The Netherlands in Winter

February 16 - 20, 2011

WINGS/SUNBIRDS BIRDING TOURS
Leader: James Lidster

Narration by Martin Selzer
photos by Lynn Jackson & Martin Selzer

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Bird List

February 15, 2011 (Tuesday)
Today we travel to the Netherlands flying on Continental Airlines out of Newark International Airport. Our flight has an 18:45 departure and we were planning to head up to Newark shortly after lunch to park my car and wait. You have to wait somewhere so it might as well be at the terminal. I picked Lynn up around 13:30 and we headed up to Elizabeth, NJ to leave my car at Park2Go. There was no traffic and we arrived there in about 90 minutes, left my car, hopped in the shuttle to the airport, made our way through security and were sitting at the gate a little after 16:00. The flight boarded as scheduled and I am sure we got credited with an on time departure as we pulled away from the gate at 18:40ish. We were airborne by 19:00 and I settled in for the flight. I had an entire row to myself and Lynn has an aisle seat with no one next to her. The flight was thankfully uneventful and we landed about 30 minutes early at 7:45. What a difference two weeks made.

February 16, 2011 (Wednesday)
After clearing customs and we gathered our luggage and by 8:45 were ready to find the meeting place in the arrivals area at Schipol Airport. Tour members are supposed to meet by one of the information booths in the arrivals area of Schipol at 10:00. From there we would load up the minibus and begin birding. James showed up around 9:20 and the other 4 tour participants all showed up by 9:45 and we were on our way.

Our first stop would be a wooded area in the town of Hilversun called Spanderswoud. The primary target here would be Black Woodpecker. The first three tours had missed this species. They had tried for it at another site and while James has had the bird there on other visits, he suspects the overcast and windy conditions were against those tours. We had a sunny and pleasant winter’s day to attempt our woodland birding. Two weeks early it was very overcast with 40mph gusting winds. If we did not succeed we could always try the other spot on the last day. Spanderswood is about 30 minutes from the airport and as we arrived we were greeted by Chaffinch, Woodpigeon and both Blue and Great Tits. James quickly called in European Nuthatch and this was all before we had walked 100 yards of so from where we parked the orange minivan. Could we have had any other color minivan in The Netherlands?

This was a great start but the real goal here was to find Black Woodpecker. We hoped to either stumble across one or hear them drumming or calling and then coax them into view. As we walked the paths we added Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Robin and Wren when we heard a stronger, deeper tapping. Then we heard a Black Woodpecker call, so we called back. Then we heard a second call and we thought we might have been in between two or maybe three Black Woodpeckers.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Now that could work to our advantage if we could coax at least one of them into view to defend its territory or it could work against us if we were at a boundary and they would stand their ground. Fortunately, we finally drew one out to fly over the path to the other side of the creek. While we could not get one to land in clear view, it was better than nothing. We also were able to find a couple Crested Tits, several Blackbirds and numerous Common Buzzards here. We then returned to the minivan to have a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and caramel waffle biscuits.


One of the many canals of the Netherlands

After lunch we headed to the Nijkirk area for our first taste of the waterfowl and geese spectacle before driving to the town of Harderwijk where we would be staying the next two nights. Our first stop was a reservoir-like area with tons of waterfowl consisting mostly of European Coot, Mallards, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and Smew. I had always been a few weeks too early in the fall/winter in my visits to the UK for Smew to have arrived so I was really looking forward to finally seeing these elegant members of the merganser family and I wasn’t disappointed. We found good numbers of drake Smews here along with hens. This was quite a treat.

1 Common Redshank with Eurasian Oystercatchers

Also in the pool were a nice mix of shorebirds including Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Curlew and Northern Lapwing. The breakwater held some Oystercatchers along with a single Redshank and Great Cormorant. The cormorant subspecies on the continent has a striking breeding plumage such that its head turns white, along with the flank patch that UK and North American birds gets. Quite a few birds had developed this already and they really were beautiful. When this subspecies gets split, it will likely be called the Continental Cormorant. We also had a few Northern Pintail and Goosanders or Common Mergansers at the far end of this impoundment were it met open water.

