Friday, 24 October 2014

Texel Trip Report October 9th - 16th, 2014

Texel is the southernmost of the Wadden Islands, the Dutch part of the Frisian archipelago, which stretches from Holland through Germany to Denmark.  The island is tear drop shaped, being roughly nine miles from north to south and four miles east to west at the widest.  The southern half of the island is generally arable with a patch work of agricultural land, interspersed with hamlets and larger villages and is the most populated zone.  The far south contains the wide expanse of mudflats and marshes known as de Mokbuy.  The east coast is similarly agricultural or pastoral, with a network of pools, lakes and flooded areas north of Oudeschild.  This area and de Mokbuy is the best area for waders.  The north and west of Texel has a more rugged feel with a  beautiful coastline, consisting of extensive beaches and a system of dunes.

Being a non-driver, I relied on public transport, taking the overnight ferry from Harwich, thence trains north Hoek van Holland to den Helder.  The ferry takes seven hours and the excellent Dutch railways provide a reliable connection of just over three hours from the port to den Helder.  From Den Helder it is necessary to take the TESO ferry, a journey of twenty minutes, docking at ‘T Horntje.
On Texel I relied mainly on my own two feet for the majority of the trip, though bicycles largely eliminate the leg work and hiring them is easy and inexpensive.  For two days I joined my good friend Wietze Janse and his nephew Jonathan.   I am also indebted for vehicular assistance from Angelique Belfroid, Rogier van Viegan and Ger Monteney.

I was based in the village of de Cocksdorp at the northernmost part of the island.  My trip co-incided with the annual autumn Dutch Birding weekend, organised by Dutch Birding.  There are illustrated talks for three nights, a bird quiz and other events in the evening, including an excellent hot buffet on the Saturday night.  Being a non-Dutch speaker at these meetings is barely a disadvantage, and I was made to feel extremely welcome.

I began the trip list on board the ferry, ticking Sandwich Tern and I was picked up by my host, Ger Monteney.   Accommodating my request to take the ‘scenic’ route, we drove up the east coast.  At Utopia, the high tide meant that the landward side was stuffed with waders, primarily Dunlin and Oystercatcher and smaller numbers of Avocet and Bar-tailed Godwit.  Working our way along the roadside pools I added Grey and Golden Plovers, Common Snipe, Turnstone and knot.  The fields were full of geese with the usual thousand-strong flocks of Brent Goose and Greylag and smaller gaggles of White-fronted, Barnacle, Canada and Egyptian Geese.  As heavy showers of rain and hail made birding impossible, I packed up the scope and we headed north for the comfort of Ger’s sitting room and a much needed coffee.

Feeling refreshed, I set out for a first check of the bushes around de Cocksdorp.  With persistently south westerly winds in the previous week, passerine migrants were notable by their absence and it was hard work to find even one Blackcap or a Chiffchaff.  I bumped into a young Dutch birder, who had seen a Dotterel  the previous day but the same fields produced only Lapwing and Golden Plover, as we scanned the furrows.  As we were checking some distant geese, I caught sight of a bird of prey, which I though worth a second look and drew my companion’s attention to the bird.  Clearly a buteo, the bird had a long-winged appearance and as it soared down above the field, we saw the 75% white tail with diffuse darker rump and tail band.  The dark upperwing, very pale underwing but very contrasting dark carpal patches and black upper-breast band, all pointed to an adult Rough-legged Buzzard.  Common Buzzard is common on Texel and prone to Rough-leg look-alikes, but this was a classic Rough-legged.   The bird conveniently perched on a haystack for a time and the scope showed the leg feathers extending to the feet, before it took off again and we managed to get another birder on the bird before it headed strongly south.
A skein of 77 White-fronted Geese flew over as I decided to pack in for the day, as the best of the light had gone.

The Friday was another sunny day with the winds having turned south-easterly, a situation, which Marc Plomp, the owner of the Bird Information Centre, said often produced the best birds.  A window of clear weather over Scandinavia also looked interesting, and I set out for the east coast with high hopes for the next 24 hours.

Ger dropped me off at Utopia, where I was able to watch the ducks and waders at leisure, with much the same species as the previous day, though I managed to locate one Ruff, a Spotted Redshank and a handful of Greenshank.  There were many hundreds of Wigeon accompanied by Teal, Shoveler and a few Pintail.  Popping over the sea wall, I found a nice Ringed Plover, taking photos down to a few feet and on the sea were 10 Great Crested Grebe.  Among their number, a smaller grebe, which I spotted initially with the bins was eventually identified as a Slavonian.

