some time for birds as well. Although we did not do a full-blown count in typical BRC style, we did 2 short counts and there were many birds to be enjoyed. Mostly Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards with relatively good numbers of Lesser Spotted Eagles. On the first day in the village (Sakhalvasho), many thousands of Black Kites passed on the coast. I'm sure if we would have done a count on that day we would have set a new Spring-record on Trektellen.

A kettle of Black Kites ‘gloupsing’ into the clouds. Gloupsing (BRC jargon) comes from the sound that you hear when a bird disappears into the clouds, a generally faint ‘gloups’.

Of course quite a few Eagles were left unidentified, so could have been Steppe, Imperial or Greater Spotteds. Besides the few Pallids I have seen (3 adult males, 1 adult female), at this time in spring also Hen Harriers are relatively numerous, a species that generally migrates too late to be picked up during the Autumn count.

Weather in spring — at least for this week — did not push all too many birds to the coast, so many birds were seen migrating in the mountains, but remained unidentified.

April 19th, 2018 — Breskens

A second day in Breskens, which started off very nicely with a Red-rumped Swallow flying past very closely. Again I found a Black Kite, which this time migrated past quite a bit closer, but still too far away for photos. (But I had seen plenty in the previous week, so whatever). I was occupied with an interesting looking Harrier, which turned out to just be a ‘regular’ Hen Harrier, while a Marsh Sandpiper flew past, so I missed that bird. Have a look at the full count for details, while I let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

I wish I'd get to see more of these beautiful Mediterranean Gulls where I live. Truly fantastic birds! Maybe in the future this will be a more regular sight, as they are progressively colonizing more Northern parts of the country.

Photo compilation of a (Common) Cuckoo.

A Spoonbill that got a little too close and then got startled by the shutter-frenzy of all present photographers.

April 21st, 2018 — De Vulkaan

If you are fancy like a Ring Ouzel, you betcha you're not going to sit in the shade.

Not a particularly good count, but some Little Terns a few Raven and a very obliging Ring Ouzel (above) still made for an enjoyable count.

Photo compilation of a Common Kestrel (presumably a 2cy male).

April 25th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Six Beaufort westerlies, but a boring count in general, except for a shortly present and singing Grasshopper Warbler and a 2cy Glaucous Gull, a species much less common this winter than in the winter of 2016-2017. Also, for some reason we have a few pairs of Barnacle Geese flying around often this spring. One of the nicest geese in The Netherlands if you'd ask me, so I had to grab the opportunity for a shot.

Barnacle Goose

April 27th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Southern winds, so most of the birds flew past very high, but I did manage to pick out a few niceties: my first Whinchat of the year, a Purple Heron, a very obliging Northern Wheatear and the first Ortolan for The Netherlands for this year. Remarkably, at the moment of writing (the 5th of May), it still is.

We see a decent number of Wheatears migrating past. Oddly enough they very often end up ‘falling’ from the sky and then perching very close to us. Clearly our small dune top seems to attract them, despite having flown hundreds or thousands of kilometers.

The local pair of Jays is showing quite well, flying continuously back and forth to and from a presumed nest.

April 29th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The last count of April in overall windless conditions with a sea calm and mirror-like. As a result the Common Scoters that were migrating north could be seen from much further away than usually, resulting in a nice number for April of 668 birds. Also, finally a decent number of Barn Swallows (519). And because I don't want to end without a photo, below is the only bird of the day that was photographed: a species we don't see up close so often, but that is oh so present on our sound recordings.

Rose-ringed Parakeet

And that concludes April 2018. Let's hope for a better May…

VisMig Highlights March 2018

I do a lot of visual migration counts, abbreviated as ‘VisMig’ in the UK, and known as ‘trektellen’ in Dutch. Often this involves interesting observations, but they do not necessarily convert well into a separate blogpost each. So instead, from now on, when time permits and when there is something interesting to share, I will make a monthly summary of interesting records.

Since the previous month has been very interesting, here are the highlights of March 2018.

Interesting records in chronological order

March 4th, 2018 — Holtingerveld

The Holtingerveld, an area close to my parents' place annually is one of the more northwesterly areas of the country where one can more-or-less reliably expect Cranes to migrate past. Last year's count resulted in 77 Cranes spread over 3 days, this year we were a bit less lucky with only 14 birds passing by on one day.

Flyby of Common Cranes

That alone would have made it a good day, but a juvenile (/2cy) White-tailed Eagle gave a show in the afternoon, by flying directly over our heads. Despite the rapidly expanding distribution in The Netherlands, this is still a very rare bird in this particular area, and my sighting was the first documented (and serious?) observation for the area.

Juvenile (/2cy) White-tailed Eagle passing closely overhead

March 15th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The first extremely early Ring Ouzel — in fact, just like the bird I had last year at the Holtingerveld, which was even earlier on March 4th —, very enjoyable views of Velvet Scoters, 4 Greater Scaup (rare here!), a first Little Ringed Plover and the first Spoonbill. Also, the onset of Marsh Harrier migration with a whopping 8 birds passing De Vulkaan, a surprisingly high number this early in the season.

Below is an ‘artist impression’ of how these Marsh Harriers should be feeling: constantly harassed by small groups of Crows.

