2017 Recap: This year’s birding highlights

The final days of the year are a nice time to look back on the past year’s events. Since 2017 has been a pretty shitty year for the world in general — largely because of old, angry, white dudes —, this is a recap limited to only the good things of this year, specifically in terms of birding (as you have probably come to expect of me).

In numbers

This year I’ve spent 675 hours doing migration counts: 375 hours on De Vulkaan (The Hague), 178 hours in Batumi (Georgia), 77 hours in Scheveningen and 45 hours at Holtingerveld (Havelte, Drenthe).

During these counts I attended a total of 1 739 252 birds have been counted: 1 283 913 at De Vulkaan, 267 095 in Batumi and close to 20 000 for both Scheveningen and Holtingerveld. This amounts to an overall counted average of 2574 birds/hour and even 3422 birds/hour for De Vulkaan alone!

In total I have seen at least 302 species (I probably forgot to log some), the bulk of which (213) flew by at De Vulkaan. The only bird I twitched this year is the Black-winged Kite wintering in the north of The Netherlands.

I read the rings of 161 colour-ringed gulls.


1.Raptor migration in Batumi

#1, just like last year, is the fantastic raptor migration through the Batumi bottleneck in Georgia. Despite the slow start of this year’s count — relatively low numbers of birds and most of them passing by at a distance — it really ended on a high note. On the last day of my stay Honey Buzzard migration was insane (9 000 birds passed in 20 minutes) and I self-found my first Crested Honey Buzzard, a species I had to miss last year unfortunately. What a monster!

Compared with last year, Harrier migration was much more spectacular, which I really enjoyed. I also got to see a beautiful dark morph Eleonora’s Falcon (Facebook), albeit at a bit of a distance.

Photos can be found in and will still be added here.

Honey Buzzards

So how do you count 70 000+ Honey Buzzards in a day? Well, like shown in this video below (by Triin Kaasiku):

“An example of good coordination and teamwork at the counting station. At least a 100 km long stream of Honey Buzzards was passing on the other side of the camera. http://www.trektellen.nl/count/view/1047/20170902

And this is what the other side of the camera could have looked like (it was filmed at another moment):

2. GullFest Scheveningen

Jokingly I mentioned 2017 would be my ‘Year of the Gull’, but little did I know how true that would turn out to be. Not having any courses to take in January, I planned to focus on gulling. January brought along some storms and accompanying storm surges flooded the beaches of Scheveningen with a seafood banquet of unprecedented scale. As a result many tens of thousands gulls were present for roughly a month and half. Truly a sight to behold, enjoyed not only by me but also by many other non-birder beach-goers. And when common species are present in great numbers, there have to be elevated numbers of rarities as well: a shocking number of at least 16 white-wingers were present (10 Glaucous and 6 Iceland Gulls, Dutch article)! Some of these birds would stay far into spring even (I saw my the last Iceland Gull on May 11th).

Common and Black-headed Gulls

In 2017 I have also had to write my Bachelor’s thesis. Coincidentally I had the opportunity to do research on flight strategies of — you guessed it — gulls. Two months of being stuck indoors turned out to be very fruitful in the end, but more on that later in 2018…

Glaucous x Herring Hybrid, a cracker of a bird and a nice addition to the flock of white-wingers

And the winter of 2017-2018 started off nicely already with a (sub)adult Iceland Gull! The last time a bird like this was seen in my province was almost 4 years ago! Let’s see what January and February of 2018 will bring…

(Sub)Adult Iceland Gull, a crappy record shot

Glaucous Gull

3. Manx’ Madness and other seawatching specialties

The storms that would bring large numbers of gulls to the beaches of Scheveningen, also forced fantastic numbers of Northern Gannets towards the coast. I vividly remember seeing massive flocks of Gannets on the horizon on the 11th of January, when I counted a grand total of 996 birds. Admittedly, this pales in comparison with the fantastic numbers of a few days earlier on December 26th, 2016, when 1900 birds passed Scheveningen and an incredible 3500 passed Ouddorp. But it was a spectacle nevertheless!

