Category Archives: Netherlands

Fatten up and go!

During our recent visit to Holland, I had a free afternoon on my own in Leiden. I visited one of my favorite museums in the world, Naturalis, the national natural history museum of the Netherlands. The museum is always a treat to visit, but I really lucked out because one of the special temporary exhibits was an excellent study of bird migration.

The exhibit, Opvetten en wegwezen (Fatten up and go!), was presented in one large exhibit room. There were cases of mounted birds arranged by average migration distance. Information provided by each case showed the route each of the birds takes during migration.

Migratory Birds
Display case with short-distance migratory birds

Fatten Up and Go!
Display cases with migratory birds

Migration Routes
Migration routes of birds that travel through the Netherlands

Between these cases were various migration topics explained, like how birds navigate, the dangers birds face during their long travels, and how they prepare for the journey.

Display on the timing of migration behind more bird cases

“Natural dangers” display behind more bird cases

Fatten Up!
The different fat levels in a Barn Swallow as it prepares for its journey

There were also several points where current bird research being conducted in the Netherlands was explained. A written interview with the involved scientists was shown, along with supplemental media. Here, the current work being done with Eurasian Spoonbills is explained by Ornithologist Tamar Lok. Small text (click to see full size at Flickr) reads, “The protection of birds in the Netherlands started with (Eurasian) Spoonbills. The Naardermeer was declared a nature reserve for this bird species. Later on, more marshes and coastal areas were declared protected.” I had no idea that the spoonbill was a ‘spark bird’ for Dutch bird conservation!

Spoonbills in the Netherlands
All about Eurasian Spoonbill research in the Netherlands

I was particularly interested in bird banding endeavors. A short video showed how Barn Swallow researchers work, and I was kind of wowed by the amount of birds caught in their nets.

Barn Swallow banding
Lots of Barn Swallows in mist nets

The last bird cases were reserved for the birds with the longest migration routes. The final bird was the Arctic Tern, with a migration journey of 15,000 kilometers.

Arctic Tern migration
The Arctic Tern travels over 9,000 miles during migration!

Arctic Tern at Naturalis
Arctic Tern, the migration champion of the exhibit

Opvetten en wegwezen will continue at Naturalis through February 20th, 2011. I highly recommend it!

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Into the North Sea


IJmuiden is located at the mouth of the IJ river and is an important port, connecting Amsterdam to the North Sea. The Zuidpier (south pier) juts about two kilometers into the North Sea. The small map at right shows the approximate location of the pier. Below is a what the pier looks like on Google maps. As part of our short birding trip based out of Leiden, IJmuiden was our next major stop (following the Oostvaardersplassen).

We visited on a windy Sunday. The forecast was horrible so we weren’t too surprised to see few other people out on the pier. The only creatures on the beach were gulls, and our first Eurasian Oystercatchers of the trip.

Beach from Zuidpier, IJmuiden

We were on a tight schedule so we had no choice but to visit IJmuiden on the day we did, but we lucked out with the weather, mostly. It didn’t rain but ominous clouds hung low all morning and the wind was fierce. There were a few sport fishers on the pier; we were the only birders. The below picture was taken at the start of the pier, with the beach on the left side. On the far right you can see the lighthouse on the end of the pier. It was a long, windy walk!


Unfortunately, it wasn’t too birdy. We did get some nice looks at another oystercatcher, plus small groups of Ruddy Turnstones turned up every few meters and didn’t mind us stopping to snap some photos.

Eurasian Oystercatcher | Scholekster

Ruddy Turnstone | Steenloper

Ruddy Turnstone | Steenloper

The Red Knot and Stonechat were not so accommodating. That’s birding. Win some, lose some.

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Returning to an old haunt

During our recent trip to the Netherlands, Arthur and I twice visited one of our old birding grounds, Starrevaart. We primarily birded the lake from the hide “de Vogelknip.”

