Monday, 28 March 2016

Whilst in Holland

Rather than a smash and grab raid for the Rubythroat, Bradders and I stayed overnight and devoted the second day to birding in Holland. Largely this involved twitching a few long-staying rarities that were nearby, as well as exploring a number of sites in the north of the country. Neither of us had birded in Holland before, indeed this was a country tick for DB to boot, and we were both bowled over by the quality of the habitats that we visited. Waterfowl and Gulls in particular were ridiculously abundant, more so than in any place I have ever visited. Driving along any road you were assured of a constant stream of interest. Luckily Bradders was driving or we would have ended up in about a dozen canals.

We had left London at around 4.30am, and were in Northern France by 8.30am (with the one hour time difference). The tunnel is incredibly easy and efficient. Despite the recent atrocities in Belgium there was no sign of any type of border control or check. I had wondered if travelling so soon afterwards might have been a bad plan, but we cruised through with no issues whatsoever and I am thus here to tell the tale of a wonderful weekend. We did a spot of shopping for provisions near Antwerp, negotiated a massive jam in Amsterdam, and arrived at Hoogwoud just after 2pm. We had the bird to ourselves at first, but before it showed properly we were joined by a minibus full of Dutch twitchers, showing that this bird remains as popular as ever two months on from its arrival. This mass of people probably contributed to the bird remaining extensively hidden for a period of time, but when they departed I gathered up the mealworms they had randomly scattered and put them somewhere more suitable. Soon the bird popped out, scoffing a few before taking one particularly juicy one back into the undergrowth. This next photo is principally for Mick S who loves a good mealworm photo, but also to show that this bird is getting fed and regularly so, such that it may stay for some time yet. 

Top drawer I'm sure you'll agree!

With the light beginning to go, we drove the short distance north to Den Oever for a Lesser Scaup, which DB picked up with ease across the lagoon. The weather was worsening by the minute, the wind really getting up, and we agreed that our timing for the Rubythroat had been spot on. The next day looked very inclement indeed, we weren't sure how much birding we might actually get.

Retracing our steps to Alkmaar we had a superb dinner in the old town. If you find yourself there I can heartily recommend a restaurant called simply "Steak", and don't even think about having anything else. Or at least that was the message from the very convivial Fred who was running the place. As well as great food, our candlelit celebratory dinner also involved beer. Excellent beer. Supremely good beer. Beer so good I gave regular thanks that I wasn't driving... DId you know Alkmaar also has a world-famous Cheese Market? I am betting that you didn't, neither did I until I googled it. It being the evening of Easter Saturday it was closed, but I mention it on the offchance that you can make use of this snippet of culinary information. I am a fan of cheese, and so as the next best thing I popped into a supermarket (the only supermarket in the country that does not take credit cards of any description) and grabbed a couple of slabs as a reminder of my time here, and in the hope of adding to the heady aroma already developing in the braddersmobile following the shopping expedition in Belgium.

Up early the next morning and back to Den Oever where we had apparently missed a drake Bufflehead the previous day. Soon put that right but five minutes later and it would have flown out to sea and we would have missed it - a smart duck, but where has it come from? A box? Or somewhere further away? A birder we met at Hoogwoud was pretty dismissive, but wildfowl is notoriously difficult to assign. Top bird nonetheless, and as it was sitting a hundred metres out to sea ignored all the bread I threw at it.

Next stop some wonderful habitat near Zaandam, the Engewormer and Widjewormer. Ducks everywhere, displaying Godwits, birdy goodness in other words. A showy Scaup was recompense for a dipped Ring-necked Duck, but I'd have rather seen the former given my recent experience in Arizona. A short distance away a Lesser White-fronted Goose with rings indicating it was from the reintroduction program behaved very badly with a Greylag Goose. Baffling and an indication that a bird's behaviour is not necessarily a guide to its provenance.

Disgracing itself?

We needed to back in Calais for about 8pm, and had one final area pencilled in, the Biesbosch, south-east of Rotterdam. This has had a number of decent birds recently that indicated promise for an exploratory session. We failed to see some Penduline Tits in high winds, and then came across a Red-breasted Goose in a huge flock of Barnies looking absolutely pukka. Turns out it has a purple ring on it and it is almost certainly duff. Go figure.
The Biesbosch is wonderful. Superbly named, it has a network of raised roads wiggling through stellar habitat and is stuffed full of birds. We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking it all in, working on the trip list and generally feeling good about birding. Very windy, but we saw a lot of good stuff despite this - Smew, singing Willow Tit, Water Pipit, Marsh Harrier to name a few.

Clearly plastic....

Favourite Goose


As usual I helped Bradders negotiate a long and tricky drive by falling asleep several times in the passenger seat, and so just a short while later we arrived in Calais where I managed to blurt out enough french to blag us onto an earlier crossing. Merci. Storm Katie was beginning to make itself known and so the drive back was rather grim. Naturally I stayed awake for it. Final scores on the doors something like 83 species, including a variety of rare wildfowl that it are seemingly impossible to call. Shoot them and isotope them I say.

Snuffi nearly got eaten by a dog whilst posing for this

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