Friday, 20 March 2020

Netherlands - March 2020

As a fairly regular traveller to the Netherlands I am amassing a decent list of birds, although I was missing quite a few common species, mainly winter visitors. It was with this in mind that I planned a winter trip in late 2019, aiming to go to the Netherlands in February or March.

I fired off my target species to my good friend, Wietze Janse and he came up with a programme that would hit as many of these as possible, in two days. When I got down to planning the detail of the trip, I realised that I had a third full day and managed to enrol Hans Overduin, who guides for Birding Netherlands. Dutch ticks are in italics.

As the Coronavirus was beginning to cause disruption in parts of Europe, I sailed from Harwich on Thursday 12 March, wondering whether I would get back!  Never the less, I arrived in Hoek van Holland on the Friday morning and after touching elbows with Hans, we set about on a schedule that wouldn't overlap too much with Wietze's plans.

Heading south and east, we crossed into the province of Noord-Brabant, where Hans had a site staked out for woodland species near Zuidgeest. Almost immediately after parking the car we had a Middle Spotted Woodpecker taking chunks out of a tree. The bird showed well for several minutes and in spite of the less than perfect light, I got some nice shots between the rain showers. Also in the woodlands were double figure numbers of Short-toed Tree creepers, a few Nuthatches, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch and Robin. Also seen in the general area were a male Marsh Harrier and a male Goshawk.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Looking at my target list, Hans said that there had been a report of two female and a drake Smew on some pools just west of Woensdrecht. It looked like a most unlikely area for Smew as the site appeared to be little more than some flooded fields, but sure enough, two female Smew were located at the far side of the pools, but were way to distant for even a record shot. However, I was chuffed to have got my Dutch list moving.

Continuing westwards, we crossed into the province of Zeeland and a delta area near the border. Here, we were treated to prolonged views of a pair of White-tailed Sea Eagles at medium range, plus several Spoonbills, the first of several Great White Egrets, Goldeneye, Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks. Pausing by the coast, we had coffee and stroop waffles while enjoying a hovering Kestrel at close range. This must be the most abundant raptor in this part of the Netherlands, and conservatively, one of about 40 seen during the day.

White-tailed Sea Eagle



Pressing on, as I had promised to be at my hotel for 7 o'clock, we made a coffeestop at a suburban area just south and east of Den Haag (The Hague). Just around the corner, among a very much active construction site were two Grey Partridges, sitting on a patch of grass and utterly unphased as we got fantastic photos from the car. 

Grey Partridge

A few miles into the town, we parked in a quiet residential area, where Rose-ringed Parakeets were squawking overhead. A short walk brought us to a narrow path between some houses and there were five Long-eared Owls roosting in a cypress tree, two of them in full view. This was a real treat and I felt immensely privileged to see these birds and we got some nice images of the them and left them in peace. 

Long-eared Owl

Our final port of call was at the harbour of Den Haag, where we located two Purple Sandpipers. With a little stealth, I managed to get within a couple of metres of the birds and they didn't seem especially worried about me and the camera. As we returned to the car park a Red-throated Diver was noted in the mouth of the  harbour.

Purple Sandpiper

Carrion Crow

Hans dropped me off at my hotel in Rijswijk and he kindly waited for the hotel proprietor to arrive, before I bade him farewell and I checked in.

I had only pecked at food during the day, and I had skipped breakfast, so I was now quite famished and headed into the old town, where I had eaten well in 2018. I went into de Witt's and it was almost empty and on a Friday night! I sat alone and wiped all my cutlery as a precaution, after ordering the garlic mushrooms and baked salmon. This was washed down with a bottle of Affligem Tripel @ 9% abv.

On the Saturday morning, Wietze picked me up after breakfast and we drove south towards Zeeland, with numerous birding stops en route. Still in Zuid Holland, we checked out the harbour at Stellendam, where among the White Wagtails, we located a single female Pied Wagtail. A bit farther west near Ouddorp, we had a few hundred Barnacle Geese and at a nearby watch point my first Mediterranean Gulls of the trip, plus Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Common Redshank and Curlew.

Barnacle Geese

On the border with Zeeland, we paused on the causeway and scoped the sea, finding at least 10 Red-throated Divers, a single Great Northern Diver and two Common Scoters. Red-breasted Mergansers were common here, and I sneaked up on a splendid drake, edging closer each time it dived, until I was within a few metres of the bird.