In preparation for the trip, I checked the blog of a Dutch birder who frequently visits Starrevaart. I was shocked to read that the bird hide there had burned down in June 2009. It was a total loss! But then I was pleasantly surprised to read that a new hide was built just a few months later. Phew! It’s a sturdy little hide, very similar to the previous one. A nice addition was a site-specific bird ID poster.

Interior Vogelknip
Brand new shutters. See the shiny new latches? They all worked! (That won’t last)

Starrevaart Poster
Some of the birds you might see from de Vogelknip

Of course, the wonderful view as just about the same as we remembered it.

View from Starrevaart bird hide
What the birds see

View from Starrevaart bird hide
Looking northeast

Great Crested Grebe
A Great Crested Grebe living up to its name

View from Starrevaart bird hide
Greylag Geese, swimming and landing; looking west-southwest

Mute Swan
Three Mute Swans

View from Starrevaart bird hide
More Mute Swans; looking northwest

It was great to go back to one of our old regular birding spots and sit for a while, quietly watching the birds. One of my favorites was a Great Crested Grebe having a nap on the choppy water. I also took a short video of this weary bird.

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What a bird blind should be

One of the last places we visited on our auto-tour of the Oostvaardersplassen on August 14 was a blind called de Grauwe Gans (the Greylag Goose). This little palace of birding is everything a bird blind should be, in my opinion: functional, comfortable, and perfectly located to view birds. While this blind is very nice, it’s not atypical of Dutch or European bird blinds I’ve visited. I have not seen anything like it in the U.S., so far.

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The path leading to the bind is bordered by a privacy fence

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The blind is octagonal, with windows on six sides

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
A small utility shelf is made extra handy with bird ID guide images right on the shelf surface

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The view from the blind

I’ve created a Flickr pool for photos of bird blinds or bird hides. There are 279 photos in the pool now, and I’d love to have more! Please have a look and submit your appropriate pictures to the Bird hides / bird blinds pool on Flickr.

A very short video ‘tour’ of the blind

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BPW: Hot Spoonbill-on-Spoonbill action!

You never know what kind of behavior you’ll see from a bird blind. If the blind is good (and the birders are quiet), the birds should be comfortable and you’ll get to see them acting naturally. From the Grauwe Gans hide in the Oosvaardersplassen area, I spent some time watching a pair of Eurasian Spoonbill allopreening. Allopreening is mutual grooming, usually associated with pair bonding. Spoonbills have such long, unhandy-for-self-preening bills, I’m not sure this is pair-bond behavior or simply a mutually beneficial preening co-op between friends. Notice the surrounding geese are also taking the time to beautify themselves. Click on any picture to embiggen.










Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Netherlands | 5 Comments

Transmitter-fitted Black-tailed Godwits unable to breed

Some interesting news about the side-effects of attaching or implanting location transmitters on birds. This is from bird researchers at the University of Groningen, roughly translated from this article.

Grutto (2)
Grutto (2) by Alamagordo, Creative Commons on Flickr

Twelve female Black-tailed Godwits fitted with transmitters last May were unable to successfully breed this year. The birds, which are a threatened grassland species, did attempt to mate, but the transmitter worked inadvertently as a birth control device (IUD). The data was reported last week by Theunis Piersma of the University of Groningen in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

Scientists from the University implanted the transmitters, which are like small radios, inside fifteen female godwits. The purpose of the study was to learn more about the exact migration route of birds. The birds breed in Friesland, in the north part of the Netherlands, and migrate to southern Europe and Asia for the winter.

Although the study yielded a wealth of information about the migration habits of the birds, researchers were very disappointed with the inadvertent side effect it had on the birds’ lack of breeding success. One bird did lay eggs, but the eggs were deformed and did not hatch.

Via the work with the implanted godwits, the researchers noted that three of the birds flew more than 5,000 km non-stop, averaging 70 km per hour.