An assortment of gulls was also present. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was on the breakwater and tons of Common Black-headed and Common Gulls were in the fields and on the water. The occasional European Herring Gull was the large gray backed gull here but we had to be watchful for Caspian Gull. On our first visit to this impoundment the gull numbers were low but on our second visit, gull numbers had increased and we found three Caspian Gulls in the mix. While at one point lumped with Herring Gulls (aren’t there really two types of gulls, large ones and small ones anyway?) it turned out that the younger birds did in fact stand out once you knew what to look for: dark eye, cleaner whiter head, long dark straight bill, dull yellow legs. As with all gulls, these are subtle field marks and they are an acquired taste. However even after all the birds scattered, it was surprising how easy it was to re-find all three birds in the flock after it re-settled.

In between our two visits to the impoundment this afternoon, we checked out the farm fields in the immediate area as there were a healthy number of geese in them. Before we actually drove around to the fields we had our first groups of Barnacle Geese overhead. From the embankment of the impoundment we could see Barnacle, Greylag and Greater White-Fronted Geese in the fields. There was a farm house and a barn around which were a small group of Dark-bellied Brent and a few introduced Egyptian and Bar-headed Geese (enough said about them). While scanning the White-fronts, James found a pair of Taiga Bean Geese and we quietly got out of the van and placed our scopes on them. These slightly smaller, darker headed “grey” geese have a “narrow-based, thin-looking” orange bill.

While we looking at the Taiga Beans, James commented that we should be scanning the flocks of White-Fronts for a Red-breasted Goose as one has been reported from this area twice in the last 2 weeks. Well don’t you know it, in a matter of minutes, Lynn finds it and then David sees it too. The first couple times I step to the scope, the silly goose stepped behind another goose, but then it finally stops playing hide-n-seek with me and I see it too! So now we have two Taiga Bean Geese in one scope and a Red-breasted Goose in another and all you have to do is take about 2 or 3 steps to view them.

Now that’s quality birding. I also spot two Ravens feeding at the back side of the field. We then head back around the field to check back on the impoundment before calling it a day. We had birded the impoundment and fields here from about 13:00 to 17:00.

To sum up day one, by 16:00 we had found a Black Woodpecker, multiple Smews, and a Red-breasted Goose (my three prime target birds for this trip) with the promise of the greater goose spectacle ahead. Plus we already had the bonus of a pair of Taiga Bean Goose. This was already shaping up to be a very, very nice trip. We then headed to the town of Harderwijk at approximately 17:00 and arrived at the Hotel Marktzicht-Klomp about 40 minutes later. We met at 19:00 to review the day’s events and go over the checklist before the first of what would turn out to be a series of outstanding meals accompanied by a fine Belgium beer.

February 17, 2011 (Thursday)
Breakfast was at 7:00 and consisted of a nice assortment of breads, cheeses, ham, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, juice, and tea/coffee. We left at 8:00 to concentrate on birding in Flevoland today. Because the morning mist needed to burn off, we headed first to Lelystad Park to look for a flock of Hawfinch that was wintering there rather than go in search of White-tailed Eagle and waterfowl. We needed better visibility for them that would come once the morning mist burned off.

Driving through the town of Lelystad, I spotted the first Common Moorhen of the trip in one of the many canals we passed. Fortunately we would find them later in the trip because not everyone saw this one at 80 kph. At the car park we added Dunnock, Collared Dove and Blackbird to the day’s checklist. The little park had Wren, Blue and Great Tits, Robin, Greenfinch and Jay. We had to take about a 30 minute walk through the park before we came across a group of 10 Hawfinch but they did finally perch up nicely for us.


Blackbird

Having found the species we came for we headed to Praamweg, Grotepraambult and Dodaarsweg. Praamweg and Grotepraambult are areas within the largest preserve in the Netherlands. Besides being the largest preserve in the country, it is noteworthy because it is the first site of nesting White-tailed Eagle in The Netherlands. Dodaarsweg may be within the preserve too but we went to this farm because the owner has planted seed crops that this winter has attracted good numbers of raptors. We visited these three areas in the morning.

At Praamweg , we were driving along checking out the fields and hedgerows when James firmly but excitedly said ‘GET OUT, Red Kite”. Keep in mind, besides James who was driving there were six of us in the minivan: someone riding shotgun, three of us in the middle seats (with one side door) and 2 people in the back seats who needed the seat by the door to be moved so they could get out. Today I was the person in the middle seat by the door. As soon as James, stopped the van, I was out the door but did I raise the seat to let the people out of the back and trap the others in the middle or did I wait for the people in the middle to get out and trap the people in the back. Either way, it wasn’t the time not to be by a door. Thankfully the kite which was an early returning migrant took its time and everyone was able to get out of the van before it disappeared.

