Saturday 20 - Wednesday 24 November 2004

Roland van der Vliet

20th November: Arrival
With everybody arriving right on schedule, we had time left to do some (cold weather-) birding before checking in at Hotel Baars, at Harderwijk. Therefore, we stopped over at Nijkerk where Bewick’s Swans regularly winter. They were there of course (although perhaps fewer than normal). While one part of the group checked the swans on one side of the car, the others could enjoy mixed flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing on the other side which also harboured a couple of Ruff. We suddenly realized that not all white birds were swans when we saw the first of at least four Great White Egrets: they are really becoming common in the Netherlands, even in winter. Furthermore, flocks of geese were present too, mostly Greylag but with a few White-fronts. A final stop even produced Tundra Bean Geese, together with a plethora of ducks, including some very nice Goosanders. A Green Sandpiper was a bonus.
At Harderwijk, we had a first drink, perhaps to drink the cold away, but perhaps also to celebrate our first successes of the trip.

21st November: Lauwersmeer
This winter saw the arrival of several Pine Grosbeaks in the Netherlands, and they were very near to a destination I had planned to go to anyway. So why not give them a try? Well, twitching a bird can be very difficult sometimes, and in Groningen we were met with very sad faces at the regular grosbeak haunt. Apparently they had flown during the night. Perhaps not surprising, as in Harderwijk we had witnessed large flocks of Chaffinches and Bramblings flying southwest, fleeing from the nightly cold. The weather during the day was however excellent: sunny and windless.
Without the grosbeaks, we were soon underway to the Lauwersmeer for the flocks of geese: after all, this trip was something of a wild goose chase! The marshes of Lauwersmeer were beautifully lit, and birds were flying everywhere. Upon arrival, a Bittern flew by low over the reeds, while an immature White-tailed Eagle was seen by only a lucky few. Whooper Swans called from the lake, flocks of geese flew past, a Hen Harrier hunted over the reedbeds but two Shore Larks unfortunately did not settle down. Great looks however were had of a flock of Bearded Tits in the reeds at only one metre distance.
Later in the morning we saw a nice flock of Hooded Crows, before we stopped in the small harbour nearby for a coffee and, for the daring, the by-now famous herring sandwich. A few seabirds were present, the highlight being a flock of Snow Buntings. After the break, it was ‘goose’ time, and we saw large flocks of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese. We were fortunate to see some special species of goose too: a Snow Goose, three adult Lesser White-fronted Geese and, somewhat less special perhaps, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose. A final stop at another reed area produced a fly-by (!) Chilean Flamingo and also a fly-by Peregrine Falcon.
Fortunately, after such a day of birding, the drive back to Harderwijk was without events but in the dark. In the evening however the Timmer-family made their entrance in our hotel, he being the famous goalkeeper of AZ Alkmaar, and she the golden medallist at the Nagano Olympic games on the 1500 metres speedskating. Does this underline the quality of the whole setting we were staying?

22nd November: IJmuiden and Flevoland
Traffic can always be busy, but during windy and rainy days like this, traffic can be even worse. Our plan was to visit IJmuiden on the North Sea coast, but when about halfway, and more or less stuck in the traffic, our legs had to be stretched for a while. As we were near a site where a Long-eared Owl roosts during the day, we went to have a look. Fortunately, the bird obliged, and we all got good views. A fly-over Northern Goshawk was a bonus, while a Nuthatch was also seen very nicely.
After having returned to the highway we were glad to see the worst traffic gone, so arrival in IJmuiden was quick. Unfortunately, the cold and windy weather did not help us much in finding birds. During a walk, we saw a large flock of Fieldfares, while on the pier we saw a few Rock Pipits and Snow Buntings. Due to this lack of success, and also to avoid traffic during the afternoon, we retraced our steps to the area around Almere. Again, the wind did not help us much, although a nice sheltering flock of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck could be studied at close range. A final stop in the drizzle produced the resident herd of Red Deer but not much interesting birdwise (except for the omnipresent Great White Egrets of course).

