VisMig Highlights May 2018

What a crazy month! May started off relatively slow, but quickly turned out to be a month I won't forget soon. April produced a disappointingly small number of summer visitors, but that was definitely compensated largely by May. Still, a lot of birds are missing, conditions must have been very tough this year in the Western Sahara…

Interesting records in chronological order

May 5th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Not a very exciting count, except for a European Serin and a whopping 205 Great Black-backed Gulls migrating north. The number of GBBGs counted would remain high for the first half of May. It appears it's not only summer visitors that are extremely late this year. The cause of this late migration? I have no idea, both April and May have been exceptionally warm months so you'd expect the opposite…

May 6th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Finally, a good and enjoyable May count, in which the effect of easterly winds was immediately visible. Two Gull-billed Terns flew past, both of which I managed to make record shots of (see below). Also, 48 Northern Wheatears were counted migrating north, a new record count for our site. Oh, and our very first Alexandrine Parakeet.

Gull-billed Tern #1.

Gull-billed Tern #2.

May 7th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

For a raptor fanatic in this part of The Netherlands, any day with a ringtail harrier is a good day. And this would be one of those days. Having already seen another Gull-billed Tern and a short, so-so sighting of a Golden Oriole, I expected that was the best the day would produce. But then, just before he was about to leave, Gerjon picked up a slender ringtail at quite a distance south of us. The bird was on a trajectory to fly past really close, so I had plenty of time to prepare my camera and observe it for a good while. While following this bird, the first Turtle Dove of the season and a probable 2nd one flew through the same view, but I remained focused on the harrier, so didn't get any good views.

2CY Female Montagu's Harrier (photo compilation).

It's interesting how hard these birds are when seen at a distance, especially in worn and bleached spring plumage, when clear features start to disappear. My thoughts kept going from Montagu's to a Pallid and back, although when it came closer it was a clear Montagu's. Have a look at the compilation below of this particular bird.

2CY Female Montagu's Harrier (photo compilation).

If given poor distant views at the wrong angles, one could easily think this is a Pallid: there is a faint collar visible, and thus a dark boa, the fingertips are not particularly dark in comparison with the rest of the hand (beware of the shadows in this photo), the dark trailing edge to the hand is almost invisible and the body moult is quite limited.

The rest of the day produced 2 Short-Eared Owls, another European Serin and a (late?) adult Caspian Gull.

May 8th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The fourth day in a row with a properly easterly wind. Barnacle Geese were already flying well from the start of the count, with large groups of birds flying distantly over the city and the sea. When one group was about to fly closer to us, Gerjon jokingly told us to find a Red-breasted Goose in the group. Well, so we did: Rob found an odd looking Goose in the group, which I thought looked extremely red-ish like a RbG. I did not dare to claim it as the light was at a bit of a difficult angle making everything look warmer than it is, but I had taken a few photos just to be sure. While checking them at home I did see the diagnostic mark I was unsure of in the field: a very clear white flank stripe, which nailed the identification as a true Red-breasted Goose. A new species for the migration site!

Red-breasted Goose in a flock of Barnacles.

The next hour would be fairly calm, but then in the span of a mere 6 (!) minutes: 1 Osprey flew past, 3 Gull-billed Terns started kettling on a thermal above the beach and disappeared high in the sky and Diego found a fantastic Red-rumped Swallow flying south! Crazy!

Red-rumped Swallow (photo compilation).

The rest of the day was enjoyable (2 Merlin, 2 more Osprey, 4 Wood Sandpipers, 1 Oriole), but of course pales in comparison with these few minutes.

May 12th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

In summary: a good count, but not as exciting as the last ones. A Purple Heron, Glaucous Gull, Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint and my first self-found Dotterel were the highlights. Despite the good species list, migration was quite slow, which gave us a good time to talk. Coincidentally, just while we were discussing the local Sand Lizard population, one flew past accompanied by a Common Kestrel.

Adult male Common Kestrel with a Sand Lizard.

May 16th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

Northerly winds were predicted, so the expectation was to see waders. Well, these showed up, but in low numbers. Seabird migration was nice nevertheless. I saw a very late Guillemot/Razorbill (or perhaps it was a Puffin?) fly directly away from me, so it had to be left unidentified. The Glaucous Gull was still present.

2CY Glaucous Gull following a small fishing boat.

If not for the continuous stream of Gulls migrating north, this would probably have been a very boring count.

A continuous stream of GBBG, LBBG and HG was going north.

May 21th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

With very good migration of Swifts from the start of the count, I knew this was going to be a good day. Soon a Hen Harrier flew north over the sea, a species that's increasingly rare here. When I saw what looked like a Whinchat fly in the corner of my eye (it was actually a Wheatear), it turned out a Woodchat Shrike was at the foot of our dune! Unfortunately I was not the one to discover it. Most likely this bird was the one seen a day before close to the Maasvlakte, 21 kilometers to the south.