Apart from the odd Wheatear, I was finding the terrestrial birds hard work, with no passage and the bushes eerily empty of birds.  Texel can go through periods of ‘all or nothing’ though I had a good feeling about the week ahead.  My optimism was justified when a Pallid Harrier was discovered late in the afternoon just south of de Cocksdorp and unfortunately, following a miscommunication, ended with me missing the bird at the first time of asking. 

I got up the next day in what felt like the middle of the night, met by Wietze and Jonathan, so that we could be on site while it was still dark.  Harriers were not known to migrate at night, but could fly off at dawn.  Sure enough, as the sun broke the eastern horizon the harrier got up and we had barely satisfactory views of the bird breaking cover and being mobbed by a Kestrel as it headed slowly south.  If it had been a Western Palearctic tick, I would have been unsatisfied.  As it happened we need not have worried, but we weren’t to know that at the time.

After breakfast I set of with my Dutch friends again and we checked the bushes and woodland near de Krim camp site.  It appeared to have rained Yellow-browed Warblers and we found no fewer than seven birds, although common migrants were very few and far between with one Northern Wheatear and the odd Goldcrest elsewhere.  After coffee and Dutch apple pie, we were mulling over our plans when Wietze’s text alert beeped with an Isabelline Shrike at den Hoorn, seven miles to the south.  A frantic drive, using every shortcut available, brought us to a grassy area of tangled bushes and the occasional hedgerow.  Cars were already parked as far as the eye could see and we headed off along a track, where about 200 birders were watching the bird. 

Originally put out as a Daurian, a large Turkestan camp emerged, given the birds rather cold grey brown appearance, in the main.  A second year individual, the bird showed a moderately good mask, well-barred flanks and a largely pale bill, which seemed better for Daurian, though a debate ensued and the identification is ongoing, at the time of writing.   It was a very nice, obliging bird and though most Dutch birders wanted it to be a Turkestan Shrike, it was a new species for my Netherlands list, so I was happy.  We watched the bird for almost an hour as it caught various beetles etc, spending most of its time perched on brambles.  You know you’re having a good day, when while watching the shrike, the unmistakeable ‘speeeeez’ of a Red-throated Pipit was heard among a small party of mippits as they flew over the admiring crowd. 
As we debated what do next, we had a ringtail Hen Harrier over the bluff, tussocky dunes and then news broke that the Pallid  Harrier had been relocated.  Doing an about turn we sped a few miles north and had superb scope views of the bird in perfect light for 20 minutes flying over a field of mustard crop.  Unlike in the morning, we were now able to view the bird at leisure.

On the Sunday, clear skies and south easterly winds seemed promising and birds were on the move.  Alas, most stuff was probably shooting through high up.  Never the less, we had Lapland Bunting  overhead and amazingly close views of a Shore Lark on the beach at de Slufter.  Before heading back to the car we worked an extensive area of bushes and scrub, picking up another Yellow-browed Warbler and a Kingfisher.

Since we had set off, a Richard’s Pipit had been discovered near de Cocksdorp.  The bird showed in the open, atop a weed-covered mound, accompanied by Meadow Pipits and Linnets.  While we were watching this bird, a Peregrine Falcon zoomed through, chasing Golden Plovers, momentarily diverting the attention of the small crowed of birders.  After a break for coffee and cake, I said cheerio to my friends, who had commitments on the mainland. 

The wind was nearly calm and the sun bright as I did my daily route around de Cocksdorp.  One of my favourite spots is the small graveyard, which can pull in migrants. Two Common Buzzards were circling and performing overhead, and while photographing these, I was distracted by another bird of prey, much higher up.  I was thrilled to see an Osprey in the bins and got a couple of distant record shots of the bird, before it headed off south. 

On the low tide, among the multitude of ducks, geese and waders, I had three Little Egrets.  During a quick coffee at the information centre, news arrived of a Hoopoe showing well just south of the lighthouse.  In the company of Rogier van Viegan I had great views of the bird probing a sandy hollow in the dunes and was a great way to round off the day.

Tuesday was an entirely different day.  Even as I tied the laces on my boots, I could hear the thin ‘seeeze’ of Redwing and the occasional ‘Szhaap’ of a Brambling.  It had been a clear night, but the showers had set in during the early hours, bringing birds to the island.  I met up with Rogier again and we had a constant stream of Redwing and the odd Fieldfare, though in the strong easterly winds, birding was tricky. Finally, the steady drizzle gave way to a full blown storm and we were forced to take shelter in de Robbenjagger and watched the rain over a coffee and poffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes.)

