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Northern Waterthrush no deception

Vlieland is one of the Frisian Islands and a popular destination for birders, especially in spring and autumn. It is a remote place – by Dutch standards – with just a few ferry crossings from Harlingen, Friesland, each day. One birder who could clearly see the potential of Vlieland as a hotspot for rarities was Hans ter Haar. He was one of the initiators of the famous and popular birding trips to the island in every autumn since 1992, known as ‘Deception Tours’. Hans was an optimist pur sang.

Although I have visited Vlieland on several occassions, I hope to spend much more time there in the future. Birds I have twitched from the mainland include a Collared Flycatcher on 19 May 1996, a Red-eyed Vireo on 8 October 1996 (de Knijff 1998), a Pallid Harrier on 30 September 2001, a Northern Waterthrush on 19 September 2010 (Gaxiola & Ebels 2013), a Caspian Stonechat Saxicola maurus hemprichii on 7 October 2012 (Bot et al 2012) and an Eyebrowed Thrush on 21 October 2017. I was hugely disappointed to dip out on the Myrtle Warbler Setophaga coronata on 16 October 1996; this bird was seen here from 13 to 15 October and still represents the only Dutch record of this species (van der Have & Bulteel 1997).

The waterthrush twitch was a classic. The bird had been discovered by Ben Gaxiola on the previous afternoon. Bas van den Boogaard, Jeroen de Bruijn and Arnout Linckens were nearby and they too will never forget this once in a lifetime moment. The Dutch Bird Alert sent by Jeroen at 13:44 came as a big shock to everyone; this Nearctic passerine (or ‘yank’ in birding terms) came very unexpectedly and was welcomed as the 500th species on the Dutch list. Hans was, of course, among the first to arrive on the scene and one of c 60 birders to see the elusive waterthrush that day. The next morning at 07:49, Laurens Steijn fowarded the news that Sander Lagerveld had just seen the bird, much to the relief of the c 180 birders on their way to the 08:45 ferry. The bird kept performing on and off until 21 September.

A year later, Hans became very ill. He died on 20 October 2011. It was his wish that Deception Tours should live on. I am sure it will.




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Published 3 August 2018