It’s 7 AM, cold, wet and pitch-black as we leave Amsterdam with Rob Gordijn, Jelmer Poelstra and Marijn van Os. Our goal is to make the first boat to Vlieland which departs from Harlingen harbor at 9 AM sharp…
In the car we discuss the possibilities for this weekend and as always, they are endless. The recent storm brought a number of North American vagrants to the British Isles so there should be a fair chance for us to claim our place in the Deception Tours history books… Or, as Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber would put it: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
Out on the deck we notice that we are not the only ones who figured that taking the 9 AM boat would almost triple the chance of finding some quality birds given the limited amount of daylight right at the tail of autumn. The otherwise magnificent sunrise over the Wadden Sea was unfortunately clouded by a grey sky accompanied by a light drizzle. Nevertheless the 1,5 hour boat ride is quite the experience as the ever present harbor seals and huge numbers of waders, waterfowl and gulls make their home in this highly dynamic intertidal zone. The younger birders keep their eyes open for any ‘birds’ of the non-feathered type, as they’ll surely be found in Tante Pé tonight…
As we approach the island of Vlieland and gaze upon the 45 meter high Vuurboetsduin, we all experience that tingling feeling of anxiety in our stomachs. This island surely is the most beautiful of the Dutch Wadden Sea islands. Ones you’ve been there, you fall in love with the place…
We quickly step of the boat and make our way to the nearest bike rental and – as always – they’ve kept a couple of bikes reserved for the weekend wave of birders visiting Vlieland. After some groceries and dumping our luggage at bungalow ‘De Strandpuvier’ – our home for the next three days – we’re off!
Finding a rarity requires a certain approach and simply racing across the island on your bike like a headless chicken is most often not sufficient . You figure out your route for the day first, best is often to quietly walk along the forest edge where wind has little grip. You listen for the high-pitched calls of Goldcrests and Tits (the ones that come to your feeding table in winter, not the ones that you were all just thinking about; you dirty bastards!). Ones you’ve found those you methodologically check these mixed feeding flocks for something out of the ordinary. Jelmer, Rob and I decide to walk along the edge of the village and then cut through the forest towards the Stortemelk campsite. It is not long before the PALLA’S WARBLER – found the day before by young birder Wouter van der Ham – is rediscovered at Stortemelk campsite and just half an hour later we’re all enjoining amazing views of this little gem from the Siberian hill-forests. WHAT A BIRD!
Foto by Jaap Denee
After this spectacle we continue, still methodologically checking everything that moves. Just half an hour after the Palla’s Warbler I suddenly spot a warbler with two prominent wingbars a dark loral stripe and a bright yellow supercilium; I just self-found a second Palla’s Warbler! Luckily I could get another birder 20 meters ahead on the bird before it disappears in the canopy. Not very satisfying, but still my 7th self-found Palla’s Warbler!
The rest of the day goes by rather uneventful, but diner in ‘De Strandpluvier’ and a couple of La Chouffes in Tante Pé make for an excellent end of our first day on the island.
Today is D-day, as we’ve decided the day before in Tante Pé that we (Marijn van Os, Jorrit Vlot, Pieter van Veelen, Rutger Wilschut, Thijs Fijen, Martijn Hammers, Jillis Roos and yours truly) would get rich or die Trying – as 50 would put it – on the Vliehors; the two western-most small islands just off the western tip of Vlieland. During weekdays the Vliehors is used for military training purposes, but in the weekends people are free to wander this – for Netherlands standards of course- remote and scenically unparalleled area.
So at 7:30 AM we team up in the Village and head for the barracks; an half an hour bike ride. Upon arrival we start birding on foot towards the westernmost island. Getting to this island requires a strenuous walk through dunes and open salt marshes, across two 500 meters stretches of open Wadden Sea mudflats and another island. The walk is tough but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze! This area is so beautiful that even Marijn – the beast from Brabant – takes a stop to marvel at the bright red sunrise over the mudflats. Swarms of thousands of shorebirds make the icing on the cake…
foto by Jorrit Vlot
Despite the high expectations we find no rarities from either the west or the east and Deception Tours definitely lives up to its name. We do find several Jack Snipes, Lapland Longspurs, Yellowhammers, Shore Larks and an old television (How the hell did it get here?!). Next year we’ll be back and you can be sure that one day we’ll find that MEGA…
Photo by Jorrit Vlot
Around lunch time we are back in the village where Martijn and I score some well-deserved coffee and pizza. Like yesterday nothing new is found by the 60+ birders present and the island seems eerie silent; where the hell did all the birds go?!
The day is finished off with dinner in Tante Pé where strong beers make for strong stories about expeditions to the remotest birding Mekkah’s on this planet…
I spend the last day of this year’s Deception Tours birding the Eastern quarter of the island with Tim de Oerle. As always we keep a sharp eye and ear out for rarities but to no avail. The highlight of the day is a male Ring Ouzel and a Red Kite that circles the island a couple of times… It could have been so much more as a recording made by Lonnie Bregman (known by all Dutch birders as the proud discoverer of this year’s MEGA American Robin; a first for the Netherlands) of a flyby pipit clearly shows a Blyth’s Pipit on the sonogram; the 10th record for the Netherlands.
At 5 PM we board the boat back to the mainland. On the birding front it was not quite the weekend we hoped for but still we leave satisfied, knowing that we gave it our very best!