23rd November: Flevoland and Den Treek
Fortunately, the weather had returned to normal form so we hoped for a better day than yesterday. We again went to Flevoland, but now to the Lelystad side. The day started already good for a few of us who spotted a Barn Owl from the bus.
Upon arrival, a first walk in an, again, beautifully-lit landscape was very successful: after a brief and distant immature White-tailed Eagle, we were rewarded by a magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle a few minutes later, circling only 50 metres above us before flying away! Terrific! The walk ended at the observatory tower aptly called ‘the White-tailed Eagle’ where we saw more species of bird of prey including Marsh Harrier, Northern Goshawk and Rough-legged Buzzard. Excellent! While scanning the lake we found among a huge flock of Northern Shoveler and other species of duck, a few individuals of those most wanted duck of all, Smew, including a nice (but somewhat distant) male.
Time for a nice lunch after which we drove to the forested area near Amersfoort. Den Treek is a regular site for Black Woodpecker, but this was not be today. The military had decided to practice today and several helicopters flew noisily around. This did not stop from seeing birds of course, and a mixed bird flock contained the desired species as usual: Long-tailed, Marsh, Coal and, best of all, Crested Tit, and also Goldcrests and Short-toed Treecreeper. A Bullfinch proved more difficult to see, but Bramblings were finally seen well. Waiting for the woodpecker proved fruitless unfortunately, but a Red Squirrel was a nice distraction. Another excellent day was celebrated by a good glass of typical Dutch jenever, before driving the short distance to Harderwijk.

24th November: Harderwijk waterfront and the grand finale
The final day was spent leisurely along the Harderwijk waterfront, again in very nice, sunny and windless weather. Almost the first bird we saw was an obliging Common Kingfisher, while a flock of Siskins received also much attention. Swans, ducks and coots, including a remarkable number of Smew, were everywhere on the lake, but our attention soon turned to the reedbeds close-by where we finally see a Water Rail (after having heard a couple on previous days), hear another flock of Bearded Tits, and watch both a fly-by Bittern and Sparrowhawk at close range. Unfortunately, a Hawfinch was seen by only a lucky few.
It was time to leave Harderwijk to have one more try for the Great Grey Shrike that had eluded us yesterday at Den Treek. Unfortunately, this was again not to happen. However, several Bullfinches really showed off this time. We had one more typical Dutch lunch (with meat-rolls and pea soup) before visiting Zeist for the grand finale. A friend of mine had discovered a flock of Bohemian Waxwings and fortunately they were still around. Watching this flock of quietly calling and feeding birds from the far north was a fitting end to this trip. Without problems we arrived at Schiphol Airport where we said our farewells.


