Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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Arjan's Biggest Year is supported by:

June 29 - July 3

8 juli 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  6516 × bekeken


This morning I had left Ghana and around 5 PM I arrived in my home country, the Netherlands. It felt so strange to be back, especially since I will depart again tomorrow afternoon :) My mum and Camilla picked me up from the airport and together we raced to a proper Scheveningse haring stand for my favourite Dutch snack. Then it was time for birding again and with my friend and top birder Vincent van der Spek we headed towards the Province of Utrecht. On the way Dutch Birder Han Zevenhuizen pointed out a Black Tern and tried to trick in drinking a beer with him, much appreciated Han, but I’m a man on a mission and beer comes after birding haha.

Near Utrecht we were met by Michel Veldt who took us straight to a singing Icterine Warbler – with Marsh Warbler nearby. Next we went in search of one of The Netherlands’ most special bird, the European Nightjar. At an undisclosed site we patiently waited for the bird to start calling and despite the not-so-ideal weather conditions a bird started calling and even gave a fantastic fly-by.

The last target that evening was a very special one, the Corncrake, a seldom observed species with a unique rasping call – hence the Latin name Crex Crex. Michel knew a site – again I will not go into detail – where a Corncrake calls very regularly. Tonight was no exception and we heard this special bird at just a few meters distance and to make the experience even better I actually got to see the bird very well!

After just a few hours of sleep we set off again, this time with legendary Dutch Birder Rinse van der Vliet. The weather was horrendous, I guess the rain was finally catching up after spearing me so generously in Ghana.

Despite the weather we got very lucky with our first target, Short-eared Owl. Another one of my favorite Dutch birds out of the way.

We battled the weather till about 11:30 AM and found all my targets – Little Gull, Grasshopper Warbler, Willow Tit and Arctic Tern - Thanks Rinse!

In the afternoon Camilla and I boarded the plane to Sevilla, Spain, where we arrived in the evening, just in time for some quick new birds and a late Gazpacho! I felt so incredibly tired after all the traveling and I knew I had a long drive ahead of me the next day so I decided to go for Red-necked Nightjar and Eurasian Scops Owl the following night, a bad decision in retrospect …

We were on a tight schedule today starting with a seawatch off Almonte. Targets were Scopoli’s Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater and Audouin’s Gull. There were hundreds of Scopoli’s feeding offshore, but even after an hour of trying still no Balearic and Audouin’s. We were about to dispatch when an adult Audouin’s Gull flew past, pfew…

After tracking down Western Olivaceous-, Dartford Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff we headed north towards the legendary Extremadura, which is indeed extreme this time of the year with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius.

We met Dutch Birder-living-in-Spain and owner of Ecoturex Godfried Scheur and his son Pedro at his stakeout for Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin. By now it was midday, miserably hot and I guessed our chances of finding the Robin were next to zero, but by some miracle – and a small push in the back with a playback of its call – the bird gave great views.

Before we drove to our accommodation - a lovely B&B named Finca El Rabilargo (The Iberian Blue Magpie) – we made several stops for species that I was still missing, this materialized in sightings of Black Wheatear, Eurasian Penduline Tit and several fantastic Cinereous Vultures and a bonus Bonelli’s Eagle.

At El Rabilargo our hosts Corne and Lia had prepared a delicious home cooked dinner in the garden – I have got to come back here on a more relaxed pace.

After dinner we spent a frustrating two hours looking for Red-necked Nightjar, but without success; I should have pushed and gotten this species the night before …

Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

At El Rabilargo our hosts Corne and Lia had prepared a delicious home cooked dinner in the garden (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Today was a big day for me, if all went well I could see some of my last remaining European lifers on the Extremadura steppe. We left early because Godfried knew that we had to get our most important species before the heat haze started to build up.

We were joined by two fanatic Spanish birders named Jose Mazon Hernandez and Joaquin Mazon Lobo, a good thing since steppe birds can pop up or fly by from any direction at any moment. Pedro found my first and most wanted lifer, a smashing female Great Bustard that gracefully paraded across the steppe. Next came two beautiful Pin-tailed Sandgrouse that flew by at close range followed by one of Europeans rarest breeding birds, a distant adult Spanish Imperial Eagle! In the next few hours we found Cirl Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Golden Eagle, Melodious Warbler and the beautiful Red-legged Partridge. The best bird of the day was not even a new one, a beautiful melanistic male Montagu’s Harier was something I’d never seen before and always hoped to see.

We birded until lunch when the heat was almost unbearable, than Camilla and I said goodbye to Godfried, Pedro and drove northeast towards Navarredonda de Gredos, a mountainous range 100 km west from Madrid.

Around 5 PM we arrived in the pine forest of Navarredonda de Gredos and our quest for Citril Finch started. It was a nice change of scenes to walk through a cool pine forest after birding the hot Extremadura plains earlier that day. The soon to be split Iberian subspecies of Pied Flycatcher and Bonelli’s Warbler were quickly found, but the finch took a lot more effort and it took us two hours of searching before we found a nice male. With 183 days ahead I’m now exactly half way. I’m at 3563 species, which is almost 19.5 new species a day. Tomorrow I head for the new world!

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus melanistic male (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Great Bustard Otis tarda (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Birding the Spanish steppe (Arjan Dwarshuis)

My flight to Puerto Rico would leave around noon so there was only an hour of birding before we had to drive to Madrid. The pre-dawn owling session did – surprisingly enough – not produce the hoped for Eurasian Scops-owl, but right at daybreak Camilla found a Eurasian Dipper, a nice final year bird to round up the old world.

Thinking all was good I arrived at Madrid Airport ready to check in for my flight to Puerto Rico, my first destination in the New World. But then everything went pear-shaped, I tried to check in, but something was wrong. It turned out that I did not have the necessary Este (Permit) for Puerto Rico, which is after all a US State. Stupid, stupid me! I tried everything to get the Este in order before my flight with a lot of help from my parents back home, but just when I had the Este ready boarding time was over, I’d missed my first flight and all because of my own stupidity. Luckily there was the 24 hour helpdesk of my sponsor ATPI who – again with a lot of help from my parents – managed to get me on a new flight 4 hours later. This way I would only lose a couple of hours in Puerto Rico and subsequently I would not miss more than 2 or 3 species. I dodged a bullet here …

Arjan Dwarshuis


Arjan's Biggest Year is supported by: 


Max Berlijn  ·  12 juli 2016  09:43

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