Saturday, 2 June 2018

Some tart's ticks, a shrike and an eagle - Netherlands 23rd May to 26th May 2018

I've been birding in the Netherlands for 10 years now, and for the last three three years, visited twice a year. With my Dutch list just over 250, I was a few more trips to the 300 land mark. I needed to mop up a few easy ones and hopefully jam a few goodies, to keep the ticks coming. 

I began planning the trip last autumn and put together an intensive four day itinerary with some wiggle room for what was an often unpredictable time of the year. 

So, on the Wednesday I arrived on the overnight ferry from Harwich and took the now familiar journey north from Hoek van Holland to Texel. Armed with the preposterously cheap 18 Euro day ticket, I made the 90 mile journey to Den Helder, thence the 15 minute journey to Texel. On the sun deck I was entertained by Common Terns as birds flew alongside the bow of the ship.  The light was perfect and I managed some crisp shots.

Common Tern

I had arranged to meet Klaas de Jong outside the Bird Information Centre in de Cocksdorp and was dropped off there by my friend Ger Monterney who had kindly collected me from the ferry.

Klaas runs his popular 'Bird Safaris' regularly via his small minibus and after picking up a few other participants, we were away. First off, We connected with an Iberian Chiffchaff in the woodland that runs between the coast and the seaside resort of De Koog. The bird could be heard singing from the road and was soon located in the canopies of the oaks. I had great views of the bird in the bins initially but it moved to a poor position, which allowed only a very dodgy record shot. This was my second 'IbChiff' after one on Texel in May 2016. There have been something over 40 records of the species in the Netherlands and all but 10 of these have been in this century.

Iberian Chiffchaff

Leaving De Koog, we headed south to the Horsmeertjes, an area of scrub and small lakes, opposite the coastal inlet of De Mokbuy, where there were a few waders including Grey Plovers and Turnstones in full summer plumage, Bar-tailed Godwits and a selection of commoner species, as well as some lingering Dark-bellied Brent GeeseSpoonbills are a familiar sight on Texel, and I got a nice shot of two in flight.


After a walk around the bushes, where we had brief views of a Bluethroat as well as Linnet, Common Whitethroat and a single Shoveler on the lake.  We were supplied with a welcome coffee and cinnamon cake and then worked our way back north, pausing by a field flash along De Staart, where there was a single Whimbrel and a couple of Ruff. However, closer to the road were a pair of Black-tailed Godwits and I got a decent shot of one of them.  This is the national species of the Netherlands and Texel is one of the best places in Europe to see the birds in the breeding season at close quarters.

Black-tailed Godwit

Continuing along De Staart, we turned to the north and drove the short distance to Westerkolk, where there is a hide (one of two on the island), which looks over two shallow pools.  Here there were a nice selection of waders, with several Ruff (including a nice male in breeding plumage), a Greenshank, three Temminck's Stint, a Little Stint, one Wood Sandpiper and a few commoner species. The ever present and ubiquitous Oystercatcher, were putting on a show defending their territory against the gulls.

Waders at Westerkolk


After dropping off the other people, Klaas drove back to De Cocksdorp, and just south of the village a male Marsh Harrier flew right next to the minibus, allowing some remarkably close photos. Without doubt the best views I've ever had of this beautiful bird.

Marsh Harrier

After thanking Klaas for a nice afternoon, I joined my friend Ger and his partner Aafke for a beer before catching a Texelhopper back to the ferry. I caught the 8.03pm train by the skin of my teeth and changing at Castricum arrived at the tiny station at Driehuis. The state owned railways in the Netherlands are super-efficient and inexpensive. As a regular rail traveller in the UK, they are in stark contrast to our own farcical, shambolic and inordinately expensive trains. 

Calling a taxi I was driven the three km to my hotel in Ijmuiden for a two nights stay. I was provided with a coffee and cookies, and I turned in.