Adult male Marsh Harrier, harassed by Crows — an artist impression

March 16th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

A day to remember! When cycling to the dunes I was hearing the constant screeching calls of Redwing and ticking calls of Song Thrush, and so I was expecting a good day of Thrush migration. But never would I have imagined to count so many birds, despite — or because of — the grey weather:

  • 357 Redwing
  • 2602 Song Thrush (a new Dutch spring record!)
  • 52 Mistle Thrush (2nd spring day for De Vulkaan)

There were so many thrushes, if I would not be looking South, you could have made me believe it was Autumn. Migration was very dynamic as well, with many groups of birds de- and ascending.

Unfortunately, during the hour the bulk of the birds passed I was on my own and thus must have missed a lot of the high-flying birds, as they were flying everywhere and were hard to spot.

Besides the thrushes: good numbers of Grey Heron, 3 Black Redstarts and again some lovely Spoonbills and Marsh Harriers battling against the weather.

Spoonbills

March 17th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Terrible weather conditions: 6 Bft easterlies at freezing (0°C) temperatures. Very uncomfortable. But the birds were good: 500+ (Eurasian) Teal, 5 Garganey, 300+ Little Gulls, and a first this year for: Red Kite, Sand Martin and a very early Whimbrel. 300 Song Thrush had decided weather conditions were not good enough and migrated south again and they were right.

March 19th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Started the count at 06:30hr at sub-zero temperatures (-3°C) with a Shaman on De Vulkaan (rhymes in Dutch). He told me it would be a great day and many birds would fly past. Well, I guess I just did not see the birds and they were flying too high up. It did, however, turn into a nice (sunny, 3°C) day… after 5 cripplingly cold hours in a 5Bft easterly.

But, the best part: I finally managed to photograph the local flock of Goldfinches. Lovely little birds! Photographing this group properly only took the entirety of winter…

Goldfinches against an unusual backdrop

March 21st, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The summary should suffice to say it was a great day: 2 Pale-bellied Brent, 1342 Wigeons, 874 (Eurasian) Teals (a new record count), all enjoyed in fantastic light conditions and relatively close views. But the best record of the day (and of the year so far): 2 Parrot Crossbills migrating north, one of which was a beautiful male. This is only the 3rd spring record in de Trektellen database (I'm omitting 2 dubious, undocumented, claims), but in general a migrating pair in spring is a very rare observation.

Documenting these birds is very important, as ID'ing them by ear and in flight often results in mis-identifications, although in this case there was absolutely no doubt about it in the field. I feared the calling birds did not end up on the recording, because it was located on the other side of the dunetop, but luckily they did. Below, the characteristic call and sonogram (also on waarneming.nl).

 The characteristic sonogram of a  Parrot Crossbill  call that fits snug between 3 and 4 kHz.

The characteristic sonogram of a Parrot Crossbill call that fits snug between 3 and 4 kHz.

March 23rd til 27th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Two Whooper Swans (rarely seen in March) on the 23rd; another Red Kite, Sand Martin and Glaucous Gull on the 24th; 5 Greater Scaup and 4 Velvet Scoters on the 26th; 123 Greenfinches (a new spring record) and a Great Northern Diver (unfortunately still in winter plumage) on the 27th.

March 30th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Another fantastic day with almost 90 recorded species. After I saw Cranes at the Holtingerveld in the beginning of March, I did not expect to see a good number of birds anymore, because they are so rare at Dutch coastal sites. This day, however, a group of 15 Cranes decided to take a coastal route Northwards.

 Crappy record shot of the group of 15 Cranes

Crappy record shot of the group of 15 Cranes

We picked up on the group far south of The Hague and through local WhatsApp groups the 15 birds have been followed (30+ observations) all along the Dutch North Sea coast from Breskens to deep in North Holland and possibly Friesland, a highly remarkable route for this species (see below).

 Trajectory of the group of Cranes (by Corstiaan Beeke).

Trajectory of the group of Cranes (by Corstiaan Beeke).

Besides this day being great for Cranes, the other birds also did not disappoint: a spring record for Red-breasted Merganser (91 birds), the first documented Tree Pipit (waarneming.nl) for The Netherlands, 1100+ Wood Pigeons and last but not least: an almost quadrupling of our spring record Spoonbills with exactly 180 birds flying North.

(Sorry, another photo of Spoonbills below…)

Spoonbills kettling en route to the breeding grounds

March 31st, 2018 — De Vulkaan

For a change: no remarkable observations, but this very beautiful scenery on arrival at the counting site. Rarely have I seen the Moon in such perfect conditions.

And that concludes March 2018, a month with many interesting days, many record counts and (too) many cold and windy days.

Harriers, harriers, harriers

The last week of August and 1st week of September of the Batumi Raptor Count are great for Harriers, as the migration of Montagu's peaks and some Pallids are already in the mix. In hindsight I wish I had taken more photos of them, but in the heat of the moment, identifying and finding loose flocks of harriers is hectic enough as is. And it's definitely more enjoyable without a camera in front of your face…

Juvenile male Montagu's (Circus pygargus)

Juvenile male Pallid (Circus macrourus)

Adult male Montagu's (Circus pygargus). Truly gorgeous birds, despite the generally bad condition of the plumage by this time of year (or the typical Batumi overcast skies).

Loose flocks of ringtails that often either pop up out of the valley, like these birds, or are high in or above the streams of Honey Buzzards.

Adult male Montagu's (Circus pygargus) passing in between flocks of mainly Honey Buzzards.

And the cracker: A dark morph adult male Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus). Luckily I got to see 3 of these during my stay, but I'm still waiting for the moment one passes by close at eye level.