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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Dutch Birding Bonanza 20th to 27th October, 2006,
We expected a staggering number of birds on this trip and that’s exactly what we found, with birds in their thousands! We began at Balgzand, where a high tide shorebird roost included countless Shelduck and Pintail, some 900 Curlews and an estimated 2000 Avocets, gleaming brilliant white in the bright morning sunshine on our backs. What a lovely way to start. Working east along the coast we passed field after field covered with Curlews, Lapwings, Common Gulls and Dark-bellied Brent Geese. A stroll at Vatrop produced the first of our daily Sparrowhawks and gave close views of Knot and Black-tailed Godwits feeding busily on the receding tide. Along the Afsluitdijk, which separates the vast freshwater Ijsselmeer from the Wadden Sea, we picked up a handful of Scaup amongst the hundreds of ‘Tufties’, thanks to David’s eagle eyes, and had very close views of Red-breasted Merganser and Eider, before spotting several Black Terns feeding just offshore on the seaward side of the dam. With 50 species already bagged, we arrived at our canal side hotel in the delightful Frisian town of Dokkum with time for some quick sightseeing before dinner.
Setting off to explore Lauwersmeer National Park, we soon added Barnacle and White-fronted Geese to our list and from a tower near Suyderoogh, hundreds of Bewick’s Swans dotted the watery landscape. By now Buzzards were commonplace but driving east along the Wadden Sea dike, we made an emergency stop for a buzzard hanging on the wind with an obvious pale tail, tipped with a dark band, a Rough-legged Buzzard. At the end of this road we walked along the dike, spotting amongst other things, a House Martin, a Kingfisher, some 800 odd Avocets and 5 Great Egrets. From here on, this traditionally eastern species was a daily sighting and almost became a ‘trash bird’! After a lunch stop at Lauwersoog harbour, festooned with rows of roosting Turnstones by the boat load, we spent the afternoon in the south of the park, watching dozens of Snipe and tiny Little Stints, amongst the hundreds of wildfowl. Come late afternoon, distant flocks of Starlings wheeled in tight formation, coalescing into larger darker clouds before streaking across the sky and plunging like a cascade into a nearby reedbed, while other flocks gathered on an adjacent field for a final feeding frenzy, turning the soil black. As we watched this spectacular scene develop, we guessed that we may have seen 100,000 birds in those few minutes! Who would have thought that Starlings could be bird of the day?!
On our second day in this wonderful area, we began with a stake out at the De Pomp viewpoint and were not disappointed. New birds included Bean Goose, female Hen and Marsh Harriers flying together and a Bittern, which broke cover and flew low across the reeds before dropping out of sight. Best of all was the flock of a dozen plus Bearded Tits, which showed superbly while pinging away at the foot of our viewpoint. They simply wouldn’t go away! Some even gave an aerial display above our heads! How often does that happen? No wonder this was bird of the trip for some group members. Moving on, the next viewpoint produced Great Spotted Woodpecker and our second Rough-legged Buzzard and at the Schildhoek marsh, a varied assortment of wildfowl included loads more Bewick’s Swans and a lovely Ruddy Shelduck, which glowed like an orange beacon among the hundreds of monochrome Barnacle Geese. There were of course more Great Egrets and a couple of posing Peregrines. After lunch in the Suyderoogh restaurant we visited the saltmarshes at Moddergat, which were quiet apart from close views of Brents and Barnacles and a fleeting view of a Rock Pipit. Having scoured the marshes for passerines, we were almost back at the vehicle before we stumbled on a very obliging female Snow Bunting, which sat for some super views through our scopes at very close range.
Today it was time to head south along the Frisian coast road. The fields were jam packed with geese in their tens of thousands. The sheer volume of birds was incredible. There were Greylags, Barnacles and White-fronts galore and yet we still managed to find something different. It was an odd looking Canada Goose, slightly smaller than its accompanying Barnacle Geese, with a shortish beak and chocolate brown almost purplish breast band below the typical black neck. Whether a true vagrant from western Alaska, or more likely an escapee, this Cackling Canada Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima) was a very neat bird and for me star of the trip, as we had found the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Further south at the Workumerwaard reserve we got good roadside views of Greenshank, as well as two new waders for the trip, a very handsome Spotted Redshank and several Ruff, including one individual with a pure white head and neck. Seven Black Swans just offshore were also a new addition. For some the highlight of the day was the smart Red Fox, being teased by three mischievous Crows, which seemed to have nothing better to do. Eventually even the Fox seemed to see the funny side of it and playfully cavorted with the Crows like an energetic puppy.
Our first day in Flevoland was very foggy to begin with and so we saw nothing from the first hide. As the fog began to clear we set off to explore the massive Oostvaardersplassen reserve, finding Willow Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper, followed by Brambling and Fieldfare among hundreds of Redwings. We even had a Woodcock fly by. With hundreds of Red Deer and wild Konik horses grazing the distant grasslands, it is hard to believe that this area was reclaimed from the sea just 40 years ago! In the afternoon, we encountered a huge raft of Shovellers and then found a second Ruddy Shelduck, this time with a flock of 80 plus Egyptian Geese, followed by an enormous mixed flock of mainly White-fronted but also Greylag and a few Bean Geese, so densely packed in every direction across the wide open ploughed field, there could have been up to 10,000 birds there! To finish the day at the Burchtkamp Harrier Reserve, we had a smoky grey cock Hen Harrier fly past on our way back to base.
By now it was day 6 and becoming clear that the exceptionally mild Autumn weather had scuppered our chances of seeing Smew. Nevertheless there was still some good birding to come. Scanning through a raft of some 4,000 Tufted Ducks and Pochards at Pampushaven, we found a well-groomed male Red-crested Pochard and later had a tip off from some local birders of a drake Ferruginous Duck, which gave cracking views in Zuidersluis harbour. It was near here that we also had a Water Pipit, another Kingfisher and a fly over Goshawk. A little further up the Oostvaardersdijk road, we stopped by a small group of onlookers and found a distant juvenile White-tailed Eagle, looking quite ponderous as it perched in a tree being mobbed by a tiny Crow. In the foreground were hundreds and hundreds of Gadwall. From a second viewpoint along this road, we scoped the two parent eagles perched in one tree. They were way off but one could still see their blonde heads and a white tail as one flapped laboriously across the tree tops. We had now seen the entire Dutch population of White-tailed Eagles! Just as we were about to drive on, a Little Gull put in a brief appearance with its characteristic buoyant flight and dark underwings, and then disappeared out across the Ijsselmeer.
We decided to finish the day where we had started the previous foggy morning. Just as we arrived at the trail, the second Goshawk of the day came hurtling from nowhere like a great big supercharged Sparrowhawk, scattering a group of Woodpigeons in all directions, and showing off its finely barred white underparts before turning away empty handed. After this excitement we took our positions for tape luring a Water Rail, which we had heard (and briefly seen by some) the day before. As we watched the path ahead, the Rail dashed across not once but five times, but it was reluctant to stay on the open path, giving us all 5 seconds of footage in total.
We spent our last morning in the woods near Harderwijk, where we added Nuthatch, Stonechat and Coal, Marsh and Crested Tits to the trip list. The Crested Tits gave particularly cracking views. Once aboard the ferry back to Harwich, a Gannet brought our total for the trip to a very respectable 117.
Christopher Hall www.newhorizonsonline.co.uk