After a very ample breakfast, I was picked up by Leo Boon, who does bird guiding for Birding Holland, run by Martijn Bot. The idea was that for two days we would go for everything and anything. We decided to go for the furthest bird first and so set off for the village of Raalte in the province of Overijssel. A River Warbler had been present since the 13th May and was by all accounts, nailed-on. It was a 95 mile drive, and this translated to a two and a half hour drive after negotiating the Amsterdam by-pass at rush hour.

We arrived at the parking place, which was a field adjacent to a farm, and it was a mere 50 yards walk to the bird, which could be heard almost immediately. After watching the bird in the undergrowth, the River Warbler flew to the top of a patch of Willows and sang in the open for several minutes. There have been more than 80 records of the species in the Netherlands, with well over half the records coming since the year 2000. I had fantastic views in the bins and acquired some acceptable record shots.

At the same site, we added a single Willow Tit and the first of many Marsh Warblers, which are remarkably confiding here.  In addition to the birds, we had several Scarce Chacers and a few Banded Demoiselles.

River Warbler

Marsh Warbler

Banded Demoiselle - weidebeekjuffer - Calopteryx splendens

Scarce Chaser - bruine korenbout - Libullela fulva

We stopped at a local petrol station for coffee and a cake, and then headed south west into the bordering province of Gelderland. A Collared Flycatcher, initially easy to see had become difficult but it was more or less en route to our next stop. We parked in an area of woodland adjacent to heathland in the rustic area of the Veluwe, a relatively sparsely populated area in the centre of the country.  The Collared didn't show, despite a thorough search, but we had a single female Pied Flycatcher, several Spotted Flycatchers, numerous Short-toed Tree Creepers, a single Tree Pipit and a Crested Tit.

With the trip list boosted, we drove a short distance and parked in a tract of mixed woodland, with well-marked paths and trails. A Wood Warbler was singing right next to the car, but we had a rarer bird in our sights. After a walk of one kilometre, the unmistakable song of a Red-breasted Flycatcher rung out. The bird had been found by a birder on his regular mountain bike run and was reportedly showing well, if not widely reported.

After a search, during which it went quiet, the bird sang again from the upper canopies. We walked up a slope in the woods, where we could get on the same level as the bird. The light wasn't the best, but I obtained a fair record shot of this lovely bird.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Our intention to photograph the Wood Warbler was thwarted by the fact that the bird had stopped singing when we got back to the car, although this we saw a single Hawfinch in the car park, briefly.  We headed west, and crossed into the next Province of Flevoland.  An hour later, we arrived at the Veluwemeer, a man-made lake, which is part of the Flevopolder created in 1957.  Here we had six Greater Flamingos, 63 Red-crested Pochard,  as well as a single Icterine Warbler.  We watched the flamingos for half an hour in the scope and then headed back to the car, where there were family parties of Barnacle Geese and a few Tree Sparrows.

Greater Flamingos

 Red-crested Pochard

Driving into North Holland our last but one stop of the day was near Hilversum, in an area of meadows and damp grassland, criss-crossed by numerous channels. Here we saw Common Buzzard, a Greater White-fronted Goose. After a bit of a wait, we eventually got a Purple Heron in flight, but we couldn't relocate the bird, after it went down. The heron was my fourth Dutch trip of the trip after the River Warbler, Flamingo and the Pochard. 

Greater White-fronted Goose

Meadow Pipit

Confident that we were 'cooking on gas', we made one last stop on the outskirts of Amsterdam, in a suburban area with scattered fields and some wetland. After a 10 minute walk, we could hear the arresting song of a Great Reed Warbler. The bird's red mouth could be seen from some distance as it sang from the front of a small reedbed. We had fantastic views, but it was now past 8pm and the light wasn't brilliant. However, I was more than happy with my record shot. We could have watched the bird for hours, but not wanting to miss my evening meal, we headed back to the car with five Dutch ticks in the day.

Great Reed Warbler

Leo dropped me off at my hotel, the Augusta in Ijmuiden around 9pm. The hotel has a very old fashioned feel to it, with lots of heavy wooden doors and leather sofas. The decor might be a little underwhelming, but their chef can't half cook.  I had the baked cod with steamed fennel, green beans and a side order of chips. The food was superb! I opted for the Texels beer.  The first one didn't touch the sides, so I had another with my meal. 