Red-breasted Merganser

Pushing on into the next 'island' of Schouwen-Duiveland, we stopped at the sea wall at Burghsluis. Here we located a drake Velvet Scoter, which was some way out on the ebbing tide, yet clinched easily with the scope and was in the company of a single Razorbill. I hadn't even considered the latter species as one I might add on this trip, so it was two for the price of one!

We reached Vlissingen, with it's harbour and ship yard around lunch time. Here we initially had a bit of a drive round in search of our quarry, but eventually located a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull, which showed down to a few metres, catching a Common Dab while we were there. In the same vicinity we had nice views of Herring Gull and Cormorant.

 Glaucous Gull

 Herring Gull


We had fish and chips in the harbour cafe and then gradually retraced our steps. At Middelburg we located a Red-breasted Goose among the Barnacle Geese, several Greater White-fronted Geese and a male Peregrine, which took a Common Starling in flight. On the other side of the town, Wietze found a private garden, where he had been tipped off that a Little Owl is roosting and we obtained a nice record shot of the bird, sitting in its barn. On the way back north, we had nice opportunities to photograph Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Little Egret.

Red-breasted Goose

Greater White-fronted Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Little Owl

Little Egret

On the way back, crossing back into South Holland at Oostvoorne, we got distant views of a Great Bustard, although, alas the bird is from a captive bred scheme and not tickable, but was still nice to see in a wild state. Canada Goose has recently been removed from the Dutch list since the Dutch authorities have decided that there have been no genuine vagrants, and don't qualify for the official rankings. A female sitting in the grass by the farm looked suitably unimpressed by its demotion.

Canada Goose

After a long day in the field, I was ready for some nosh and had a picnic in the hotel dining room with some hummus and dips and a not for the faint-hearted bottle of 10% abv Hertog Jan. This was a Quadrupel beer and was just what was needed for the chillies and garlic flavoured hummus.


The Sunday was a full day, with lots of driving but quality birds all the way. 

We began with an adult Iceland Gull at Juliandorp in Noord Holland, which had been showing well around rooftops the previous day. Alas, it was now  loafing in a field but at some distance and unlike the previous day's Glaucous Gull, provided no photo opportunities. However, it was nice to get both white-wingers on the trip.

We continued north and made a couple of stops; firstly at the harbour at Den Oever, where there were stacks of Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebes but nothing of particular note. At Kornwerdzand on the border with Friesland, the situation was rather more interesting.  There was a raft of at least 1,500 Greater Scaup on the sea and by the harbour, single drake Smew and drake Goosander as well as the ever present mergansers, making it a three saw bill day.


 Greater Scaup


We made a stop at Leeuwarden looking for the resident Pied Crow, although it appeared to be having a day off, not showing around any of the houses where it normally resides. 

Undeterred, we pressed on to the oddly-named Koehool, for what was bird of the weekend. The site was no more than a patchwork of fields and a couple of farmsteads. After a bit of a run around we pinned down a 2nd calendar year Sabine's Gull, which had turned up two week's earlier. The bird had remained faithful to the same patch of fields and small stream. Though we had good views, the bird was favouring a field, which bordered a private garden and made anything beyond a record shot, impossible. 

Wietze decided to knock on the owner's front door, and in his best broken Frisian, asked if we might enter the garden in order to get better views. The man gave his permission and by standing in the corner of the field, the bird came pretty close. An amazing bird to see, and very unusual at this time of the year.

Sabine's Gull

Keeping one eye on the clock, we drove south east towards the border with Flevoland and connected with a Cattle Egret at Spanga, although like the Iceland Gull sat resolutely at the back of a field. We also saw a male Marsh Harrier here.

Further south near Meppel on the border of Drenthe and Overijssel we unsuccessfully searched for a White Pelican of unknown origin but were rewarded with a good views of several White Storks, who had set up home in the area.

White Stork

We finished off the day in Flevoland, unsuccessfully searching for Bewick's and Whooper Swans and in the failing light watched Black-tailed Godwits, which were coming into breeding plumage.

As we arrived at Maassluis, the news was that the government had closed all restaurants and cafes. However, Wietze knew of a Turkish kebab house that was 'off the grid.' None the less, the food was good and set me up for the evening. Wietze dropped me off at the railway station and I made the nine minute journey to Hoek van Holland for my sailing back to the UK.

Black-tailed Godwits

Many Thanks go to Wietze Janse, Hans Overduin and Menno Van Duijn

1 comment:

  1. hello, Andy, it seems you got the max out of three days birding in The Netherlands. I was a pleasure birding with you and looking forward seeing you soon ! Cheers & all the best and stay healthy, Hans