We also had two Great Grey Shrikes here and terribly backlit looks at Fieldfares. We then stopped at the overlook at Grote Praambult in hopes of seeing a soaring White-tailed Eagle. Alas, we had to be satisfied with several Stock Doves, Smew, Gadwall and Mallards on a farm pond and distant Linnets (hardly the same). Next we went to the farm at Dodaarsweg and had several Kestrels, Hen Harriers (this is another of those species that most of the world recognizes but the authorities in the US still considers conspecific with Northern Harrier), a Rough-legged Buzzard and 3 Corn Buntings.

James scopes out the birds

The Corn Buntings were only the 2nd chasable record for The Netherlands. All other reports of Corn Buntings have been fly-bys. The hedges by the farm house and barn also had Magpie, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We then searched the neighboring farm field and found two Hooded Crows. The Hooded Crows apparently prefer this neighboring field.

Lunch was at a restaurant in Haje, hot chocolate, soup and a wonderful sandwich “old” cheese on crusty bread with a raisin, balsamic vinaigrette. After lunch we birded Almere Harbor where we found Common Goldeneye, Common Pochard, and 5 hen Greater Scaup. We followed the sea wall road and found a Peregrine at Lepclaarsplassen. At Oostvaardersplassen we had two White-tailed Eagles perched a rather long way off but we did at least get to see them fly in. Here we also had a ton of shorebirds: multiple Ruff (including a very white one), Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, two Spotted Redshank, Golden Plover, and Northern Lapwing. Waterfowl here consisted of Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall, and Northern Pintail. Circling back towards Harderwijk we found another White-tailed Eagle and a drake Red-crested Pochard with 3 hens. We were back in Harderwijk by 17:45 so we took a short walk around the town square before meeting for dinner.

Dinner was Stamppoot, a traditional Dutch home cooked dish that the restaurant prepared for us, more Belgium beer and fruit and sorbet for desert. We stayed a second night at the Hotel Marktzicht-Klomp in Harderwijk.

February 18, 2011 (Friday)
Breakfast was at 7:00 and was again the nice assortment of breads, cheeses, ham, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, juice, and tea/coffee. We then loaded our luggage into the van and headed north at 8:00. We would be leaving Flevoland and heading north to Drenthe and Friesland. In Drenthe we would be looking for the couple of pairs of Common Cranes that nest there in an area called Fochterloerveen. There are two habitats to search one is more a boggy/peat area and the other is the adjacent farm fields. The precise location of the two nest sites is not disclosed but these foraging areas are well known. In that way birders can get to see them but not disturb them too much. So all we could hope for was to stumble across them by frequenting the general area. Fortunately there would be other birds to see in the area such as Common Teal and Tufted Ducks on one of the ponds, two Northern Ravens in one of the farm fields and a group of 12 Yellowhammers feeding on the stubble of one of the fields. We also found a group of 300+ Whooper Swans with 25+ Bewick’s Swans.

Another field edge held a large group of Fieldfare, Mistlethrush, Eurasian Tree Sparrows and more Yellowhammers. Down the road a recently tilled field had 20+ Chaffinch and 3 Brambling feeding in it. While we watched the Chaffinch/Brambling flock, 30 Siskin and 4 Long-tailed Tits came along and fed in the vegetation along beside the van. It made for some nice van/roadside birding. It was now 11:30 and we made a move towards our lunch stop at Kollumerwaard which was about 30 minutes away. This café has a fantastic overlook and before going inside we scanned one of the larger Barnacle Goose flocks in the area. We guessed it to be 10,000+. Lunch was traditional pea soup and a seafood salad. It was 13:30 by the time we finished lunch and went back out birding.


Barnacle Geese

After lunch we birded the Bantpolder. There was a small Barnacle Goose flock (500+ birds) in the area that had a Red-breasted Goose in with it. We found the flock and once the geese started moving about it was my turn to find the Red-Breasted Goose. So now we had our 2nd Red-Breasted Goose in 3 days. There were also some dark-bellied Brent in the flock. We came across some other birders who told us a bit further along the road was another flock of geese with a Black Brent and 2 more Red-Breasted Geese. So we headed in that direction until we found that flock. Sure enough we found the Red-Breasted Geese, the Black Brent, a pale-bellied Brent and dark-bellied Brent in with more Barnacle Geese. We now had 3 Red-Breasted Geese today and 4 for the trip. I would have been happy with one Red-breasted Goose for the entire trip. In this one flock we had all three Brent Geese sub-species. The Dutch consider all of these to be separate species. In the US, we still consider them to be distinct subspecies. When we catch-up with the Dutch, I have 2 species in waiting.


