birdchat, sabirdnet, ebn

Subject: birdchat, sabirdnet, ebn
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2004 09:20:14 +0200

                                DISCOVERY OF A NEW  BIRD PARADISE IN HOLLAND

During my visits to Holland Riet and I have the tendency to visit again and again our favourite areas, areas which we know well and which seldom disappoint us. But for my last birthday my sister had given me a booklet with two bird walks in every Dutch province, and yesterday (22 May) we decided to try out one of those, i.e. the Zouweboezem, in the province of Zuid-Holland, but still within a one hours drive from Odijk. This area is situated in the Vijfherenlanden, in the extreme south-east of that province, just south of the river Rhine which here has changed its name to Lek (Don't ask me why!). It is an archetypical Dutch landscape (with even a classical wind mill), and this day more than ever, as the weather was cool and very clear, with a brisk wind, and magnificent, 'typically Dutch' cloudscapes over a low horizon and a green landscape full of wetlands and water. Of course the Dutch, in this case the Zuidhollands Landschap provincial nature conservation society, never can let nature alone (there is no wild nature anywhere in Holland anymore) ; by judicial changes they try (and largely succeed, too) to make the area still more attractive for the wetland birds. So where we parked the car, on a small dead-end road down from the high river dyke, there was a small area with mud and shallow water---as if it had been dug out for peat production---, and this was already full of birds.Both Greylag and Canada Geese had lots of downy young, and there were also several pairs of Egyptian Goose (now far too common already in Holland), as well as many Lapwings and Redshanks, Mallards with young and two beautiful male Garganeys with their broad white eye-stripes, one of the less common dabbling ducks in Holland.

Walking along the narrow tarmac road we had an excellent view on the extensive reed fields between us and the open water. Because the new Phragmites as yet had not grown very tall, many of the reed birds sang from the dead stalks of last year's reed and were therefore somewhat easier to watch than normally. There are basically two sorts here. One is brownish, unicoloured, with a deliberate, not very fast song, which is well described by their Dutch name of karekiet (they go "karre karre karre, kiet kiet, erre orre karre kiet kiet''). The other is much more of an enthousiast and not rarely launches himself in a short song flight; his song is rapid and varied, but with the same basic croaking timbre--the bird itself is also brown but striped, and with a clear white eye stripe. This is the Sedge Warbler , while the other one is the Reed Warbler. There ought to be further reed warblers here, two Locustellas and the double-size Grote Karekiet, the Great Reed Warbler, but this day I heard none of them. One congener, the Marsh Warbler, extremely similar looking to the Reed Warbler, but one of the best songsters among Dutch songbirds, did occur here, but typically we found him in an old overgrown orchard---it is much less a reed bird than the Reed Warbler. There is another songbird, that is common in the reed-fields here, and that is the spectacularly beautiful Reed Bunting with its jet black head and white neck ring; its song is 'quite forgettable, but nevertheless once learned never forgotten'---it sounds as if the bird never really gets started, but tries again and again. The reed fields, esp. if there are some alder bushes growing in them, also house the complete opposite, the most accomplished songster of all, the Bluethroat, here the race with a white star on its blue breast (At home they have red stars). These birds used to be very rare indeed in Holland, but have made a great comeback in later years, and now can be heard many places. Here at the Zouwe there were many of them this day. (The real Nightingale also occurs here, and I watched one forage in a dry ditch, buit we unfortunately did not hear him sing this day)

While watching all these reed birds, which pop up and disappear again all the time, we were regularly distracted by the sharp cries and elegant presence of a colony of Black Terns, one of my favourite birds. They foraged often over the mowed fields, and nested in the 'boezem' , the open water, full of the yellow Nuphar waterlilies. Most nests were on small man-made rafts, another service by man to the birds here in Holland. The extensive reedbeds themselves are of course inaccessible to man---they are physically dangerous quagmires, and also protection demands that they remain in peace---, but Zuidhollands Landschap has constructed a several hundred meters long boardwalk, ending in a viewing screen. Walking this boardwalk is a very special experience, as one is in the middle of the marsh, and can watch all the special marsh vegetation, while the marsh birds zoom around, and one hears now and then even the eerie booming of the Bittern, a bird that has become uncommon also in Holland. A Spoonbill flies overhead , then a Grey Heron .But the next bird, though clearly also a heron, seems quicker and lighter, with a stripy head and flaring toes. This is a Purple Heron, and it turns out that the Zouweboezem now is the stronghold of this by now scarce breeding bird in the Netherlands; last year the colony counted 110 pairs. They are shy marsh birds, but we still saw them regularly overhead.

We also walked a longish tour through the grazed area in the centre of the polder, where yellow and pink flowers abound, but the dark red of the Rumex still dominates the overall vista; how different from the all too many fields in this country where all 'weeds' are kept out, and grass production is artificially increased. Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits protest our intrusion, and from a row of tall poplars a Cuckoo calls incessantly, one of the no less than 14 year-birds I gain this one day. Another one are the two White Storks who stalk a freshly mowed field, but not the pair of Mute Swans, which have led their three small cygnets, somewhat unexpectedly, to the middle of a large field, quite far from the nearest water

Also frogs still contribute to the chorus here --this area is also known for its quite rich herpetofauna (by Dutch standards, that is). From isolated small trees Common Whitethroats sing their abrupt strophes and carry out their short song flights, while the rows of pollarded willows and Hawthorns house a more diverse songbird fauna, with Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Winter Wrens, and of course the ubiquitous Blackbirds. Pheasants break away just before our feet, a pair of Buzzards circle overhead.and later we finally also find the long expected Marsh Harriers. Overhead there are swallows (of all three species) and swifts galore.

We only have been able to scratch the surface of this wonderfugul and diverse birding area not too far from Odijk, but no doubt this will in future be reckoned among our regular haunts.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsoe 
                                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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