Ross's Gull Euro-twitch!

Checking my phone as I awakened on 31 January, I was greeted with a message from David DL offering a lift for the Ross’s Gull currently residing in the Netherlands at Vlissingen, Zeeland. The day was spent at Rainham Marshes, the best bird being a Bullfinch (seemingly more this winter than usual), prior to organising my things for the following day’s 4am start. A train ride to Lakeside was smoother and quieter than my regular commute, and I soon met DDL where we were joined by gull fanatic Dante S who was hyped to see the Ross’s for his second time in a week (having already been the previous weekend) and Magnus A, resulting in the birth of ‘Team Fieldfare’.

Arriving at Folkestone, we ploughed forth to Calais. The drive through the open land of France, Belgium and the Netherlands produced no less than ten Great White Egret, frequent Egyptian Geese and three White Stork (unconvinced as to their origin). Arriving at Vlissingen Port, the Ross’s Gull was immediately on show, demonstrating its buoyant and dainty flight. Two Egyptian Geese flew over and plenty of ‘sinensis’ Cormorant were present. A couple of hours were spent watching the marvellous Ross’s Gull completing its circuit of the harbour and flaunting itself for all onlookers, with two adult Mediterranean Gulls providing it company.

The next port of call was Yerseke, still in the Dutch province of Zeeland, for a wild goose chase, with the target here being a Snow Goose, a would-be lifer for all four of us. The sheer volume of Barnacle Geese present here was very impressive with around three thousand present, and not comparable to any numbers seen in southern England. Scanning through a very large group resulted in no success, so we moved further along the road. Around a hundred Eurasian White-fronted Geese were present more distantly, with more groups of Barnacle Geese to scan through. Moving a short way along in the car, I was pleased to locate the Snow Goose, fortuitously in with the closest group of feeding Barnies! Unringed and wary, it slid smoothly onto my WP list. We left the geese in peace shortly after, with a small gull flock at the same site providing nothing of interest.

Stopping at a site for Middle Spotted Woodpecker in Sint Jansteen, still in the Dutch province of Zeeland but no more than a few hundred metres from the Belgian border, we were initially doubtful that we would connect with our target species given the lack of audible bird life. Soon enough however, the call of a Middle Spot was heard, and nicely located by DDL. The following 30 minutes or so were spent following this bird (or another) around a small area of the woodland. A Short-toed Treecreeper was seen by myself and David (heard by us all) and a Crested Tit was also seen by all.

Despite my keenness, the Pygmy Cormorant in Brussels was not as an attractive prospect to the others, so we opted to head southwest to Belgium for another wild goose chase.

A short time on the motorway and we arrived at Sint-Margriete, a site just into the Belgian border from the Netherlands, in the province of Oost-Vlaanderen, where up to two Red-breasted Geese had been recently reported. I was pleased to pick out one amongst the large throng of Eurasian White-fronts shortly after arrival, and it became evident shortly afterwards that a second bird was also present.

I was also very pleased to pick out a neck-collared Eurasian White-front which later transpired to have a very interesting history. "PEL" was ringed on 20 December 2003 at Eemnes, Utrecht, Netherlands and has now clocked up an impressive 227 resightings across the Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany! Now in at least its 17th calendar year, this was a very pleasing record. Map of sightings attached below.

The flock predominantly consisted of Whitefronts (1400) with a much smaller number of Greylag in there too. Also present were 12 Egyptian Geese. Some time was spent watching these birds in nice light as the sun was setting. David picked out two grey geese away from the main gaggle and closer scope inspection revealed these to be Tundra Bean Geese, a nice addition to the day's birding. A swirling cacophony of White-fronts arose preparing to roost, just a fraction of the flock, providing a great spectacle for the eyes and ears. A great way to end a great day.

It was soon time to head back to Calais and through to Folkestone where we parted ways and I arrived home an hour earlier than anticipated!

I would recommend using the website to anyone planning on birding within the region for up to date regularly updated bird news, and easy to use on a mobile phone with English translation available in the top right corner.

A very memorable day! Thanks to David DL for driving. Hopefully something similar can be done for the next big bird to rock up on the near Continent.

Happy birding,