2nd - 6th December 2000


Roland van der Vliet


2nd December: Arrival

As nobody experienced delays during the trip to Holland, we could do some late afternoon birding near Nijkerk before heading for the hotel. The Nijkerk area is famous for its wintering Bewick's Swans of which we saw several flocks in the fields. The nearby lake did not contain much waterfowl (which is unusual, I must add), although we located a Little Grebe and several Common Goldeneyes. Maybe the very mild weather during the autumn had something to do with this? It sure caused some very exciting sightings later on during the trip! Undoubtedly the sighting of the day was a hunting Peregrine which later sat on its post, to be admired by all. Arrival at Hotel Baars, at Harderwijk, in time for dinner.

3rd December: Camperduin/De Putten and Wieringen/Den Oever

This day took us to the nature reserve De Putten near the small coastal village of Camperduin. It was raining during the drive but it had cleared when we started birding. De Putten normally contains a interesting variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and gulls, and today we were not disappointed. Waterfowl like Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Common Shelduck, Northern Shoveler and Common Teal and shorebirds like Spotted Redshank (a late individual), Common Snipe and Red Knot (2 birds among the Turnstones and Dunlins) were all there. We also found a few late Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We then performed a seawatch (with some distant flocks) from behind the coffee and pie in the restaurant before trying to locate the flocks of geese that winter in the area. However, this was not without difficulties as the car got stuck in the mud. Efforts to get it out ourselves proved fruitless but fortunately a farmer was willing to help us: who said that there was no adventure in Holland? Anyway, it did not stop us from seeing the geese. In fact, I saw one of the most varied flocks ever, with White-fronted, Lesser White-fronted, Greylag, Bar-headed, Snow (Blue), Canada, Barnacle and Dark-bellied Brent Geese all present! At the other side of the road, flocks of Golden Plover flew around, settled and exploded into the air again, showing their golden upperparts and white underparts on and off.

In the afternoon we visited the former island Wieringen, known for its wintering flocks of Dark-bellied Brent Goose. We were lucky to see both a Black Brant and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst them: the three brents together in one flock must be a rare sight anywhere in the world. The harbour of the fishing town Den Oever was to be the last stop of the day. Apart from some very handsome males Common Eider, we had some splendid close-up views of both Little Gulls and very late Black Terns. Two Avocets and another lingerer, a Common Tern, were added bonusses. Needless to say that after such a day of birding, anticipation was high for the next day.

4th December: Lauwersmeer

Sightings of flocks of geese in 1000-fold are almost guaranteed during a visit to the meadows west of the Lauwersmeer area. We did see lots: mostly White-fronts and Barnacles, but also a few Greylags and a nice adult Lesser White-fronted Goose. The latter bird made us (almost!) forget our rather poor sighting of the previous day. A break from the goose watching in a nearby reedland resulted in excellent close-up views of a female Hen Harrier, the first Smew and Goosanders of the trip and the now regular Great White Egrets. It was (and still is) hard to pick your favourite. The harbour of Lauwersoog (with the best herring sandwich in the world) had a lot of surprises waiting for us: a flock of Snow Buntings, a Red-necked Grebe, a female Common Scoter and a second-winter Caspian Gull, the latter allowing close-up views: feeding bread to the birds does the trick sometimes. The biggest surprise of all though must have been the Arctic Skua that flew by while we were scanning the harbour.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the large reedland area of the Lauwersmeer. As it had become rather windy and the views were quite distant, birding was difficult. In the falling darkness however, we finally managed to find some interesting birds to round off a nice day: a large flock of Ruffs close to the car. Two Sky Larks were there as well, and, of course, geese.

5th December: Flevoland and Den Treek

It was still windy, but as this was to be a day (partly) spent in the forest of Den Treek, this should not hinder us that much. But first we went to the Oostvaardersplassen area in Flevoland. While scanning the birds there, both a flock of Tundra Bean Geese and a Goshawk flew by, distracting us from the ducks, Great White Egrets (another four birds: they were quite common this winter) and Marsh Harriers that were almost constantly visible. A short drive further we found both a Rough-legged Buzzard and a late Common Chiffchaff. After a nice coffee-break we found three Scaup and one Water Pipit (and heard Bearded Tits) along the dyke of the IJsselmeer.