When the weather had cleared, I Said farewell to Rogier, who had work the next day and I decided to hang around the lighthouse, where Redwings were coming through at an astonishing rate. The distinctive call was punctuated by the occasional ‘thip’ of Song Thrush.  The birds were almost literally pouring through, with flocks of birds appearing from the north.  The majority were arriving in parties of 10 to 20, but larger groups of 50 or 80 were not uncommon.  In just over an hour, I counted over 2000 thrushes.  Most just bombed through, but many birds sought brief respite from the wind in the lighthouse bushes before continuing on their journey southwards.

Eager to see what might have turned up overnight, I headed towards de Tuintjes and immediately found a Pied Flycatcher.  De Tuintjes or ‘The gardens’ in English, is an area of willow, sallow and bramble and consistently turns up good birds and is a magnet for migrants.  Apart from the flycatcher, there were also lots of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest and a single Firecrest.  Apparently not content with the views it had afforded the previous evening, the Hoopoe put in a surprise appearance, showing in the open down to 20 feet!  I went for my camera as stealthily as possible and got some amazing shots of this splendid bird. 

After it had flown off, I received a text to say that a Barred Warbler was showing in the last complex of bushes.  I moved the hundred yards or so, climbing a bank in order to get a better view into the tangle of cover.  After 20 minutes the bird came out in the sunshine and did the normal Barred Warbler act of clumsily crashing around the foliage, scaring a Blackcap in the process. 

As the afternoon wore on more birds were showing themselves, after no doubt arriving during the inclement weather, including a Common Redstart near the campsite.  Robins particularly as well as Ring Ouzels were in evidence.  The former seemed to be everywhere -  almost literally.  I counted 85 birds in an hour, just working my regular areas.  Given the similar habitat between de Cocksdorp and the lighthouse, I extrapolated that there must have been at least 500 birds in the north of the island alone.   After a coffee break, I did my daily round of de Cocksdorp and heard the distinctive ‘pin ping’ of a Bearded Tit from the large reedbed adjacent to the river Rogesloot.  I then had brief views of a female skimming the top of the phragmites.  I concluded the day checking the woods just south of the village, flushing migrant thrushes from every tree.  A single Coal Tit was added to the trip list here and I finished the day watching three Ring Ouzels in a single bush.

On the Wednesday, my penultimate day, the winds had backed to light north westerly, after being north easterly overnight.  I headed for pole 28 on the west coast, which was my favourite sea watching spot.  Along with a Dutch birder, in one hour, I had 100 Common Scoter, 20 Red-throated Divers and 3 Gannet all south, along with a Merlin and a Short-eared Owl in off the sea.  At the same time a steady flow of Starlings were pouring through.  Between 8.30 and 10.00, I had 4,000 to the south.   The weather began to take a turn for the worse with sporadic showers in the early afternoon, as I received news of a Red-breasted Flycatcher in a garden on Vuurtorenweg. 

Making my way there, the Starlings were easing up, but thrushes, Chaffinches and Bramblings began to move south in big numbers.   I arrived at the garden, and got the flycatcher immediately.  The rain was intermittent and I found a Yellow-browed warbler.  Satisfied with my views, I made a tactical withdrawal to de Robbenjagger, only to be told that a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler had just been found with the RBF.  I went straight back and after a few frustratingly brief glimpses, got stunning views of this glorious little bird, hovering among the withered Sycamore.

It was a good day for a vismig and In the two hours that I stood watching the birds in that garden, I counted 2,000 Redwing, 1,000 chaffinch and 500 Brambling move south.  Further birds were tumbling out of the sky and filling the adjacent trees and bushes. This was birding at its best!
My last full day, the Wednesday was sunny and dry.  It was distinctly a case of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s show.’  Apart from a few Blackcaps, I had six Little Egrets and another Short-eared Owl in off.   I also found another Ring Ouzel in de Krim forest and watched the bird for half an hour in the sunshine.  I finished the day photographing Brambling, over a coffee in the garden at the Bird Information Centre.  A leisurely finish to a fantastic week!

Costs, Transport and Accommodation.
Ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland – Return ticket with breakfast and cabin on the night crossing cost £110.
Train from Hoek van Holland, changing at Schiedam and Amsterdam Sloterdijk – 16 euros for a single journey.  If taking a car, the ferry is a little dearer and the journey from Hoek to den Helder is straightforward and is about a two hour drive.
Ferry from Den Helder to Texel – two and a half Euros.  You only pay for the outward journey!
Accommodation on Texel was at Texeloniki on on Langeveldstraat.  Cost was 36.6 euros per night, B&B, including tax.
A good hourly bus service runs from de Cocksdorp and most of Texel can be found by public transport, although up to an hour should be allowed if visiting the far south of the island.