2 Red-breasted Geese in with a flock of Barnacles

We then headed to Lauwersmeer, where we found tons of ducks on the lake including Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Shelduck, Common Goldeneye, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Mallard. We then searched the fields around Ezumakeeg and Anjum. In fact it seemed that all roads led into and out of the little town of Anjum before we headed to Anderen where we would be spending the next two nights. We arrived shortly before 18:00 and checked in. Dinner was a wonderful ensemble of veal pate appetizers, baked cod and a passion fruit and blackberry mousse with chocolate ice cream dessert. We stayed the night at the Auberge St. Hubert Inn in Anderen.

Supposedly the olded farmstead in Western Europe, going back to the mid 14th century still stands near out hotel in Anderen

February 19, 2011 (Saturday)

Breakfast was at 7:30. We had an amazing selection of breads, cheese, ham, fried eggs, yogurt, juice, and tea/coffee. We packed our own sandwiches from the bread basket, cheese and ham and departed at 8:15. We would be heading to a local Long-eared Owl roost which happened to be in the center of the town of Rolde. En route we came across a farm field with a mixed corvid flock of Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws. It wasn’t obvious what they were feeding upon but clearly this group of birds was feeding on something as they were not scared off by the orange minivan when it stopped. We then continued on to Rolde and the owls. They were roosting in a double trunked confer in between 2 buildings on a main street. We only had 6 birds but James has had up to 11 in this tree this winter.

We then moved on to Spijkerboor in search of a flock of 2000-3000 Tundra Bean Geese. This flock had about 15 Pink-footed Geese hanging out with them. It was about 8:30 when we found the first group of geese. It was a mixed flock consisting of a few Barnacles, Greylags, Greater White-fronts and Tundra Beans. Then James found a Pink-footed Goose. The bird showed the pale breast and back, pale pink (flesh-colored) legs, small dark bills and smaller overall size. Unfortunately it was a long way off and often blocked from view by other geese so it was not 100% soul satisfying. While we were here a couple European Goldfinch flew in and perched. Fortunately, we found another group of Tundra Bean Geese as we made our way around the area and there were at least 3 Pink-footed Geese showing out in the open. You could pick them out again and again as they walked around in the flock. This was much more satisfying. It was now close to 10:30 and time to move along to Lauwersmeer again. We first stopped at the harbor, Lauwersoog, for a pit stop and a coffee. We then birded the immediate harbor area.

At the harbor we had Great Black-backed, Herring, Black-headed and Common Gulls, Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, Common Eider and Little Grebe. Lunch was our picnic back at Ezumakeeg where we had the same mix of ducks from the day before. After lunch we drove through Anjum again and found another Red-breasted Goose within the Barnacle and Greater White-fronted goose flocks before we headed back to the coast.


One of many flocks of mostly Barnacle Geese

In the afternoon we birded Moddergat and ‘TSchwor to search for Shorelarks (Horned Larks), Snow Buntings and Twite. All three species can be found along the sea walls that hold back the North Sea and in the marshes immediately adjacent to the sea walls. We didn’t have any luck with the larks or buntings although we did find an uncooperative flock of 20+ Twite. They stayed somewhat distant in one of the wet marshes that we could not walk out into. We had a few looks at them in flight. All you could tell was that they weren’t Snow Buntings, no flashes of white in the wings or tail and they weren’t Shorelarks, their tails weren’t black with outer white feathers. So using Alan Brady logic, what else could they be but Twite. Besides that’s what James identified them to be and he would know. Unfortunately, no one besides James really was able to get a clean look at them to see their pale rumps and be happy with calling them Twite especially those of us that had never seen Twite before. Sometimes you just have to keep your pencil tucked away and wait for another chance to “tick” a bird.