The afternoon was spent in the forest of Den Treek. First we decided to search for the mixed flock of tits, treecreepers and nuthatches, which we found in the end and indeed included all species we had hoped for, like Crested and Marsh Tits, Short-toed Treecreeper and Nuthatch. However, as things moved rather fast it was difficult to see every species well. One of us had decided to stay behind to try to locate the male Black Woodpecker that comes in to roost every evening. So after we had returned from our short walk it came as a relief that the bird was already in view and not inside its favourite roosting tree. Just when we decided that we should call it a day, another male Black Woodpecker flew in and went into another hole in another tree! Amazing: I knew that one came to sleep every evening, but two? And as if this was not enough a flock of Common Crossbills settled in the trees briefly before flying through. All this resulted in a spontaneous celebration in a nearby restaurant, where the typical Dutch jenever tasted quite all right.

6th December: departure

It is said that one should save the best for last, and, despite the sightings during the previous days, we somehow managed to do just that. Even the weather was better than the previous days. In the morning we walked the water edge at Harderwijk where incredible numbers of swans, ducks and coots winter. Amongst them are usually a few Red-crested Pochards. It took a while but in the end we saw a rather distant female. The search for that duck lasted long enough for us to see a Barn Swallow that really had to be elsewhere on this planet. It was undoubtedly my bird of the trip! As if all this was not enough, Harderwijk had one last bonus on offer: while we did some last shopping, a Grey Wagtail flew by. It now had become time to move on to Alphen a/d Rijn for the grand finale. However, close to Alphen a/d Rijn we first had to visit some fields near Nieuwkoop for a gull that had been around for a while. Fortunately the immature Sabine's Gull obliged and was actually the closest bird in the field. After it had flown a few metres, showing its striking upperwing, we retraced our steps towards Alphen. Underway a White Stork was spotted though, resulting in another unexpected addition to the trip list. As always the small group of Long-eared Owls in Alphen was enjoyed by all, although it remains difficult to locate them even if you know the tree where they are in. And so with these birds we ended the trip. It was only a short (and therefore relaxing) drive to Schiphol Airport.

BIRD LIST: note: feral birds are dealt seperately with below.

Little Grebe: singles or duos on all days except on 5th.

Red-necked Grebe: one winter-plumaged bird on 4th.

Great Crested Grebe: noted each day.

Great Cormorant: noted most days.

Grey Heron: noted each day.

Great White Egret: 3 on 4th, 4 on 5th.

White Stork: 1 on 6th.

Mute Swan: noted each day.

Bewick's Swan: large flocks on 2th and 6th; three on 5th.

Tundra Bean Goose: 9 flew by on 5th.

White-fronted Goose: large flocks on 3rd, 4th and 5th.

Lesser White-fronted Goose: a single among the Barnacles on 4th (after a few on 3rd).

Greylag Goose: noted each day.

Snow Goose: a blue phase bird on 3rd.

Canada Goose: 3 on 3rd and 4 on 5th.

Barnacle Goose: 6 noted on 3rd, but many in large flocks on 4th and 5th.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose: a few flocks on3rd.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose: one among the Dark-bellies on 3rd.

Black Brant: (also) one among the Dark-bellies on 3rd.

Common Shelduck: noted most days.

Eurasian Wigeon: noted each day.

Gadwall: noted on 4th, 5th and 6th.

Common Teal: noted most days.

Mallard: noted each day.

Northern Pintail: noted on 4th, 5th and 6th.

Northern Shoveler: noted most days.

Red-crested Pochard: a female on 6th.

Common Pochard: noted each day.

Tufted Duck: noted most days.

(Greater) Scaup: a male and two females on 5th.

Common Eider: noted on 3rd and 4th including handsome adult drakes on 3rd.

Common Scoter: a female on 4th.

Common Goldeneye: noted most days.

Smew: noted on 4th, 5th and 6th, including nice (though somewhat distant) drakes.

Red-breasted Merganser: two on 4th.

Goosander: noted on 4th and 5th.

Hen Harrier: 3 females on 4th.

(Eurasian) Marsh Harrier: 2 on 3rd and also 2 on 5th.

(Eurasian) Sparrowhawk: singles on 3rd, 5th and 6th. Especially the latter gave us good views.

Northern Goshawk: 1 on 5th.

Common Buzzard: noted each day.

Rough-legged Buzzard: 1 on 5th.

(Eurasian) Kestrel: noted each day.

Peregrine: an adult on 2nd.

Water Rail: 3 heard on 5th and 2 heard on 6th.

Common Moorhen: noted most days.

Eurasian Coot: noted each day.

(Eurasian) Oystercatcher: noted on 3rd and 4th.