Bird List

Cygnus olor
Mute Swan
Anser fabalis
Tundra Bean Goose
Anser albifrons
White-fronted Goose
Anser anser
Greylag Goose
Branta canadensis
Canada Goose
Branta leucopsis
Barnacle Goose
Branta bernicla
Brent Goose
Alopochen aegyptiaca
Egyptian Goose
Tadorna tadorna
Anas penelope
Anas strepera
Anas crecca
Anas platyrhynchos
Anas acuta
Anas clypeata
Aythya ferina
Aythya fuligula
Tufted Duck
Somateria mollissima
Melanitta nigra
Common Scoter
Phasianus colchicus
Gavia stellata
Red-throated Diver
Morus bassanus
Phalacrocorax carbo
Egretta garzetta
Little Egret
Ardea cinerea
Grey Heron
Tachybaptus ruficollis
Little Grebe
Podiceps cristatus
Great Crested Grebe
Podiceps auritus
Slavonian Grebe
Circus cyaneus
Hen Harrier
Circus macrourus
Pallid Harrier
Accipiter gentilis
Accipiter nisus
Buteo buteo
Buteo lagopus
Rough-legged Buzzard
Pandion haliaetus
Falco tinnunculus
Falco columbarius
Falco peregrinus
Rallus aquaticus
Water Rail
Gallinula chloropus
Fulica atra
Haematopus ostralegus
Recurvirostra avosetta
Charadrius hiaticula
Ringed Plover
Pluvialis apricaria
European Golden Plover
Pluvialis squatarola
Grey Plover
Vanellus vanellus
Calidris canutus
Calidris alba
Calidris alpina
Philomachus pugnax
Gallinago gallinago
Common Snipe
Scolopax rusticola
Limosa lapponica
Bar-tailed Godwit
Numenius arquata
Tringa erythropus
Spotted Redshank
Tringa nebularia
Tringa totanus
Arenaria interpres
Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Black-headed Gull
Larus canus
Common Gull
Larus fuscus
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Larus argentatus
Herring Gull
Larus marinus
Great Black-backed Gull
Sterna sandvicensis
Sandwich Tern
Columba livia
Feral Pigeon
Columba oenas
Stock Dove
Columba palumbus
Streptopelia decaocto
Collared Dove
Asio flammeus
Short-eared Owl
Alcedo atthis
Upupa epops
Dendrocopos major
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Lanius isabellinus
Isabelline Shrike
Pica pica
Garrulus glandarius
Corvus monedula
Corvus corone
Carrion Crow
Regulus regulus
Regulus ignicapilla
Cyanistes caeruleus
Blue Tit
Parus major
Great Tit
Periparus ater
Coal Tit
Panurus biarmicus
Bearded Tit
Alauda arvensis
Eremophila alpestris
Shore Lark
Hirundo rustica
Aegithalos caudatus
Long-tailed Tit
Phylloscopus proregulus
Pallas’s Warbler
Phylloscopus inornatus
Yellow-browed Warbler
Phylloscopus collybita
Sylvia atricapilla
Sylvia nisoria
Barred Warbler
Troglodytes troglodytes
Sturnus vulgaris
Turdus torquatus
Ring Ouzel
Turdus merula
Turdus pilaris
Turdus philomelos
Song Thrush
Turdus iliacus
Turdus viscivorus
Mistle Thrush
Muscicapa striata
Spotted Flycatcher
Erithacus rubecula
Ficedula parva
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Ficedula hypoleuca
Pied Flycatcher
Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Saxicola torquatus
Oenanthe oenanthe
Prunella modularis
Passer domesticus
House Sparrow
Passer montanus
Tree Sparrow
Motacilla cinerea
Grey Wagtail
Motacilla alba
White Wagtail
Anthus richardi
Richard’s Pipit
Anthus pratensis
Meadow Pipit
Anthus cervinus
Red-throated Pipit
Anthus petrosus
Rock Pipit
Fringilla coelebs
Fringilla montifringilla
Chloris chloris
Carduelis carduelis
Carduelis spinus
Carduelis cannabina
Carduelis flammea
Mealy Redpoll
Calcarius lapponicus
Lapland Bunting
Emberiza schoeniclus
Reed Bunting

Some photos from the trip

Daurian Shrike (Alex Bos)

Pallid Harrier (Alex Bos)



Turnstone & Knot

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