This is the last part of my Wallcreeper trilogy in which I will tell the tale of another day, the day I set out to see the species’ colours. Part 1, in which I reveal to you the course of my 20-year search, is here, and part 2 about me finally finding my life Wallcreeper is here.
I got my second chance at a Wallcreeper sooner than expected.
I was to go on a business trip to Brussels, Belgium during the last two days of November.
Brussels and Wallcreepers?
I understand your confusion. Brussels – as many will know – is significantly far off the area one would label as an even remotely possible winter area for Wallcreepers. Yet amazingly, a bird had been spotted just days before at a quarry next to Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Maastricht is not Brussels, I know, but I’ll explain…
This Wallcreeper was only the second ever to be seen in the Netherlands, a country that is amongst the very finest birding nations in the world where the most bizarre vagrants are seen practically on a daily basis. No, I am not exaggerating, I am merely conveying to you a basic understanding of the bird’s significance if it is just the second ever for the Netherlands.
Even more significant than its rarity in the Netherlands – from my perspective – was the following:
I was scheduled to leave Brussels around 10:00 am on the 30th of November to return to Germany, and the Maastricht quarry was practically right next to the highway and thus a reasonable detour on my way home (now you know what Brussels, Maastricht, and a Wallcreeper have in common).
Needless to say, it was just past 11:00 am when I parked my car at the quarry, shouldered my camera, binoculars and scope and was off to walk the snowy trails that lead around the active quarry.
The problem with active quarries is that they are dangerous places and therefore fenced off. This was also the case here, but there were two lookout points from where the wallcreeper had been seen very reliably, one in the north and one in the south-east.
The northern one was the first on my route. The pristine snow on the ground plainly showed that no other birder had been there that day, and a scanning of the cliffs lead to the discovery of the local pair of Eurasian Eagle Owls (the only pair in the Netherlands!), which are very nice birds, but are clearly not the Wallcreeper. I therefore continued to the southern lookout point 15 minutes later, arriving there around 11:45 am.
The snow at this point clearly revealed that a birder with scope had been there that morning but had left before I got there.
I scanned the far-away cliffs of the quarry for roughly half an hour.
The quarry cliffs where the Wallcreeper was seen frequently. The distance was considerable: those “portals” are roughly 30 feet high.
Blackbirds and a Fieldfare were feeding on berries in nearby bushes. A very large flock of Jackdaws, numbering around 150 birds, rampaged throughout the cliffs and tree tops. A flock of Long-tailed Tits passed me by. Herring Gulls circled overhead, then a Common Buzzard.
Nice birds, but still… the Wallcreeper was not to be seen.
This fine adult male Eurasian Blackbird was kind enough to pose for a picture specifically designed to demonstrate the difficulties of taking nice pictures of fine adult male Blackbirds on dull grey overcast days in blackish bushes with white snow against a whitish background.
Finally I decided to call it a day and return to the car, via the northern lookout point again, where I arrived at around 12:30 pm.
Wanting another chance at the ‘creeper, I noticed by the tracks in the snow that another birder had been there during my stay at the south-eastern lookout point.
Checking the cliff faces again, I saw one of the Eagle Owls – again. Then more Jackdaws, a very large flock of Wood Pigeons (roughly 250). Gulls. Blackbirds. Blue Tits.
But not a trace of the Wallcreeper.
I returned to my car and headed for home, seeing a group of 20 Grey Partridges along the highway somewhere in Germany near Aachen, my first observation in a long, long time and easily the largest flock I have ever seen.
I was okay about not having seen the Wallcreeper. Sure, for once seeing its colours would have been nice, but it was not a lifer anymore, it was a nice try not turned nasty by weather or other classic “nemesis” factors, and there would be other times.
The species was my friend now after all, wasn’t it?
Then I checked the Dutch bird observation site for November 30th, and if ever my face was lacking blood and life, this was the time:
Two other observers had been there during the time of my stay. Okay, I already knew that by the tracks I had found in the snow.
BUT: Both birders had seen the Wallcreeper, and had published the exact location and time on a Google Maps map.
From this information I was able to reconstruct the day’s chain of events, and have transferred it to the graphic below for your valued understanding. This has to be read like a comic strip (upper left to lower right) and depicts a basic map of the quarry, with North being at the top. It might take some time to see through, but once mastered will reveal the full infamy of the Wallcreeper’s behaviour.
This is how I failed to see while two others succeeded in seeing a little, lousy, unworthy bird species called the Outhouse-wall Creeper
I am not entirely sure if a species that’s on a birder’s life list qualifies for Nemesis status. But whatever one’s view on this, one thing is clear:
Wally’s gonna pay for this!
Great post…loved the suspense! Good graphic plot of the trick the Wallcreeper played on you!
Great story – sounds a bit (but only a little bit) like black stork to me, which had been a nemesis bird for me for a long time (whenever I was at my parents’ home, there was none around in the region, whenever I had left, they showed up again. I finally and happily succeeded in seeing not one but two of them close to Erlangen. But since then I have observed them regularly – even one crossing the highway at the Elzer Berg).
PS: Jochen, I sent you an email
@Clare: glad you enjoyed it, but it is clearly lacking in dangerous critters and creatures. Although, those Eagle Owls are pretty big and babies have been known to vanish from villages near breeding pairs … 🙂
@Daniel: let’s hope “Wally” acts the same way. Heidelberg has some nice quarries and it is winter. The bird still has a chance to make up for the Maastricht debacle.
I’ve sent you an email back but got a delivery failure notice! I had included a link, maybe that’s why it got rejected as spam?
The moral of the story? Don’t bird with Jochen if you want to see a Wallcreeper. Or maybe the moral is that patience and persistence do not pay off? Or maybe it’s that birding is for suckers and one should take up indoor pursuits with stationary objects?
Whatever the moral the story was great…
The moral of this story? if you want to see a wallcreeper, go birding with Jochen, and use him as a wallcreeper deterent. In other words, let him walk a refuge/quarry and stand on the opposite side!
Great post, Jochen!
@Jochen: Hm, that’s strange. Please try dan AT spektrum DOT com, then (thought you haven’t had a look at your mails, yet ;-))
@Corey: no, the moral is that there is only a certain amount of birder’s luck floating around this planet, and the more some birders (particularly certain ones from Queens) take out of the bucket, the less there is left for other – much more deserving – birders.
Grrrrr! Glad you enjoyed the tale of my little birding mishap! 🙂
@Laurent: hmmmm, you reckon I could make money just standing somewhere and thereby pushing birds towards other birders? Like, the anti-bird-guide?
Jochen, I would pay you to stand quite a distance from me… 🙂
Corey, what? Has my deodorant failed me again?
And by the way, I am now standing more than 3,500 miles away from you. Let’s see, at 6$ per mile and hour, that’ll be …
Aren’t you seeing scores of European migrants already, like the Newfoundland Lapwings, banded Barnacle Goose, a Redwing, and so on?
See, it works! I’m worth every penny.
@Jochen: The check is, um, in the mail. Yeah, that’s it. Once I see some of those birds I’ll send you another, bigger, check…
@Corey: you have NOT gone after the banded Barnacle in NY?!?
@Jochen: It wasn’t around for long and then it was flushed by careless photographers and wasn’t refound until it crossed the border to CT. We have at least two more on Long Island this year too…but, no, I’ve been lazy. I only really chase NY birds not in Queens now if I have never seen them in the state or if they happen to be near where I would be birding otherwise anyway.