THE NETHERLANDS

Dates of the trip: from 26 to 29 December 1999 included.

This trip was once more organized by Francois Thommes and besides his wife Martine, there were several other people who had already come before, among whom Fernand Kubina, Robert Lecaille and Odile Mella. We were also accompanied by Claude, Anne-Marie and Guillaume Hubert, Etienne Landragin, Thierry Besancon, Alexandre Knochel, Arnaud Lestage, Guillaume Schmitt, Eric Roualet, Anne-Marie Gelmetti, Thomas Tessier, Frederique Staub, Vincent Palomares, Jol Lefumeux, Bertrand Kernel, Stephane Bourovali-Zade, Marcel Schirrmann, Valerie Gueydan and Thierry Hirtzmann.

For those who would like to go directly to the list of birds we observed, click here.

26 December 1999. We left home early in the morning and met the rest of the group in Metz. It had been raining a lot during the previous night and it never stopped all along the trip to Zeeland. The motorway in Belgium was flooded, however, as soon as we reached the Brouwersdam, the weather brightened up. There was a lot of wind on the shore but the sun was shining. We then saw our first common sea birds and 800 Barnacle Geese, a few Eurasian Curlews, Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, 50 Greater Scaup, a Common Redshank, 30 Ruddy Turnstones, a Black-throated Diver, a Guillemot, Black-necked Grebes, 2 "comic" Terns, a Slavonian Grebe, a Little Gull and a Red-necked Grebe.

In the vicinity of Stellendam, near Haringvliedtdam and the Delta Dam, there were 10 Greylag Geese, 100 Barnacle Geese, 80 Eurasian Golden Plovers, Greater White-fronted Geese, 2 Common Shelducks and 3 Western Marsh Harriers. A little farther down south, in Den Bommel, we saw 200 Eurasian Wigeons. As we had spent some time in Zeeland, we decided not to drive across Flevoland as usual and went straight to the Grouw Youth Hostel where people know us now.

In the evening, Marcel, Fernand and I decided to phone our families in France to get some news. I was flabbergasted when I heard my wife telling me she was worrying to death because of the storm that had hit Europe and France in particular on that day. When I heard about the number of casualties and the enormous damage caused by the wind I realized how lucky we had been. Actually, we had left just early enough to be ahead of the furious elements.

Our bachelors' room in Grouw

27 December 1999. We were in Friesland now and decided to go to the seaside, to Holverd, just opposite the island of Ameland. There is a long pier there and we have never been disappointed because you can see thousands of waders and many other birds on both sides of the road. There were roughly 200 Common Redshanks, a Black-legged Kittiwake whose belly was tainted with oil and 150 Twites). We were pretty sure to find them there, but never before had we seen so many of them. The Snow Buntings too were more numerous than the previous years and we counted about 30 of them. About 80 Little Stints, 7 Pied Avocets, 2 Northern Pintails and at least 1000 Eurasian Oystercatchers were running about on the muddy banks. I knew exactly where the latter would be visible, but contrary to the previous years, they were not covered with frost. I almost felt it was a pity.

We then drove north of the Lauwersmeer to have a bite in the small harbour of Lauwersoog. We always go there and take out our portable gas stoves to do some cooking near the boats. At the sluice, there was a Purple Sandpiper and while some of us were looking at a Harbour Seal, others were aiming their spotting scopes at a group of about 10 Snow Buntings picking at some invisible food on the ground. After lunch, we went south of the Lauwersmeer where 13 Bewick's Swans and 6 Smews were feeding. 10,000 Eurasian Golden Plovers were doing the same near Ee. This is the greatest number of birds of this species we have ever seen in the Netherlands. The temperature was 3C and the sky was overcast. This pretty mild weather for the season may explain all our unusual observations. In the evening, we returned to the Youth Hostel for dinner and those of us who had come for the first time were surprised by the minute of silence which is required by our hosts to say a silent prayer before gorging ourselves. The others were not surprised.