(Pied) Avocet: 2 on 3rd.

(Northern) Lapwing: noted each day.

(European) Golden Plover: large flocks on 3rd, 4th and 5th.

(Eurasian) Curlew: noted on 3rd and 4th.

Common Redshank: noted on 3rd.

Spotted Redshank: 1 late individual on 3rd.

(Ruddy) Turnstone: noted on 3rd and 4th.

Common Snipe: noted on 3rd.

Red Knot: 2 on 3rd.

Dunlin: noted on 3rd.

Ruff: several noted on 4th.

Arctic Skua: 1 fly-by on 4th.

Common Gull: noted each day.

Sabine's Gull: 1 immature on 6th (and at least 20 kilometres from the North Sea in a meadow).

Great Black-backed Gull: noted on 3rd, 4th and 5th.

Herring Gull: noted on 3rd, 4th and 5th.

Caspian Gull: 1 second-winter on 4th.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: 3 on 3rd.

Black-headed Gull: noted each day.

Little Gull: close-up views of several on 3rd.

Common Tern: 1 (very) late bird on 3rd.

Black Tern: 3 (very) late birds on 3rd.

Stock Dove:3 on 5th.

Wood Pigeon: noted each day.

(Eurasian) Collared Dove: noted most days.

Long-eared Owl: 3 seen at roost on 6th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: 1 on 5th.

Black Woodpecker: 2 males on 5th (yes: we saw more Black than Great Spotted Woodpeckers...).

(Eurasian) Sky Lark: 2 on 4th.

Barn Swallow: 1 very late bird on 6th.

White Wagtail: 1 on 3rd.

Grey Wagtail: 1 heard on 6th.

Meadow Pipit: noted each day.

Water Pipit: 1 seen on 5th.

(Winter) Wren: heard on 5th and 6th.

Dunnock: singles on 3rd and 6th.

(Common) Blackbird: noted most days.

Fieldfare: noted on 5th.

Redwing: noted most days.

(European) Robin: noted most days.

Common Chiffchaff: 1 on 5th.

Goldcrest: 2 on 6th.

Bearded Tit: heard on 5th.

Long-tailed Tit: several on 5th.

Marsh Tit: 3 on 5th.

Willow Tit: heard on 5th.

Crested Tit: 1 seen on 5th, and several more heard.

Great Tit: noted on 3rd, 5th and 6th.

Blue Tit: noted on 5th and 6th.

(Eurasian) Nuthatch: heard on 5th.

Short-toed Treecreeper: 2 on 5th.

Eurasian Jay: noted on 5th and 6th.

(Black-billed) Magpie: noted each day.

(Eurasian) Jackdaw: noted each day.

Rook: noted on 3rd and 4th.

Carrion Crow: noted each day.

Hooded Crow: 2 on 3rd.

Common Starling: noted each day.

Reed Bunting: 1 on 5th.

Snow Bunting: 23 in a flock on 4th.

(European) Chaffinch: noted most days.

(European) Greenfinch: 6 on 6th.

(Eurasian) Siskin: heard on 5th.

(European) Goldfinch: 3 on 5th and 8 on 6th.

Common Crossbill: a flock of 10 on 5th.

House Sparrow: noted on most days.

Feral species and escapes:

Bar-headed Goose: 1 on 3rd.

Egyptian Goose: noted on 5th and 6th.

(Common) Pheasant: males on 2nd and 3rd.

Feral Pigeon: noted most days.


Brown Hare: noted on 3rd.

Rabbit: noted on 3rd and 5th.

Common Seal: singles on 3rd and 4th.

Red Fox: 2 on 5th.

Red Deer: many individuals on 5th.

Roe Deer: 3 on 4th.

When finishing a trip report like this, one reflects on the trip once more, wondering what sighting or experience would have been enjoyed most. You already know mine: the Barn Swallow which I had never seen in winter in Holland, not even in November. My guess is however that, somehow, you will pick other favourites. The huge flocks of geese will probably be among the favourites, as will be the two male Black Woodpeckers coming in to roost. Still others of you will perhaps pick the fly-by Arctic Skua or the hovering Rough-legged Buzzard or the close-up views of the Hen Harrier or Little Gulls. There were actually many sightings that could be among the favourites, but I would not be surprised if one of you would say that in the end you enjoyed the celebrations with jenever or herring most... It goes to show that Holland is still full of surprises...

Roland van der Vliet

© The Travelling Naturalist 2000