Ever since participating in the first awesome Champions of the Flyway (COTF), in Eilat, Israel, I dreamed about a nation specific version of the event, and in particular in the Netherlands.
The concept of the COTF was in my opinion so strong that, for me, it had no doubt it could be transformed in a global nation-specific event which in each country could stand on its own. Raising awareness and money for local bird conservation causes. In 2017 in the Netherlands it became reality due to the help of Marc Plomp of Bird information Centre Texel. Marc and I talked about a local Big Day event on the island of Texel since my first participation in the COTF and at the end of 2016 we decided to go for it. National Park Dunes of Texel and Birdlife Netherlands were also on board and with their help on May 6th this year it was finally happening: the first annual Texel Big Day!
8 Dutch teams, including the original Dutch Knights (Gert Ottens, Martijn Verdoes and yours truly), competed for eternal glory and, more importantly, for the protection of the Dutch beach breeding birds, the 2017 cause selected. Many beach species are on the Dutch red list due to heavy disturbance of their preferred habitat. Species like Little Tern and the flagship species of the event: the Kentish Plover.
I am pleased to let you know that Leica optics was the first sponsor to step in and help the event getting feet on the ground. The Dutch Knights were covered in the latest optics (including the new stunning Leica Noctivids) and set on their way.
Leica sponsored a local Texel team with finance and optics as well: ‘the young dogs’, a team consisting of very keen and fanatic “new-Texel-birding-kids-on-the-block”. Despite being very young (the youngest team member being 13 years old), they birded with passion and dedication for almost the whole 24 hours and came in second! Besides, they were also keen on fundraising, securing second place as the team that raised the most money. All-in all, the teams raised more than EUR 7500 for the cause!
What is unique about the Texel Big Day is that all teams are competing on e-bikes. No cars were allowed and all teams needed a plan and a tactic to cover all habitats and stakeouts on the island (ca 30x15km), without loosing their energy before the end of the day.
The Dutch Knights started around 3:00 in the morning, heading south to a large patch of mostly pine forest for a few birds for which you stand no chance later in the day. Hoping to pick up some night birds in the process. Like the COTF, a What’s App group was created for teams to share their bird sightings with all other teams. When turning on our phone’s, already many messages flooded in. A few teams where already on their way ticking off great big days species. The energy was straight in, we had to get out! One of the first birds we encountered was a hunting Barn Owl close to our accommodation, giving stunning view through the Leica Noctivid’s. The day was already a huge success and we still needed to be out birding 21 hours!
During the day, except from the last hours of the day and evening, the progress of all the teams could be followed on a special page made by Observado.org. The final results can still be seen here.
Highlights for the Dutch Knights were many but a few stand out: Woodcocks standing on the bike path in the dark giving stunning views, twitching Tree Sparrow at a feeder in a birder’s garden on the other side of the island in the afternoon as we missed them everywhere else (nice, 10km extra on the bike), and, ultimately, finding the only Kentish Plover for the day. Almost at the end of the Big Day day, just before dusk, some teams had to rush back out to the northern tip of the island – walking (again) through 1 km of sandy beach (one way) to a place they had just visited as it is the only Purple Sandpiper stakeout! We had great fun sending out the message: “Ladies and gentleman, we have got him!” As we knew all other teams needed this bird to make a chance of winning and had to get back out to the beach, losing precious time in the process!
The next morning, after all teams had a few hours of good sleep, the teams where back together for the award ceremony. The winning team with the most species was team ‘Rock around the Clock’ with 149 species, breaking the Texel Big Day record, which was even done by car (this team is also the national Dutch Big Day record holders with 201 species). The ‘young dogs’ came in second with 147 species. The Dutch Knights were the last on the podium with 146 species. In total, during the day, 179 bird species were logged on Texel by all birders present on the island!
Team ‘BirdingbyJizz’ raised the most money for the cause and became, like the birds, the real winners. The ‘young dogs’ did their utmost best to beat them but came again second. An excellent job and good luck next year!
Hopefully many more countries will follow the COTF format and use birders and Big Days as a mean to communicate about, and raise money for, local conservation causes with global impact. The birds need it. The Texel Big Day will be back in 2018 for sure. On May 12th more teams will again be racing for conservation, by e-bike. Want to join, please contact me!
Photos: Harvey van Diek and Marc Guyt