A Magical Night on Texel
I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind myself how lucky I am to live the life I live.
Yes, there are times when being a freelance birder, guide, writer and speaker is not the most secure way to earn a few euros…but for me it sure beats my previous, well-paid, secure life behind a desk.
I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
I am also lucky in that I have been given lots of opportunities to have new experiences in life as part of my work. I’ve done TV and radio documentaries in far-flung places like Yellowstone Park in the USA and in South Africa for example and, on the weekend of April 30th/May 1st last, I was once again off on an adventure. This time, I was fortunate to be sent to Texel Island (pronounced Tessel Island), on the Waddensea off north-west Holland.
There I joined Rob Buiter, the presenter of Vroege Vogels (Early Birds) nature programme on VARA radio. It’s funny, before leaving for Holland, I met some Dutch friends and told them I was meeting up with a Rob for a radio broadcast and they all looked at each other and said…’You’re going to be on Vroege Vogels…Wow!’
Vroege Vogels is a big show on Dutch radio and Rob is a household name there.
We came together to broadcast from Texel for International Dawn Chorus Day and were part of an all-night live broadcast from many parts of Europe. This was co-ordinated and created by Derek Mooney here in Ireland, and he anchored the show from Cobh in Cork.
Texel is a lovely island, flat and fertile with colourful rows of tulip fields, small canals, the odd windmill or three, and farm buildings shaped to ‘put their backs to the wind’. It is also an area of sand dunes, brackish lagoons with Spoonbills and Avocets, open sea with Eiders, mudflats with godwits and Oystercatchers, and low scrubland with hidden, unseen gems…
A cold crisp night
We were based in the southern end of the island with an outside broadcast van (with a satellite dish) manned by Menno, our soundman. As darkness fell, the wind dropped and we stood out into a crisp starry night with Jupiter glowing above us. With bins, we could see at least four of its moons. With large sound packs strung across our shoulders, we were able to wander around during the broadcast.
I’ve been lucky to have been involved in the RTE Radio dawn chorus every year for the past 14 years and have, without fail, broadcast from the Bots (the Botanic Gardens) in Glasnevin, Dublin. There, I have placed microphones out and have been confined to a sound desk for the entire night. Being able to wander about while broadcasting was a new freedom.
The show kicked off at midnight Irish time (1.00am Dutch time) and, when they came to us at 12.20am, we were standing deep in the scrubland…listening to an unseen but musical legend…a Nightingale in full song. What a magical song! There was nothing else singing in the clear, still air except another Nightingale answering back in the distance. Ours was the first bird song heard on the entire European broadcast…and what a start to the show!
It seemed that things were quiet across Europe for the first few hours but, each time they came back to us, our birds were performing as if their lives depended on it. We had Spoonbills and Avocets calling on the lagoons along with Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls. Then the Texel birds gave a marvellous duet for our international audience…a Bluethroat and a Nightingale singing alongside each other. It was breathtaking.
As the first light of dawn glimmered in the eastern sky, more familiar songs (to me) were heard…Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and Whitethroats sang alongside the Bluethroats and Lesser Whitethroats. It was a wonderful dawn chorus. By the time the show ended, we had been broadcasting live for over six hours. The grass was frosty, the air clear and a lovely crescent moon had emerged with the dawn. We stood watching the sunrise. It was a lovely end to a magical night on Texel.
Sometimes, I really do have to pinch myself.