Saturday 24 September
The day before, Hans and I drove four hours before arriving at our hotel in Bremerhaven. This way we got a fresh morning start with the 3 hour voyage with the ferry from Cuxhaven to Helgoland ahead of us.
It was cold, drizzling and clouded but hardly any wind. Therefore a blanked of grey clouds with only 300 meters visibility hang over the water. This was not only disorientating for us but also for the migrating bird.
Hundreds of Barn Swallows followed the coastline passing over the harbor. When we sailed out at and with no land in sight the first migrant where tagging the ship. One after the other Robin was drawn by "small sailing island", later a Caspian Gull tried to snatch one of these poor souls.
Meanwhile an exhausted Song Thrush came flying to the ship, saw a door opening and landed in the restaurant. When it cleared up a bit we were surprised with flock of thousands Common Scoters.
This year we stayed in an appartment on the upper part of the island (Oberland). We dropped our stuff on the beds, fixed a coffee and shoved some biscuits in. A Jack Snipe had been reported in the app-group earlier along the track near the Helgoland bird trap (fanggarten). At the church we found the first Yellow Browed Warbler of the trip while walking toward Fanggarten.
We didn't have much hope with the polonaise of day tourist dragging themselves ahead of us over the island. Nothing in the first puddle that looked promising but suddenly the silhouette of the Jack Snipe in the second patch of water appeared.
The bird was extremely cooperative with the German tourists passing by, even when one mindless F*** almost stepped on it after he first gave Hans a kick for no obvious reason.
After a half hour the bird crossed the path to hide in the higher grass and we continued our way. Just one hour on the island and we considered our trip already a success.
We walked to the north west tip (Lange Anne) to see if there where some Gannets hanging around and see if there where some migrants present. A juvenile Peregrine tried to snatch a Snow Bunting that was foraging on the rim of the cliff.
There was one young Gannet present accompanied by a parent and one juvenile with less luck was also "hanging around".
We checked the gardens at Oberland and at the lighthouse but nothing more than some Chiffchaff, Redstarts and Willow Warbler. A refreshing shower was most welcome before we had a nice dinner at the "Bunte Kuh".
Sunday 25 September
5:00 and I'm staring at the ceiling, still two more hours before daylight and I'm turning from one to the other side. Finally the alarm goes, coffee, coffee and loads of sandwiches and we're ready to go. We sneak down the cliff to get to Kringel where in the weekend is no construction activity.
A Golden Plover welcomes us but doesn't like these crawlers with their lenses and keeps walking away. A flock of Goldcrests gorge themselves with the sweet green flies. For the rest it's very quiet with birds.
We decide to go to Dune, the smaller island next to Helgoland, before the ferry arrives. At the harbour and the pier we see a handful of Mediterranean Gulls. The north beach is surprisingly empty with only some Sanderlings, Turnstones and Common Plovers. At the south beach a single Shore Lark is present, no so cooperative as last year but now with a clean underground.
At the picnic site (Grillteich) we have a break and lunch but not before we lie down in the duck shit to photograph a juvenile Common Teal that is chilling with the local Mallards.
After another walk around the island we treat ourselves with coffee and cake at the airport that becomes some kind of a tradition before we go back to the main island. Normally the north beach is loaded with birds feeding on the fly larvae in the rotting sea weed but it's all empty. At the pier we find a Common Tern and with the wind farm engineers returning we also end our day.
Monday 26 September
The whole week we where dreading this day. A storm with westerly winds and rain meant that there would be no arrival of migrants. Good thing is that we could sleep in a bit and wait for the rain front to pass. When it passed and it was getting lighter we first checked the harbour at the south. A lot of gulls but nothing special and no place to stand out of the wind.
We struggled to walk over the top of the island to the other side. We had the idea to scan for migrating seabirds and with luck photograph them with the big swells. At one lookout point (Lummelfelsen) we could find the place where we could sit in the lee side as the wind was pushed over the cliff.
No shearwaters of skuas we hoped for but a couple of Gannets that came to check out the abandoned colony kept us occupied. Trying to photograph the birds with the dramatic seascape was quite a challenge.
At Lange Anna a Great Cormorant flew on the exact right place at the right moment with the waves breaking on the pier
At the end of the day I decide to take another look at the south west of the island to see if there might be an interesting seabird. When I arrive at the cliff a Peregrine is hanging in the wind while suddenly my attention is drawn by a small bird on the fence. A Mealy Redpoll is sitting still not to be noted by the Peregrine. Later when the falcon is out of sight it perfectly poses on the old weeds but it's swept back and forth in te wind making it very hard to keep it in the frame.
Tuesday 27 September
We have to wait till another rain front passes so we can sleep a bit longer and have an easy breakfast. Because there's still a relative strong wind from the west we head to Mittelland. This crater is surrounded by small bushed and overgrown by weeds that make it very attractive for smaller birds.
On the first day there was a massive arrival of Robins that you see all over the island. Because we are earlier in the season we find more Willow Warblers then in October that are here now in higher numbers then Chiffchaffs that arrive later. Together with the Goldcrest they favor the Asperges like plants that are covered with green flies which are pure suger bombs for the birds. Two Yellow-browed Warblers also like to join in only they tend to be a bit shy.
Another site that offers shelter for both birds and birders is the area near the swimpool (Kurgellande).
Again some more warblers on the flowers and a nice Spotted Flycatcher but it prefers to catch the insects from an ugly roof.
After this long day in the field we have another nice dinner at the Aquarium restaurant to charge ourselves for the following and last day but with a very promising weather forecast. Clear night with a mild wind from the south.
Wednesday 28 September
Last day so last changes so I'm jumping and eager to get out. Hans is taking it more easy and will join me later. When I arrive at the farm gardens (kleingarten) I hear a soft short rattle and soon after I find a first year Red-breasted Flycatcher. As I try to photograph the bird I hear the call of a Ortolan Bunting flying overhead. What a start of the day!
After Hans joins me we find large flocks of Meadow Pipits on the fields and the air is loaded with Chaffinches, Redwings and some Sky Larks. When flushing the pipits from the grass I keep my ears open and yes then I finally hear the call of a Red-throated Pipit.
I call Hans and also post it in the app group. The bird has landed in the cow field that can't be entered so we head on. When we came back we find the bird on the cut grass along the road and take record shot.
With all these nice sightings we head down to the north beach. Loads of thrushes and finches but no eye candies.
Time for lunch and we try the scrubs at the harbour maybe to relocate the Ortolan Bunting or Redpolls. The last we find back at the top of Mittelland together with a more cooperative Yellow-browed Warbler.
Time is running out. We have a look around the lighthouse where a nice Common Redstart is hanging around. All the local Carrion and Hooded Crows gather on top of the light house as a goodbye. We pack our bags from the appartment and join the horde of seniors back to the ferry.
When we sail out a couple of Long-tailed Duck fly by and on the way several Guillemots are swimming in the calm sea. Funny is that a Jack Snipe flies overhead just before we arrive at Cuxhaven.