On the Friday, we set of at 7.15 and headed to the coast, just to the south of the town. The hoped for Rosefinch had apparently cleared out, but we added Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale, a male Common Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat to the trip list. Wasting no more time here, we headed south, stopping at Hazerswoude following reports of a Cattle Egret, but this appeared to have gone.  A minor consolation was exceptionally good views of a White Stork on the nest, as well as several Common Swifts and among the insect life, a Red-eyed Damselfly.

 White Stork

Red-eyed Damselfly - grote roodoogjuffer - Erythromma najas

Continuing over the border into South Holland, we spent most of the rest of the day waiting for a Little Bittern to fly to or from their nest. They never did. However, the little reserve at Severnhuizen provided some of the best value of the trip with breathtakingly, gob-smacking views of a male White-spotted Bluethroat, exceptional views of Reed Warbler (the first time I have ever photographed this species), as well as great views of Cuckoo. At one point, two males were singing within feet of each other and when they came together, one of them was heard to give a low 'rumbling call' something I have never heard before. I also saw a female entering a Reed Warbler's nest.

In addition, in and around the area were several Savi's Warblers, a Black Tern, and another close encounter with a Marsh Harrier; this time a first summer male.

As usual, I was always on the lookout for odonata and several Green-eyed Hawkers were on the wing.

 White-spotted Bluethroat

Reed Warbler

Common Tern

Marsh Harrier


 Green-eyed Hawker - vroege glazenmaker - Aeshna isoceles

We left the site at 5pm and following an unsuccessful go at a well-known site for Little Owl, Leo dropped me at my hotel in the small town of Rijswijk near the Hague. 

My hotel for the night was another rather dark place with just a hint of Scooby Doo. That said, the room was bright and modern. Putting my camera batteries on charge, I headed for the nearby old town, where there are a plethora of restaurants.  I liked the look of De Wits, a small restaurant with lots of outside seating. It was a warm evening, so I found a single table and ordered a bottle of Affligem Tripel. At 9.6% abv, it fell into the 'falling down water' category, so I had the one and ate light, given that I needed to be up at 5am.

I ordered the carpaccio of smoked salmon with garlic dressing, green beans and a side of chips. The food was absolutely amazing. I mean top drawer fine dining. 

Not for the faint-hearted

The next morning, I was up at the crack of dawn and was picked up by my good friend Wietz Janse, who lives in Rijswijk. We had an early morning go at the Little Bitterns, without success, so headed for the coast of North Holland at Castricum. The area reminded me of Gib Point, with the addition of numerous Nightingales and a Cormorant colony.

Following the path through the dunes, we had a Common Buzzard and a few common migrants, until we reached a small patch of scrub on the other side of a well-vegetated stream. A male Common Rosefinch was in full song, giving amazing views. We had the bird to ourselves for 20 minutes before it dropped into the bushes.  Since we had arrived there, a Dutch Bird Alert for a Lesser Grey Shrike had come up for Texel. As this would be a Dutch tick for me and with the chance of other good birds we opted to head north and get the 11am ferry.

Common Rosefinch

As we headed back to the car, another alert came up, reporting an eagle sp. possibly a Greater Spotted Eagle not far from our very spot. Wietze called the observer, who gave directions to where he had seen the bird and we headed to the area and scanned the surrounding countryside. It had been going north, and I mused that it would probably arrive on Texel.

We caught the ferry on schedule and headed for the island.  The sun desk was packed with tourists, so we relaxed in the spacious lounge and had a coffee. The alert reported that the shrike had gone missing and then was refound, but when we arrived, the one birder on site hadn't seen it. Undeterred we walked down the track to view a little farm with a network of fences and I got onto the bird almost immediately perched on a fence post!

The bird then flew a short way as a party of young Dutch birders arrived. After a short wait, the shrike fell into a pattern of commuting between a wooden sign and a little patch of bushes and gave superb views.