28 December 1999. The new ones in the group discovered the peanut butter and the chocolate or multicoloured sugar flakes that you can find on the tables for breakfast. My toasts were very artistic but most of the others didn't take as many risks. We roamed across the same area as that of the day before and, not far from Ee, an aberrant Barnacle Goose was the cause of some surprise. By the way, we noticed more and more hybrid ducks in the country. A small Canada Goose and 7 Roe Deer were also present. We drove as far as Lauwersoog where we discovered an Egyptian Goose. Still farther east, close to the German border, in the harbour of Emmshaven, we observed 2 Black-throated Divers, one Crested Lark, 3 Harbour Seals and another Slavonian Grebe. In Noordpolderzijl, we spotted 3 Rock Pipits, a Brent Goose of the race hrota and two local birdwatchers picked out one or two Black Brent. I don't want to assume any responsibility as to this observation because I wasn't really convinced, the birds being too far away for me to make a personal opinion. There were also 40 Bewick's Swans, 3 Snow Geese) in the white phase, 30 Twites, a Snow Bunting, a Horned Lark, a Peregrine Falcon and even a Black Redstart. We returned to the Hostel when the night fell, that is to say pretty early.

29 December 1999. We left before dawn and drove a long time looking for Geese. We found some in the usual place around Workum. There were several thousand of them, above all Greater White-fronted Geese and Barnacle Geese. I can't get enough of the extraordinary sight of all these geese which fly in undulating festoons in the red sky in the morning and which take up or land in the fields, uttering their characteristic calls. There was also a Common Snipe, 4 Canada Geese among which  a possible parvipes, Eurasian Curlews and more Eurasian Golden Plovers. In Gaast, a Red-breasted Goose stirred some commotion because nobody wanted to miss it in the large gaggle. Close to Reezandijk, we spotted a Black-throated Diver and 2 Long-tailed Ducks, 20 Snow Buntings, 6 Black Scoters. As time was flying, we decided we couldn't miss going to Den Oever. There's a very worthwhile place there where we had always made good observations. We did not regret our decision because we found an immature Great Northern Diver, a Peregrine Falcon, 190 Pied Avocets, 500 Eurasian Curlews, 10 Northern Pintails, 2 Egyptian Geese, several hundred Common Redshanks, 6 Little Gulls, 10 Hooded Crows, a Slavonian Grebe, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, a Guillemot right on the beach, where the waves were dying, an immature Black-legged Kittiwake and about a hundred Eurasian Golden Plovers.

We spent the evening in a smoky bar probably because some of us were not accustomed to inhaling so much fresh air in a single day.

30 December 1999. We had to return home and we decided to drive through Flevoland which had not been possible at the beginning of the journey. From the Nordmeerweg in Urk, we saw several hundred Greater Scaup and a Little Gull. The weather was beautiful but very windy. We didn't see much from the site of the wind farm between Urk and Lelystadt on the Ketelmeerweg except 2 Slavonian Grebes. We looked for geese and swans for quite a long time in the desolate fields of Flevoland and eventually came back to the Praamweg Oostwardersplassen area. The mammals you can always see there were present (see end of list), together with thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese and Barnacle Geese, a Brambling, 2 Red Foxes, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards and a Common Stonechat. From the Knardjik, we observed 2 Whooper Swans for some time and we left Almere Haven just after having seen our last Bewick's Swan for this journey. The trip back home was made under the rain again but, contrary to the outward journey, the storm was behind us. For those who like figures, our trip was 2200 km long.

List of species observed during the trip.

My comments do not attempt to be scientific and are only the result of personal impressions. There are probably a certain number of very common species which are missing because I forgot to note them down. I did not see the birds marked * myself.

