A spring day in Holland

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Subject: A spring day in Holland
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 15:38:11 +0200

                                                A SPRING DAY IN HOLLAND

After my return from New Zealand I stayed a fortnight with Riet in Holland. As 
in most of Europe, there had been an unexpectedly late and severe period of 
frost and even snow, but when I arrived spring had just returned and the 
weather was even milder than normal, so that spring 'sprang' very quickly 
indeed. One day we saw the first Chiffchaff and White Wagtail, and three days 
later they were everywhere! Similarly, one day I rejoiced about the first 
yellow flowers of the Lesser Celandine Ficaria verna, and three days later all 
the roadsides and dry ditches were everywhere twinkling with these yellow stars.

Here I shall briefly report on a trip to our home province of Zeeland one 
Sunday (20 March). The day started grey and hazy verging on foggy, but already 
before we had arrived at the first stop, the dams between Noord Brabant and the 
island of Flakkee, the sun had broken through, and we entered the bird hide at 
Hellegatsplein with wonderful light conditions.
Before getting that far, we had already frightened a flock of wintering 
Fieldfares into flight, and watched a Chiffchaff, only the second of the year, 
catching insects in flycatcher manner. The hide looks out on shallow 
freshwater, with everywhere pairs of Shelducks, a very common bird in this 
entire deltaic area, shining white in the sun. But looking left, we see a much 
more incongruous sight, a tight pink flock of no less than 24 Flamingoes, 
clearly in full display, as all the birds energetically shake their heads 
rhythmically, while walking to and fro. The flamingoes look very much out of 
place in this so very Dutch surroundings, but they have been here for years, 
although they do not as yet nest in Holland: the nearest nesting area is 
somewhere in W.Germany. The flock contains at least two, maybe even three 
species: besides the European Flamingo there are at least a number of Chilean 
Flamingoes in the flock, while a few very reddish birds maybe were American 
Flamingoes. They are not the only exotics here; as virtually everywhere in 
Holland, there are a few pairs of Egyptian Geese around, and also a number of 
the Barnacle Geese on the grass verge in the background may well be feral; they 
now nest yearly in this area. There are also Greylag Geese here, a species that 
has once more become a common bird in Holland, after having virtually 
disappeared as a nesting bird some 50 years ago. There are also some ducks 
around: Mallards, of course, Wigeons, Shovelers, Gadwall, and even a few 
Pintails. Displaying Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings produce the arch-dutch 
sound decor; especially the godwits I can't hear anywhere in the world without 
thinking of Holland.

We decide to make a short detour to the village of Den Bommel, where in winter 
large flocks of Barnacle Geese can be viewed close to the road, in the mornings 
in excellent light. This time many of the geese apparently had already left, 
but there will still a few hundreds present on the former saltmarsh. Here also 
the niceties of keeping a year list became apparent: very common birds as an 
Oystercatcher, a Curlew and a few Redshanks were now extra welcome,  being the 
first of the year. Offshore a male Goldeneye looked at its best, and Goldeneyes 
are really most elegant small ducks.

We retraced our steps to the main road and had our next stop at Rammegors, once 
more 'new land', this time between the former islands of St Philipsland and 
Tholen in our home province of Zeeland, where earlier the Krabbekreek ran, and 
where in the sixties, when I was benthos zoologist at the Delta institute, I 
sieved marine amphipods from a coarse sandbank 'Dwars in de weg'. Now this is a 
land of grazed bushland (lots of willows and alders), with here and there still 
creek remnants. Later in spring there are lots of warblers here, but these had 
not yet arrived, and a walk through the bushland did not yield much more than a 
few tits and the first Reed Buntings, while the farm where we parked the car 
had Tree Sparrows. The hide in this area looks out over a large shallow pond, 
full of coots, grebes, Shelducks and dabbling ducks, while there were also 
Greylag Geese, Mute Swans and a few Pochards; a lone Greater Scaup was a 
pleasant surprise, as these mostly keep offshore.

Our last stop was also on the island of Tholen, but on the south side of the 
island, where the Scherpenisse polders are an example of the typically dutch 
way of creating new nature areas, by inundating a few low-lying grassland 
polders and so creating artificial wetlands. And this had indeed developed into 
a bird paradise; already from afar we saw clouds of ducks and geese over the 
polders, and close by there turned out to be thousands of geese (mostly 
Barnacle Geese but also large flocks of Brants) and ducks (here Wigeons and 
Shovelers were dominant, but also Mallards, Gadwall, Teal and Pintail were 
common). An elderly gentleman was counting the brds with a telescope, and this 
turned out to be the retired farmer, on whose land the reserve had been 
created. He told us that he had 'never noticed the birds' while he was farming 
(only the damage done by the geese), but that he gradually had started to like 
and recognize them, and now he did the official counts for the authorities, and 
talked very knowledgeably about all 'his birds', and on the Ross' Goose that 
was present just now (but which we did not get to see).

 In addition to the waterfowl there were hundreds of godwits and redshanks, 
displaying lapwings galore, and still small flocks of Golden Plover, while I 
also noticed a few Dunlin and heard a Spotted Redshank call its so 
characteristic 'tuWEET'. In a small pond near the coast 5 Little Grebes swam, 
and somewhere else a lone no doubt just arrived Spoonbill 'spooned. And in the 
entire, quite large area my favourite shorebird, the Avocet, was much to the 
fore; in my opinion this is easily the most elegant of all shorebirds, a 
symphony in black and white. Small birds there were fewer, apart from large 
flocks of Starlings everywhere: but the Skylarks sang overhead, and I also saw 
the first Meadow Pipit and even the first Barn Swallows of the year.

Very content we continued to Krabbendijke where Riet's brother and his wife 
made the evening perfect by serving a large meal of Zeeland mussels. The next 
morning we drove back along a touristic route along the river Lek ( the Rhine 
under another name), starting at Kinderdijk, where the famous Dutch landscape,  
with its 18 windmills, has become a great touristic attraction, and continuing 
east along the still quite pristine Alblasserwaard. In the late afternoon we 
returned for a walk along het Zouwe, from where I have reported earlier, as in 
passing earlier that day we had seen  clouds of birds over the area. And we 
were not disappointed: thousands of ducks (mostly Shovelers and Wigeons) 
repeatedly flew up from the duck decoy (why we do not know) and filled the air. 
And further on, in the meadows. there were large flocks of this time mostly 
White-fronted Geese, with a few Barnacle Geese and surprisingly, tens of Canada 

When we walked back to the car, we surprised the first Snipe of the year from a 
ditch, and near the parking place the first White Wagtail tripped on a muddy 
edge. Holland is really full of birds!!

And my year list? It stood at 27 when I left Tromsoe, at 86 after the New 
Zealand trip and at 162 today, shortly before my return to Tromsoe.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway
                                                wim.vader @
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