Lesser Grey Shrike

This was the 53rd record for the Netherlands, and the 11th for Texel.  As we were enjoying the shrike, a buzzard appeared over the trees on the horizon and was easily identified as a Honey-buzzard as it drifted north. This was followed shortly by a second bird to the north, which was being followed by an Osprey!  It was turning into a classic day's birding with three Dutch ticks, but the best was to come.

We repaired to the Robenjager for lunch, with brimming enthusiasm. I had the famous fish and chips, washed down with a Texels beer. The owners are affable and love birders, and I normally visit at least once a day on my walk around the north of the island in October.

After lunch, we walked around the area just south of the lighthouse, getting nice views of a male Northern Wheatear. As we considered where to go next, our minds were made up for us, as news broke of a Greater Spotted Eagle moving north east from De Muy. We bombed south, aiming for some kind of vantage point, when the Texel Whatsapp alerted that it had been relocated just south of De Cocksdorp.  We did a quick U-Turn and looking out of the passenger window, I shouted 'Eagle! Eagle!'  

We got cracking views of the bird and some record shots, though mainly in silhouette. Other birders quickly arrived and enjoyed the bird.  I was buzzing!

This was the 34th record of the species for the Netherlands, with almost half before 1970 but 16 records since the year 2000. 

Northern Wheatear

Greater Spotted Eagle

We headed back for the 3.30pm ferry, with my Dutch list on 262 and probably my best trip to the country yet. I added a Great Black-backed Gull to the trip list from the ferry at Hoek Van Holland, making the total 134 species. I've already booked for the Dutch Birding weekend in mid October, and confident of more excellent birding.

Enjoying a coffee after jamming the Greater Spotted Eagle

Many Thanks to Wietze Janse, Leo Boon, Martijn Bot, Klaas de Jong, Marc Plomp, Ger Monterney.

Useful links:

Trip list

Species Scientific Name Date Location Count
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons 24/05/2018 Hilversum - Bovenmeent 1
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Gadwall Anas strepera
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Garganey Anas querquedula
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Great Egret Casmerodius albus 25/05/2018 Ijmuiden 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 24/05/2018 Hilversum - Bovenmeent 1
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus 24/05/2018 Veluwemeer, Flevoland 6
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus 26/05/2018 Texel 2
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga 26/05/2018 Texel 1
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 26/05/2018 Texel 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 25/05/2018 Zevenhuzen 2
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Little Stint Calidris minuta 23/05/2018 Texel, Westerkolk 1
Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii 23/05/2018 Texel, Westerkolk 3
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 23/05/2018 Texel, De Staart 1
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 23/05/2018 Texel, Westerkolk 1
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26/05/2018 Hoek van Holland 1
Black Tern Chlidonias niger 25/05/2018 Zevenhuzen 1 adult
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Common Swift Apus apus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor 26/05/2018 Texel 1
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla 24/05/2018 Vierhouten 1
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Great Tit Parus major
Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus 24/05/2018 Vierhouten 1
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Willow Tit Poecile montanus 24/05/2018 Raalte 1
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris 24/05/2018 Vierhouten 1
Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus
Woodlark Lullula arborea 26/05/2018 Castricum 1
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
House Martin Delichon urbicum
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix 24/05/2018 Leuvenum 1
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus 26/05/2018 Texel
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca 25/05/2018 Kennemermeer, Ijmuiden 1
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia 25/05/2018 Kennemermeer, Ijmuiden 1
River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis 24/05/2018 Raalte
Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides 25/05/2018 Zevenhuzen 3
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina 24/05/2018 Veluwemeer, Flevoland 1
Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus 24/05/2018 Lutkemeerpolder, Amsterdam 1
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 23/05/2018 Den Helder 1
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 25/05/2018 Kennemermeer, Ijmuiden 1
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva 24/05/2018 Undisclosed site, Gelderland 1 male
Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca 24/05/2018 Vierhouten 1 female
Dunnock Prunella modularis
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 24/05/2018 Vierhouten 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch Chloris chloris
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 26/05/2018 Castricum 1 male
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

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