Note: feral birds are dealt separately with below.
Little Grebe: several noted on three dates.
Great Crested Grebe
: noted all days.
Great Cormorant: noted all days.
Grey Heron: noted all days.
Great White Egret: noted all days, except 24th. This species is reliable now even in winter.
(Great) Bittern: one seen on 21st, and one fly-by excellently seen on 24th.
Mute Swan: noted all days.
Whooper Swan: noted three days.
Bewick’s Swan: noted most days.
Tundra Bean Goose: three on 20th, and several on 21st.
(Greater) White-fronted Goose: noted most days.
Lesser White-fronted Goose: three adults on 21st.
Greylag Goose: noted all days.
Snow Goose: 1 white phase noted on 21st.
Barnacle Goose: commonly seen on 21st.
(Dark-bellied) Brent Goose: 1 noted among the Barnacles on 21st.
Common Shelduck: noted all days.
Eurasian Wigeon: noted all days.
Gadwall: noted most days.
Common Teal: noted on 21st and 23rd.
Mallard: noted all days.
Northern Pintail: surprisingly common this winter: noted 21st, 23rd and 24th.
Northern Shoveler: surprisingly common this winter: noted 21st, 23rd and 24th.
Common Pochard: noted most days.
Tufted Duck: noted most days.
Common Eider: several on 21st.
Common Goldeneye: noted all days.
Smew: a few on 23rd, and several on 24th.
Red-breasted Merganser: a few on 21st.
Goosander: noted on 20th, 21st and 22nd.
White-tailed Eagle: an immature briefly on 21st, and an immature and an adult on 23rd.
Hen Harrier: three on 21st and a single on 23rd.
(Eurasian) Marsh Harrier: one on 23rd.
(Eurasian) Sparrowhawk: singles on 21st, 23rd and 24th.
Northern Goshawk: singles on 22nd and 23rd.
Common Buzzard: noted all days.
Rough-legged Buzzard: one on 23rd.
(Eurasian) Kestrel: noted all days.
Peregrine Falcon: an adult on 21st.
Water Rail: after several heard on 21st, 23rd and 24th, one finally seen on 24th.
Common Moorhen: noted most days.
Eurasian Coot: noted all days.
(Eurasian) Oystercatcher: two on 21st.
(Northern) Lapwing: large flocks noted on all days.
(European) Golden Plover: flocks noted on most days.
(Eurasian) Curlew: noted on 20th (only heard), 21st and 22nd.
Common Redshank: three on 21st.
Green Sandpiper: singles on 20th and 21st.
(Ruddy) Turnstone: two perched on ship on 21st.
Common Snipe: noted on 21st and 23rd.
Ruff: four on 20th.
Common Gull: noted all days.
Herring Gull: noted most days.
Great Black-backed Gull: noted all days.
Black-headed Gull: noted all days.
Stock Dove: one fly-by on 23rd.
Wood Pigeon: noted all days.
(Eurasian) Collared Dove: noted most days.
(Common) Barn Owl: one noted from the van on 23rd.
Long-eared Owl: a single on its day-roost on 22nd.
Common Kingfisher: a single obligingly perched several times on 24th.
Great Spotted Woodpecker: singles on 23rd and 24th.
Shore (Horned) Lark: two unfortunately only flew-by on 21st.
(Eurasian) Sky Lark: noted most days.
Meadow Pipit: noted most days.
Water Pipit: singles on 21st, 22nd and 23rd.
Rock Pipit: three on 22nd.
Bohemian Waxwing: four beautifully seen on 24th.
(Winter) Wren: noted all days.
Hedge Accentor (Dunnock): noted on 23rd and 24th.
(Common) Blackbird: noted all days.
Fieldfare: nice flocks on 21st, 22nd and 23rd.
Redwing: noted on 22nd, 23rd and 24th.
Song Thrush: a few on 23rd.
(European) Robin: noted most days.
(Common) Stonechat: two on 23rd.
Bearded Tit (Reedling): flocks ssen on 21st and 24th, and heard only on 23rd.
Goldcrest: a few on 23rd.
Long-tailed Tit: noted on 22nd, 23rd and 24th.
Marsh Tit: one on 23rd.
Willow Tit: several noted on 23rd.
Coal Tit: several noted on 23rd.
Crested Tit: one on 23rd.
Great Tit: noted most days.
Blue Tit: noted most days.
(Eurasian) Nuthatch: one on 22nd, and a few on 23rd.
Short-toed Treecreeper: noted most days.
Eurasian Jay: noted most days.
(Black-billed) Magpie: noted all days.
(Eurasian) Jackdaw: noted all days.
Rook: flocks on 21st.
Carrion Crow: noted all days.
Hooded Crow: a nice flock on 21st.
Common (European) Starling: noted all days.
Reed Bunting: one on 21st, and three on 23rd.
Snow Bunting: a flock of 30 on 21st, and four on 22nd.
(European) Chaffinch: noted most days.
Brambling: noted on 21st and 23rd.
(European) Greenfinch: noted most days.
(Eurasian) Siskin: after a few heard on 23rd, a large flock finally seen well on 24th.
(European) Goldfinch: four on 23rd and two on 24th.
Common (Red) Crossbill: three only as fly-bys on 23rd.
(Eurasian) Bullfinch: two on 23rd, and four on 24th.
Hawfinch: one briefly on 24th.
House Sparrow: noted all days.

Feral species and escapes:
Chilean Flamingo
: one fly-by on 21st.
Greater Canada Goose: large flocks noted from the van on 21st.
Egyptian Goose: noted on a number of days.
(Common) Pheasant: only one, on 20th.
Feral Pigeon: noted most days.

Red Fox: the typical smell of this species was recorded on 23rd.
Common (Harbour) Seal: one briefly noted on 21st.
Konik (European Wild Horse): several herds noted on 21st and 23rd.
Red Deer: large herds noted on 22nd and 23rd.
Roe Deer: a few on 21st.
Aurochs: noted on 23rd.
Brown Hare: a few on 20th.
European Rabbit: one on 23rd.
Red Squirrel: one on 23rd.

During the completion of this report, my memories wandered off to several of the very good sightings we had. My personal highlight must have been that adult White-tailed Eagle that just kept on showing off, closely followed by that Bittern on the last morning that flew by real close. Your highlights may differ: Kingfisher, the adult male Smew, those flocks of tits or finches, the wild goose chase or even something else. Anyway, I hope you remember this trip well, be it ornithologically, acoustically or even because of the good cuisine...
In the end, I just hope you had a really pleasant trip. Maybe we will meet again, and what better place and time than spring in Holland?

Roland van der Vliet, Utrecht, December 2004

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004