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BPW: Preening Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Remember this dapper Green Sandpiper we saw from the Grauwe Gans blind? Well, it took him/her some work to look that good. I snapped some shots of the bird having a good preen.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Netherlands | 6 Comments

Birding around Flevoland, part 3

During our day birding (or should I rather say our day of visiting bird blinds?) the Oostvaardersplassen in Flevoland, we stopped at six different spots to watch birds along the Oostvaardersdijk (see part 1 and part 2). After Julianapad, we headed inland to the Grauwe Gans (Greylag Goose) blind. We spent a lot of time here watching the shorebirds and waterfowl.

View from Grauwe Gans blind
The view from the blind

A small flock of feeding Pied Avocet was particularly entertaining. There was a large flock of Eurasian Spoonbill – most were napping, but a couple of begging babies amused us while annoying an adult bird. Pied Wagtails, Green Sandpipers and Common Sandpipers spent time close to the hide.

Pied Wagtail

Common Sandpipers
Bathing Common Sandpipers

Green Sandpiper
Handsome Green Sandpiper

You might notice I haven’t said too much about the blind. That’s because I’m saving it for another post! 🙂

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Birding around Flevoland, part 2

After visiting the Lepelaarplassen and stopping a couple of times on the Oostvaardersdijk to view birds (see part 1), Arthur and I continued on to a few bird hides around the Oostvaardersplassen. Along the dike, decorative metal fences pay homage to the birds of the area.

Dike fence

Dike fence

Our first stop was the hide along the Julianapad on the northeast side of the Oostvaardersplassen. Most of the hides and observation points in this area are very nicely signed. This illustration gives you an idea of the birds you might see from the hide.

The hide at the end of the path is an open building, with lots of openings facing the water at different heights.

Julianapad hide

Julianapad hide

Unfortunately there were hardly any birds to view from the hide. I didn’t mind too much, as there were birds to watch inside the hide.

Julianapad hide

There were half a dozen Barn Swallow nests in the rafters of the hide. Most were empty, but two held nestlings. Parents provided food to the nestlings in the blink of an eye. Youngsters also sat in one of the windows, watching adults outside hunting and begging when the adults approached them.


Begging Baby Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow juveniles

After this, we headed back to the car to visit, you guessed it, more bird blinds. Read all about in Part 3.

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Birding around Flevoland, part 1


On August 14th Arthur and I rented a car in Roosendaal, bid his family adieu, and headed north. We drove to Flevoland for some birding around the Oostvaardersplassen. The red area on the small grey map shows approximately the area we visited.

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any?) might remember that I’m a big fan of bird blinds or hides. I guess that means I prefer to be a lazy birder. Let the unsuspecting birds come to me, I say!

Anyway, the Oostvaardersplassen area is full of blinds, and we spent the day checking out the birds from several of them. You can click on the image below to see the Google map of the blinds. It’s pretty neat; when you click on satellite you can see the little round blinds sitting next to the water. There are actually more bird observation points in the area; I just focused on the full-on blinds and the points we visited.

Bird blinds in the Oostvaardersplassen area (we visited the blue & fuchsia spots)

Our first stop was the Lepelaarplassen. (On the map above, it’s the blue marker on the far left.) On the trail to the blind, songbird activity was slow, though we did see a couple Common Redstarts.

We also saw a group of birders who took it upon themselves to create their own blind. The birder palaces already in place aren’t good enough for these folks, noooo! 😉

Blinded Birders

As we approached the (official) blind, named after the Eurasian Spoonbill (“de Lepelaar”), the trail itself was blocked off from view of the water. I think we took these pictures as we were leaving — but you get the idea. All the better to hide the birders!

Trail to de Lepelaar

Trail to de Lepelaar

There was plenty of fowl on the water, although nothing out of the ordinary. Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Greater Scaup, Mallard, Northern Shoveler and Little Grebe were present.

Northern Shoveler

In a bird blind

After snapping some photos, we were on our way to the next stop – observation points along the Oostvaardersdijk, which lies between the Markermeer and the inland lakes (Oostvaardersplassen). These are the pink points on the Google map. Here we saw a few species of gull and tern, and lots of fowl.



Our next stop was, you guessed it, another blind. Read the continuation in Part 2 and Part 3.

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