We then went back to the Kollumerwaard for Apple Cake and coffee and one more look at the tons of Barnacle Geese in the fields there. We were back at the hotel at 18:00. Dinner was at 7:30, a wonderful menu of basil-batter encrusted shrimp, seared duck breast and a mandarin orange parfait for desert. Yes, there was more Belgium beer (Leffe – blonde or brune depending on your preference). We stayed the night again at the Auberge St. Hubert Inn in Anderen

February 20, 2011 (Sunday)
Breakfast was at 7:30 with an 8:15 departure as today we made another attempt for the Common Cranes before heading off to Schipol to drop off David, Ralph and Ken who all had early afternoon flights. Then Lynn, Sue and I would continue birding with James before ending the trip this evening. As I mentioned, there are only two or three nesting pairs of cranes in The Netherlands and while we searched the proper area the other day, the exact nest location is a properly and well kept secret. It is common knowledge that they forage in these fields and they had been seen the day before so it was just a matter of looking again and hoping that we could find them before we had to leave to get the guys to the airport. Fortunately the area is only 15 minutes or so from the hotel. We concentrated today on the farm fields more so than the wet boggy/peat areas from the day before. I think this is where “local knowledge” said where they had been most recently. We hadn’t found them by the time we reached the “T” intersection but I found them in the far field at one o’clock from the van pretty soon after James parked the van. We set up the scopes and ticked off the cranes before heading off to Schipol for the first drop-off of the day.

It was around 11:00 when we said good-bye to the guys and we set off to de Putten in search of a flock of 5000 Tundra Bean Geese because about 40 Lesser White-fronted Geese were keeping company with it. We would do a couple laps of the roads at de Putten to first find the flock and then try to get a better view of the flock because they managed to find one of the more distant spots to feed. The bottom line, we got the Lesser White-fronts and another Pink-footed Goose. I even found the Pink-footed Goose myself after James told us it was there and that was really cool. Those identification tips James had mentioned the previous day had stuck in my mind at least in the short term. Also here in one of the pools was a pair of Pied Avocets and a Bar-tailed Godwit.


Common Redshank

The marshes continued to hold impressive numbers of Northern Lapwings, Eurasian Curlews and European Golden Plover. If I had done a Top Ten birds list for the trip, the curlews were slowly climbing up the list as the tour went along. They just kept impressing me as we saw more and more of them with each passing day. We did some sea watching at a few spots and picked up a few Red-throated Loons, and single Common Scoter and Northern Gannet. The beaches held Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone. We made one more pit stop at a local restaurant here where we made the courtesy hot chocolate purchase.

We then headed back to Schipol Airport where James made sure Sue found a room and Lynn and I found our shuttle to the Best Western Amsterdam Airport Hotel Hoofddorp. We were all checked in by 18:00 and went down for dinner at 19:15 or so. Airport hotel food wasn’t nearly as nice as what we had been eating everywhere else but the diet had to start sometime and I had one more Leffe for the road.

February 21, 2011 (Monday)
After a good night’s sleep we had breakfast in the hotel, took the 10:20 shuttle to the airport, checked-in, bought some Belgium chocolates (Leonidas pralines, I have always brought some home when I have traveled to The Netherlands. Well all 3 times I have been there. They are fantastic.), and made our way to the gate by 11:30. Again we boarded and took off on time by 13:20. This flight was full but it doesn’t matter as much to me flying home because I don’t even attempt to sleep so I watched 3 movies. We touched down at 15:40. Once again we breezed through customs, gathered our luggage, and called for the shuttle from Park2Go. After cleaning off the morning’s snow from my car, we were on the NJ Turnpike heading for home by 16:15. I dropped Lynn off at her house and was home unpacking my bags by 18:30.

In a nutshell this trip was lots of great birds, a nice group of people, excellent food and wonderful Belgium beer. Birding highlights for me included 4 different Red-breasted Geese, 2 Taiga & 1000+ Tundra Bean Geese, 20+ Lesser White-fronted Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Black Brant, Pale & Dark-bellied Brent Geese, lots of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans, 2 Common Cranes, 5 White-tailed Eagles, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, 6 Hen and 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Red Kite, Smew, 5 Red-crested Pochard, 22 Ruff, 2 Spotted Redshank, 1000+ Northern Lapwing, 1000+ Eurasian Curlew, 3 Caspian Gulls, 6 Long-eared Owl, Black Woodpecker, 2 Hooded Crow, 10 Hawfinch, European Siskin, Brambling and 3 Corn Bunting and Barnacle Geese to look at every day.