01Black-throated DiverGavia arcticaRare but more numerous than the previous years.
02Great Northern DiverGavia immerVery rare.
03Slavonian GrebePodiceps auritusMore numerous than the previous years.
04Black-necked GrebePodiceps nigricollisMore numerous than the previous years.
05Little Grebe* Tachybaptus ruficollisRather uncommon?
06Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatusCommon.
07Red-necked Grebe* Podiceps grisegenaOne bird.
08Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carboRather common.
09Grey HeronArdea cinereaCommon.
10Mute SwanCygnus olorCommon.
11Whooper SwanCygnus cygnusPretty rare.
12Bewick's SwanCygnus columbianusSome.
13Snow GooseAnser caerulescensVery rare of course. Such birds may be escaped animals.
14Greater White-fronted GooseAnser albifronsVery common.
15Greylag GooseAnser anserSome.
16Canada Goose
Branta canadensis and perhaps B. c. parvipes
More and more common.
17Barnacle gooseBranta leucopsisVery common.
18Brent Goose
Branta bernicla bernicla and B.b.hrota
Some, including possible Black Brent (Bernicla nigricans).
19Red-breasted GooseBranta ruficollisOne individual.
20Common SheldduckTadorna tadornaRare.
21Egyptian GooseAlopochen aegypticaSome. Feral birds.
22MallardAnas platyrhynchosCommon.
23GadwallAnas streperaRather uncommon?
24Northern PintailAnas acutaSome.
25Northern ShovelerAnas clypeataSome.
26Eurasian WigeonAnas penelopeNumerous.
27Common TealAnas creccaRather common?
28Greater ScaupAythya marilaNumerous in some places.
29Tufted DuckAythya fuligulaVery common.
30Common EiderSomateria mollissimaNumerous.
31Black ScoterMelanitta nigraSome.
32Velvet ScoterMelanitta fuscaRare.
33Long-tailed DuckClangula hyemalisRare but more numerous than the previous years.
34Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangulaCommon.
35SmewMergus albellusRare.
36Red-breasted MerganserMergus serratorPretty common.
37Western Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosusRare.
38Hen HarrierCircus cyaneusSome.
39Rough-legged BuzzardButeo lagopusMore numerous than the previous years but still rather uncommon.
40Common BuzzardButeo buteoRather common.
41Common KestrelFalco tinnunculusCommon.
42Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinusTwo individuals.
43Common PheasantPhasianus colchicusRather uncommon?
44Common MoorhenGallinula chloropusRather common?
45Common CootFulica atraCommon.
46Eurasian OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegusVery common in some places.
47Pied AvocetRecurvirostra avosettaMore numerous than in the previous years.
48Eurasian Golden PloverPluvialis apricariaVery numerous that year.
49Purple SandpiperCalidris maritimaA few in the area of Lauwersoog.
50Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpresRather common.
51Little StintCalidris minutaRare.
52Common RedshankTringa totanusNumerous in certain places.
53Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosaPretty rare.
54Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponicaPretty rare.
55Eurasian CurlewNumenius arquataNumerous in certain places.
56Common SnipeGallinago gallinagoRare.
57Black-headed GullLarus ridibundusCommon.
58Common GullLarus canusRather common.
59Herring GullLarus argentatus argentatusVery common.
60Great Black-backed GullLarus marinusVery common.
61Little GullLarus minutusCommoner than in the previous years.
62Black-legged KittiwakeRissa tridactylaRare.
63GuillemotUria aalgeVery rare.
64Sky LarkAlauda arvensisSome. This species is becoming less common in the Netherlands.
65Crested Lark* Galerida cristataOne individual.
66Horned LarkEremophila alpestrisVery rare.
67Rock PipitAnthus petrosus3 birds only.
68Black RedstartPhoenicurus ochrurosOne individual.
69Common StonechatSaxicola torquatusOne individual.
70Blue TitCyanistes caeruleusNot many, but we didn't look for it.
71Common MagpiePica picaCommon.
72Carrion CrowCorvus coroneCommon.
73Hooded CrowCorvus cornixMore than in the previous years.
74Common StarlingSturnus vulgarisCommon
75BramblingFringilla montifringillaOne bird.
76TwiteCarduelis flavirostrisCommoner than in the previous years.
77Snow Bunting
Plectrophenax nivalis
Commoner than in the previous years.


Other animal species observed:

Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Bulls: From what I learnt, these animals have been "reconstituted" genetically. If anyone knows anything about these animals, I would appreciate to have further information.

Tarpans (Equus gmelini)

 

Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)


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