After six weeks of wonderful indian summer we went to the National Park Schiermonnikoog. Located in the Waddensea the island is a paradise for various shorebirds who use the island as shelter during high tide when the mudflats of the Waddensea become submerged. At low tide the birds feast on the abundance of food that the now dry mudflats offer. The amount of organic production of one hectare of Waddensea is actually higher than a hectare of intensely cultivated farmland. Fortunately the character of the island with dunes, beaches, salt marshes and pastures is relatively unspoiled. Of course there is a lot of tourism but apart from the summer holidays a visitor can find plenty of rest and space on the island.

Early morning
Real birdwatchers go for an early start. We took the early 6:30 AM ferry. When we arrived on the island the first glimpses of sunlight appeared on the eastern horizon. Together with the clouds, the low tide and thousands of geese this resulted in a spectacular sunrise. Just before the sun appeared on the horizon they all went airborne. I have seen pictures of Bosque del Apache at sunrise with thousands of Snowgeese and Sandhill Cranes but this moment at Schiermonnikoog appeared equally impressive. 

Bird Migration
October is the month in which a lot of bird-migration takes place. We were not disappointed. Thousands of Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis), Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) and occasional Greylag Geese (Anser anser) and Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) spent the night near the jetty where the ferry docked. From the ferry to the Westerplas, a small lake on the western part of the island we saw hundreds of geese feeding on the pastures behind the dike. We even spotted two Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) in the reeds that bordered a ditch.  

Westerplas
Near the Westerplas we remained in one place to count the various migrating birds. Hundreds of Redwings (Turdus iliacus), Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) could be observed through the willows and reeds that surround the Westerplas.   All of a sudden a squadron of fourteen Little Egrets (Egretta gazetta) landed just behind the reed bed next to us. A rare sight!  After one hour we walked around the Westerplas to see if we could get closer to the Little Egrets. But the reeds made a close approach impossible. From a dune we could observe the surface of the water which was covered with hundreds of waterfowl. Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), Wigeons (Anas Penelope), Pintails (Anas acuta), an occasional Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and many, many Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were foraging on the lake. In the bordering dunes we saw Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus)and the Buzzards (Buteo buteo) a Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and a Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) obviously feasting on the abundance of food. Altogether we spotted 73 species of birds before the rain made further bird watching quite unattractive. 

Dunes and sea
In spite of it’s small size the island of Schiermonnikoog (max. 18 km from West to East, max. 3 km from North to South with an area of 17.500 hectares) is home to various different habitats. Salt marshes, mudflats, dunes, wet dune valley’s, forest, shrubs and pastures can all be found on the small island. This results in a flora and fauna that is very rich in species. In the dunes close in the North of the island we found the same migrating birds as we had found near the Westerplas, even in larger numbers. We even spotted a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) on top o
f a Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) until it was pushed of its twig by an apparently blind pheasant. Our walk on the very broad beaches (500 m wide) did not result in spectacular observations of birds but the eternal interaction between sand, sea and wind results in very beautiful sand patterns. Walking on the vast, empty beach of Schiermonnikoog  with the wind in your hair gives you an idea of the greatness of nature with its rolling waves and sand wherever you look.  

Photography
The sunrise on the southern shore of the island was a rare sight. But it is again clear that the proverb ‘the early bird catches the fish’, is also true for photographers. A spectacular sunrise with bright colors in the sky together with thousands of birds is something every photographer dreams of. It only takes 500 meters of walking from the ferry to witness this phenomenon. 

The Westerplas cannot be approached without getting your feet wet. So the photography there is limited to the north shore of the little lake were a dike gives the photographer some view on the watersurface. You need very long lenses nevertheless to get a nice picture. Wouldn’t it be an idea to make an observation cabin between the reeds on the southern shore of the Westerplas? It would be a top-spot for birdwatchers and –photographers. 

The dunes on the north of the island contain very good subjects for photography. The red lighthouse near the village increases the ‘island’-effect on the pictures. Apart from the birds many rare flowers can be found in the wet dune valley’s in spring and summer.  

If the weather is good, especially after a period of strong wind, it can be quite rewarding to walk along the very wide beach on the Northern coastline of the island. All types of patterns in the sand can be observed which make very good subjects for photography.