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A trip to the Netherlands in Two Acts. (1 Viewer)

Frank van Drogen

Not so important
We left on Friday (April 21st) for a very brief trip to the Netherlands with the family, driving up by car from Zurich. We arrived a bit after midnight, and my wife and me left back to Zurich by plane Sunday morning. We’ll be going back next week, and then stay for 8 days, so hopefully birding time will be at least an order of magnitude more then 😊

We drove up through the Alsace, and although I had noticed previously that identifying birds while driving with 130+ km/h and paying attention to other traffic is a somewhat precarious business, I found the one exception. As expected in the Alsace region, there was an abundance of White
, and there’s no identification issues while keeping an eye on traffic and possible speed radars. Also got my first German ticks of the year while stopping briefly, with some Great Tits, Blue Tits and a Common Buzzard.

Interestingly, there are some enormous Rook colonies in trees on parking places along the highway we followed. We stopped at one, but I think I saw another three or four of these colonies. The combines noise of traffic and the birds is deafening, and I guess one must be lucky to come away without a soiled car. I am wondering though, if the Rooks life there because it is the only place left, being driven out of most communities because of the noise and defecation. Or are there additional advantages for the rooks. Would they eat roadkill?

The second half of the trip we were accompanied by an impressive thunderstorm, with quite a bit of wind and rain. At least a typical welcome to the Netherlands! The weather was still very unpleasant when we arrived and in an altogether very expected move, I got appointed volunteer to unpack the car.

Saturday morning things were upwards looking, at least considering the weather. Chores apparently still had to be done, food to be bought and prepared and generally a lot of running and rushing around. I found about 10 or 15 spare, somewhat quiet, minutes to spend in my parents garden with a surprising amount of birds around. Most abundant were the House Sparrows, flying around in nervous groups of 15-20 birds each. To my dad’s despair, there is some kind of pest in his boxwood which seems to be a treat to the House Sparrows. Regardless of the hard work of the Sparrows, it seems the boxwood will succumb anyway.

Other species that were rather abundant were Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Robins. At least two pairs of Blackbirds seem to be nesting at the neighbors and were busy bringing food to their respective nests. There was a rather ragged looking Starling, a Greenfinch and a Chiffchaff. I saw a glimpse of a Goldfinch and a Crested Tit, both taking of when a couple of Jackdaws flew in. The top of a flagpole on the other side of the street was used as a regular lookout for a White Wagtail.

Carrion Crows, Magpies, Wood-Pigeons and Collared-Doves were keeping an eye on things from various rooftops. There was a small, reddish bird that took me a bit to identify as a Stonechat, and a slightly larger reddish bird that seemed to be a Redwing.

I also heard some Dunnocks, Meadow Pipits and a Nightingale. The most surprising appearance was, however, a Curlew. Mistakenly, I always thought it is more or less a pure shorebird, but apparently it breeds in grassland, which is abundant around my parents’ place. When I expressed my astonishment at seeing it, my dad responded something about ‘that bird with he curved bill was around the whole winter’.

Since the weather was very pleasant, the Mrs. and me went for a small walk in the afternoon, only to get rained upon within 15 minutes after leaving. We saw most of the birds listed above (no Curlew though), as well as a Redstart and some Song Thrush. We also encountered the first two Graylag Geese of the trip, while running back and getting soaked anyway.

Early evening we took my parents’ old dog, my dad an our sons (in order of enthusiasm, displayed!) to the nearby National Park Weerribben for a short walk. We only saw a couple of hundred Graylag Geese, had a nice view of some breeding Coots, heard a very loud Nightingale and saw some very impressive breeding Mute Swans. There were a couple of Mallards, Crested Grebes as well as While Egrets on the water. In the reeds, I could identify a triplet of warblers mostly due to the song, Willow Warbler, Savi’s Warbler and Sedge Warbler. I am pretty sure there were some more species amongst the reeds, but I couldn’t identify any others (for sure will try next week!!). We also heard some Short-toed Treecreeper and Wrenn and saw a couple of the ever-abundant Herring Gulls.

We had an early train on Sunday morning to Schiphol. As mentioned above, identifying bird while moving at 130 km/h isn’t that easy for me, however the Dutch National railways accommodated that problem while cementing their well-deserved miserable reputation. There were several unplanned stops, resulting in a total 20 minutes delay, and I got to see some Canada and Barnacle Geese. The last bird of the day, near Amsterdam, took some time to register – a Rose-ringed Parakeet.

We'll be dutifully working in good old CH until the end of the week, and then it will be a bit of rest and birding for a week :)
April 29th, we flew back to the Netherlands relatively late, and the only bird that caught my attention was a White Wagtail drinking close to one of the windows on Zurich Airport. Sunday April 30th, we met up with a friend, who has taken up training Border Collies a couple of years ago (after claiming for years he didn’t want or like dogs). He was at some heathland nearby with his two dogs and ~600 sheep. The scenery, as well as the weather, was beautiful and it was truly impressive how those two dogs responded to commands and kept the sheep together and moving more or less in the desired direction.

I realized pretty fast that while it was quite a unique experience, 600 sheep tend to be rather loud and disturbing of their environment, and there were precious few birds to be seen or heard. I did sometimes drop behind, or wander of in another direction for a bit and soon got acquainted with the most ubiquitous bird on the heathland, Skylarks. Some got flushed by the sheep, many were heard at a distance. Around shrubs or the sparse small trees there were some Chaffinch, and I was very happy to sport a Bluethroat. At one point I hear some loud, quite fast and very repetitive bird call which I didn’t recognize. It took me a good five minutes before I spotted a Wryneck (my first 😊). There were also some Willow Warblers, a Blue Tit a Red Start and plenty Blackcap around.

Later in the afternoon, closer to a forest area, I also hard some Robins, saw a Tree Pipit and there were some Chiffchaff, House Sparrows and Great Tits. We delivered the flock back to the barn in the late afternoon, and I noticed there were a lot of House Martin nest boxes attached to the sides of the structure. Although there were a lot of insects around, I didn’t have the feeling any of the nest boxes was in use, and I didn’t see a single Hirundinidae.

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