Pomarine Skuas

In Autumn, the 12th til 15th of September were fantastic seawatching days, leading up to quite a few good counts for De Vulkaan and The Hague in general. The result of these days: 53 Manx Shearwaters (new record: 25 birds), 27 Sooty Shearwaters, 10 Leach’s Storm Petrels, 6 Northern Fulmars, 3 Sabine’s Gulls, 132 Great Skua (new record for The Hague: 93 birds), 52 Arctic Skua, 3 Long-tailed Skua and a very rare autumn record: 1 White-winged Tern.

In comparison with seawatching sites further out at sea these numbers are not very spectacular, but for us at the ‘outside bend’ of the Dutch North Sea coast these numbers are very impressive.

Manx Shearwater

4. A collection of other surprising records

Pallid Harriers

I made good on my promise to find the first ever Pallid Harrier for De Vulkaan. Given the many decades of counts, this was a species long desired, but never (certainly) found. Until, on October 15th I found one fly low over the sea at quite a distance. Obviously I initially didn’t believe what I was seeing, as we assumed they usually cross distantly over the city, but it was a Pallid without a shadow of a doubt. Unbelievably, the next day produced a 2nd Pallid Harrier! Decades of counts without them and then suddenly two show up in two days…

Juvenile (male) Pallid Harrier, the second bird to pass

Interesting record counts

  • The day after the storm of the 12th til 15th of September, shockingly, produced a new national autumn record of Common Kestrels: 63 birds flew past De Vulkaan, sometimes in groups up to 7 birds! Probably birds that have waited out the storms to finally make a leap southwards.
  • On October 15th, for a few hours we scored a new Dutch record number of Great Egret, when a total number of 89 birds flew past De Vulkaan. After a few hours the results of Westenschouwen for that same day were uploaded and were apparently even higher (98 birds). But that new record quickly got obliterated on October 19th when 205 (!!!) Great Egrets flew past De Vulkaan. Clearly a sign of a species that is doing very well…
  • On October 16th, 266 Hawfinches were counted flying south, a new Dutch record and doubling of the previous record.

Great Egrets

A selection of other interesting records

  • One Black Brant on April 9th (De Vulkaan)
  • 57 Marsh Harriers on April 30th (De Vulkaan)
  • 507 Redpoll spec. on November 25th (De Vulkaan)
  • 8/9 Short-Eared Owls on October 15th (De Vulkaan)
  • 7350 Common Swifts, 5651 Barn Swallows and good number of House and Sand Martins on May 6th (De Vulkaan), made for a very enjoyable count and my longest of this year (14:40 hours). The same day fantastic numbers of Swifts and Swallows were counted on Breskens as well.
  • 7 Red-footed Falcons on May 27th (De Vulkaan)
  • Two Rosy Starlings in this Autumn and a mega record count of 217 790 ‘regular’ Starlings on October 27th
  • 8 Olive-backed Pipits, 8 Richard’s Pipits this Autumn
  • 12 Parrot Crossbills
  • A Spotted Crake over my house (the center of The Hague) on May 2nd captured on a nocturnal recording, which can be found on Xeno-Canto.
  • A pair of Great Snipe over Saghalvasho count station on August 30th (Batumi)
  • One Oriental Turtle Dove in a flock of Turtle Doves on August 31st (Batumi)

5. RIP Deadcat 17-04-2017 - 19-04-2017

The new deadcat I bought was quickly put to good use (and sacrificed in the process), a recording of which can be found in this post. (Risky click of the day, not for the faint of heart!)

Jackdaws sacrificing my new deadcat for the benefit of the species

(6. Finally: A snake, not a bird)

Perhaps the best record of the year was not a bird, but finding a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) in the Holtingerveld during a count. This area is quite well monitored, but was not known to host a population of this rare species of snake anymore. Some vague single record from 1969 was the last known record of this species in the area! So for almost half a century this species has remained unnoticed, until I almost stepped on one… :-)

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

That’s it. 2017 is over, and so is this compilation of highlights.

I have probably missed a few things here and there that would be worthy of a highlight, but looking back these are clearly the most memorable birding-related highlights. Clearly, 2017 was a good year. Let’s see what 2018 will bring. So, to all of you and in advance:

Happy New Year