BRC Autumn Report is online

A juvenile Imperial Eagle that flew incredibly close past me and was — by far — the best bird of the season.

This autumn I have spent more than 2 months in Georgia coordinating the 11th Batumi Raptor Count. While I do still intend to highlight some elements of the fantastic migration that’s going on there in separate blog posts, the most comprehensive overview of the count, the autumn report, is now online for all of you to see. I hope you will enjoy reading it.

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…

A congregation of Short-Eareds

I absolutely love the village(s) and area around Paesens-Moddergat in the north of Friesland. It’s the remoteness in some of the least densely-populated parts of The Netherlands, the fantastic name (Moddergat translates literally like ‘Mudhole’) and the great birding opportunities in the area that make it appeal so much. It’s hard to find a place in The Netherlands that contrasts so much with a life in the Randstad (the metropole region of Amsterdam - The Hague - Rotterdam). So whenever there is an opportunity to visit the area, I do, like today.

The intertidal area always has something interesting to offer. This time we were treated by the largest congregation of Short-Eared Owls that I have ever seen. Although initially invisible, when 4 Hen Harriers came too close for comfort, a group of no less than 10 owls took to the skies. Truly an incredible sight to behold and certainly one of the more memorable birding moments of this year.

I could not fit more than 3 Short-Eared owls in 1 picture at a time, so here goes: the 3 highest birds are SE Owls, the 3 lowest birds are 1cy Hen Harriers.

Short-Eared Owl over the dike.

Short-Eared Owl. The same bird as in the previous photo.

Besides these owls, the area generally hosts large numbers of Twite as well. In previous visits I’ve once recorded over a 100 Twites there. This makes it one of the best areas in The Netherlands where this species can be found reliably.

Twites

Twites

And when a Common Snipe is about to fly over closely, it’s impossible to resist raising my camera as well. Common, indeed, but what a fantastic plumage!

Common Snipe

Common Snipe