Posts in De Vulkaan
VisMig Highlights December 2018

A nice flock of Sanderlings. (Ok, I admit, this photo was technically taken on the 30th of November, but I did not want to post a blog without a single photo.)

Most of the month December conditions were mediocre. Unfortunately the winter started slow with very little movements of Guillemots and gulls, so there was no reason to count regularly. The first proper day was the 25th, when 19 Velvet Scoters resulted in a new record count and a Great Northern Diver was a nice second highlight. On the 29th I could enjoy in-flight views of almost all Dutch Grebe species, when I saw 400 Great Crested, 1 Red-necked, 2 Black-eared and 1 Slavonian Grebe flying south. Additionally, a European Shag was foraging close to the beach and my first for the region. On the 31st we had quite a nice species diversity with a Great Skua, loads of gulls and Northern Gannets flying back and forth. Not a lot of real migration, but definitely a joy to count.


Fellow counter Rob Berkelder has written an excellent report about another remarkable autumn season for De Vulkaan, which covers also the period I was still in Georgia. If you know Dutch, it is definitely worth a read!

VisMig Highlights November 2018

November brought both a massive milestone and mammal, but was relatively uneventful besides a few spectacular days.

Interesting records in chronological order

The team right after the 1 millionth Chaffinch was counted.

November 1st, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Although I’ve had to miss the bulk of the passage, because I was enjoying raptor migration in Georgia, this autumn has seen unprecedented numbers of Chaffinches migrating past De Vulkaan. From 2007-2017, the average number of Chaffinches counted in autumn was just shy of 400.000 (399.486 in fact), a very respectable number and one of the specialties of our count site. But then 2018… On the 1st of November, at 09:22, during a sudden strong passage of finches, we counted the 1 millionth Chaffinch of the autumn! Truly an incredible number and probably a Western European record.

Besides Chaffinches, the day brought a very nice diversity of species including 2 Olive-backed Pipits flying together (recording here), a Short-eared Owl, a Bohemian Waxwing, a very late Turtle Dove (unfortunately too distant for photos), loads of Blackbirds (554), Bramblings (6624) and quite nice numbers of Yellowhammers (6) and Hen Harriers (7). The latter were especially interesting with 2 individuals with a very warm colouration of the plumage, very little streaking and a clear hood with neck ring (both males), making confusion with a distant Pallid Harrier very easy.

November 4th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Another day with Red Kites (2), an Olive-backed Pipit, quite a few Hen Harriers (5) and very nice number of Lapland and Snow Buntings (10 and 5 respectively). But mostly: a nice, sunny, day with migration at just the right pace to be able to enjoy everything.

Chaffinches against the skyline of The Hague.

It is remarkable how close to one another Great White Egrets can fly.

November 17th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The day produced massive numbers of Great Cormorants (2583) migrating south, 2 late Marsh Harriers and good numbers of Northern Lapwings (242). Hen Harriers migration was great once again, with a total of 13 birds moving south. Despite the tendency of Harriers to migrate solo, we observed 3 tight groups of Hens flying together. They were so close, in fact, that they could be photographed with both of the birds in focus (photographer’s will understand this means they’re really quite close to each other).

 

This autumn we have counted a total of 59 Hen Harriers, 38 of which (61%) could be aged confidently. Of these aged birds, 95% were juveniles. This fits the idea that juvenile birds are more likely to drift in the winds and thus show up with winds coming from the east more so than older birds do.

 

Two juvenile male Hen Harriers flying so close together they can be photographed while both being in focus.

And, as the saying sometimes goes: the best bird of the day was a mammal! The coastal region we are overlooking at our site was the temporary home of a Humpback Whale for quite a while already, but — having been busy with my studies — only this day I finally managed to see it. As of writing (December 4th), the whale has been foraging intermittently in the area for a month already. Update January 10th, 2019: Still present, along with another individual in North Holland.

Later that day, the whale would be seen breaching multiple times in front of an ecstatic audience. Unfortunately, I had to miss that. Nevertheless, despite only being halfway the month, this was a nice sighting on my last proper count in November.

Humpback Whale

Imagine walking on the beach, totally unaware of what’s going on just a few meters away from you…

VisMig Highlights October 2018

I spent the majority of the month October coordinating the Batumi Raptor Count in Georgia, but after my return to The Netherlands there were still a few nice days of migration counting to be enjoyed at De Vulkaan.

Interesting records in chronological order

October 23rd — October 26th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Four days with fantastic conditions for seawatching. On the 23rd we counted 6 Leach’s Storm Petrels, on the 24th we counted 15 of them and on the 26th a whopping 29 Leach’s Storm Petrels. We saw 2 Great Northern Divers (1 on the 24th, the other on the 26th) and loads of other species to enjoy. By far the best sighting of these days, however, was one that I unfortunately had to miss: on the 25th, a relatively slow morning, the first ever migrating Cory’s Shearwater for The Netherlands was recorded. The bird would later on be seen at multiple count sites south of The Hague, where they managed to safe it from an otherwise obligatory identification as a Calonectric spec. A full report of what happened that day in The Hague and further south can be found on the Dutch Birding website (unfortunately in Dutch only).

October 28th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Calm weather and winds from the east as usual bring a nice variety of species to the our site. For some reason a large Diver made the decision to fly over land rather than over the sea, which unfortunately meant we had to look against the sun and could not identify it on species level. A single Pale-bellied Brent Goose was seen flying south in between impressive migration of almost 3000 Great Cormorants. Fairly early in the morning we started to see fairly strong migration of raptors, including a season’s first Rough-legged Buzzard, a Short-eared Owl and two Merlins.

Juvenile Common Buzzard

Over the city migration of Common Buzzards started picking up and we had counted dozens by the time I decided to leave. I figured that the day woud not produce anything of substance anymore (keep in mind I had just returned from Georgia where we counted a million raptors in 2 months). Usually the afternoons are very slow and rarely interesting, but this time I was wrong about that. When I arrived home and had a look at the local Whatsapp groups, it was clear something else was going on: Common Buzzards were migrating through the region in unprecedented numbers. By the end of the day a whopping 363 Common Buzzards were counted at De Vulkaan, a massive improvement of our previous record of 225 birds. Surprisingly, this was the highest number of migrating birds counted in The Netherlands on that day, something that rarely happens at this coastal site so far in the west.

October 31st, 2018 – De Vulkaan

An adult female Rough-legged Buzzard, which surprisingly came from the south, hence the record shot from this weird angle.

From the moment the sun hit the horizon, a continuous stream of Common Gulls was seen far over the sea migrating south. There are few things I enjoy the challenge of as much as counting and identifying distant groups/streams of gulls, so this day had plenty to offer for me. By the end of the count we had amassed over 8000 Common Gulls, the 4th best day in The Netherlands. In between the gulls were great numbers of Alcids (mostly Guillemots) for October (640 of them) and Red-throated Divers (149), the latter of which is a new October record for the country. Like on the 28th, Buzzards were flying in good numbers and we counted 112 of the Common ones and were surprised to find 2 Rough-legged Buzzards going north. A late 1cy Marsh Harrier was a nice sighting as well.

All of that would have made for a memorable day already, but this day had migration of Red Kites as well, a species only record on ~50 days at our site in decades of counting. For some reason Red Kites were migrating in full force across the western half and middle of the country this day. We tallied a whopping 15 Red Kites, truly unprecedented numbers for the Dutch coastal region, and could enjoy 9 of them flying in a single group. Our previous record was 6 Red Kites on March 18th, 1988.

Adult Red Kite, the only bird which came close enough for a photo.

And that concludes November 2018.