2CY Male Woodchat Shrike.

Despite showing nicely, the bird was only seen by the three counters that were present at that moment for about 45 minutes. Later the bird was relocated and seen by only one observer 1.5 kilometers to the north.

2CY Male Woodchat Shrike (photo compilation).

While photographing the Woodchat Shrike, an Icterine Warbler was singing shortly nearby, which is a nice record for us as well.

By the end of the day (an almost 14 hour count for me), we had amassed a total of 6400+ Common Swifts, another Dotterel, 3 Honey Buzzards, 2 Purple Herons and a migrating Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Other highlights were the good number of waders and 15 Marsh Harriers.

May 24th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

My longest count so far this year: over 15 hours. And what a count it was! By far the best day of the spring season! Because of regular light rain many birds were pushed down and therefore easier to pick up. As a result we have seen very good numbers of waders for our site, even flying quite well around noon, which makes you wonder how much is flying over invisibly in conditions without rain. By the end of the day we had counted almost 1000 waders in total, of which 337 Common Ringed Plovers, 183 Grey Plovers and 23 very late Purple Sandpipers!

Adult and 2CY Common Shelduck.

But it was not only the waders that were flying well. Because of the rain, Swifts and Swallows were flying in incredible numbers as well. Especially House Martins were very ‘sensitive’ to the rain, as we'd count them mostly when there was a temporary rain shower, after which they would quickly move out of view again. By the end of the day we had counted 12672 Common Swifts and 671 House Martins flying north, the former of which is a new record count for our site!

But then the raptors… We counted:

  • 7 Ospreys, a tie with our previous record day, but failed to find an 8th one indicated so well by the panic among the Gulls
  • 5 Honey Buzzards, our 2nd best spring number and a very welcome sight as they flew nicely overhead
  • 1 Hen and 7 Marsh Harriers
  • 12 Common Kestrels flying north, a very good number in spring
  • 1 Merlin
  • 2 Hobbies

Adult female Osprey.

Adult male Honey Buzzard.

But… the best bird of the day? Just when I had decided to leave in a few minutes, I discovered a small yellow-ish Falcon a bit to the south. Well, you guessed it, a cracking Red-footed Falcon! She graced us with her presence while catching insects on her northerly flight. What a fantastic bird! Unfortunately it had gotten quite dark already, so the photos are a bit noisy, but… whatever. :-)

2CY Female Red-footed Falcon (photo compilation).

That upperwing and uppertail barring, so bold it looks like the bird is wearing armor:

Juvenile flight feathers, some moulted greyish and barred upperwing coverts and tail feathers, barred underwing coverts and still an entirely female-type body plumage nail this as a 2CY female Red-footed Falcon.

Heard only once, but confirmed at home, there was also a Common Rosefinch at the dunetop in the morning. It's surprising how unnoticed that flight call can go, just listen to the 2nd call in the recording below:

In summary: an insane day!

May 27th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

A very hot day with thunderstorms all around us, for which we had to stop counting for a while. Despite the weather, migration was still good for waders, raptors and Swifts. Nice highlights were the almost 7000 Swifts, 2 Ospreys, 4 Honey Buzzards, 25 Spotted Flycatchers and what must have been a Great Snipe! The description for the latter is on Trektellen (in Dutch).

May 29th, 2018 — De Vulkaan

The last count of the spring season and for me the start of a break from counting actively for a few months. I have to prepare for the Autumn count of Batumi Raptor Count, so I will probably only be able to count sporadically. The last count showed that migration is finally coming to a stop here in The Netherlands. The only highlights were a Turtle Dove and at least one, but possibly two Common Rosefinches singing just north of our dunetop. A rare sight: we were accompanied by a young Rabbit.

A young European Rabbit.

And that concludes a fantastic month of VisMigging and one of the best spring seasons our counting site has ever known, with the highest spring totals ever for: Great White Egret, Spoonbills, Woodlark, Common Swift, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail (sp.), Song Thrush, Black Redstart, Greenfinch. And one of the best years for a.o.: Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Black-backed Gull, Mistle Thrush, Brambling, Common Reed Bunting. This list was compiled on the 24th of May. It's quite likely we can add a few species to this shortlist, but that will happen at a later time.

Since I don't expect to do any serious counting before I migrate to Georgia this Autumn, this is also the last monthly overview for a while. I'm not sure if I will have time to compile one when I'm coordinating the Batumi Raptor Count of this year. Speaking of which: We're still looking for counters! ;-)

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.


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

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 ( 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.