vrijdag 30 mei 2008

The Nine Killer (Red-Backed Shrike)

The Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio looks so sweet and harmless, but behind their mask these birds are ferocious killers! They eat large insects, small reptiles, small mammals and young birds. You wonder where the colloquial name "Nine Killer" comes from? This is an old folk name, it was thought that the Red-backed Shrike killed nine prey before eating them. Shrikes have a habit of impaling their prey on branches or barb wire. They don't eat everything immediately and that's where the story originates; that they kill nine animals before starting to eat them. It's remarkeble that this bird got this name in several countries (German: "Neuntöter", Dutch: "Negendoder"), so you almost start to wonder whether there's some thruth in the name. There's no other bird family in Western-Europa that impale their prey. So if you ever find impaled prey animals, you know there's a species of shrike present.

These beautiful birds were once widespread as breeding birds all over Europe. Nowadays numbers are declining, especially in north-west Europe. In the UK there's hardly any breeding birds left. In the Netherlands the species also declines, but there are also some new colonisations. The species needs the old European structure rich landscape, with small waste lands, scrub areas and hedges, which was rich on insects. These types of landscapes vanish and so do the birds that depend on them. Birds like Ortolan Bunting, Corn Bunting, Whinchat (see picture), Little Owl and Red-backed shrike are all declining in the Netherlands or are already extinct as breeding birds. There's some hope however. Some of these area's are restored as cultural and natural historic areas. Global warming might also help, the species have their strongholds in the southernparts of Europe, maybe if temperature will increase this will give good opportunities for these species to return.

Today, I got a telephone call by Jaap. He discovered a Red-backed shrike in an area called Lentevreugd. I couldn't come immediately, but called some friends to tell them the good news. A Red-backed Shrike is a rarity nowadays in the province of Zuid-Holland and even if it wasn't, you could still never get enough of shrikes, they are simply beautiful! When I arrived later in the afternoon, the bird was still present. It was a beautiful male in full colours with it's grey head and the black mask throug it's eye. He had a beautiful pink breast and a very nice chestnut coloured back. Red-backed Shrikes migrate in winter through south-east Europe into East Africa, on the way back, they take the same route. This bird just arrived (probably it was still migrating) and was wearing a metal ring. The ring looked rather large and new and it was a shame we couldn't read the inscription, since it didn't look like a Dutch ring. I had great views of the shrike, which was catching insects and was even singing! At a certain moment I even saw it regurgitating a pellet of indigestible insect parts.

Very very very nice!
For some better pictures of this bird see the pictures of René van Rossum:

maandag 26 mei 2008

European Scops Owl (Otus scops)

It was 11.00 p.m. when I got the first telephone call, I didn't even noticed it. The second and third call came by 11.15 p.m. The calls were made by two brothers and great friends. I wasn't very disturbed since they are able to call me for almost any small thing in the middle of the night. Probably a mouse, or a young Tawny owl or maybe they were playing some kind of practical joke on me... I was tired and decided to call them back tomorrow. Then, when I got the fourth call by another birder (Rein), I knew things were serious. When I picked up the phone he told me there was a European Scops owl calling at only 10 kilometres from my home! Amazing, but was it really this species? And how did I get there?

I was suspicious: two years ago some of my friends made the classical mistake in identifying nocturnal nature sounds. They mistakenly took the sound of a Midwife toad Alytes obstetricans for an European Scops Owl. How could you mistaken the sound of an owl with that of a toad, I hear you think? Well, the sounds are very similar and I must admit there were also some extenuating circumstances:
-When they heard the sound, they just returned from a long night of birdwatching and were very tired,
-they weren't aware of a feral population of Midwife toads which was close to the location of the discovered sound, no excuse off course ;-)
-There were a couple of toads present. This made the sound look as if it was moving: One toad could be calling for a few minutes, fell quiet and another toad 10 meters away would start calling.
-They saw something flying (whatever it was, it probably wasn't a scops owl...)

The sighting fooled experienced Dutch birdwatchers, even people who had experience with both species (toad and owl) abroad, so be aware! The next day, the truth was revealed, when we arrived, we saw a nice midwife toad walking through the grass in the sandy dune, although it wasn't a Scops owl, I liked it anyway since I had never seen an adult Midwife toad before. I've heard (I'm not sure whether it is just rumours or whether it is really true), that there are apparently even Birdsound cd's with recordings of Midwife toads in stead of the Scops owl (the species they claim to have recorded), so even learning from cd's might give you the wrong ID. The picture is from that second day, photographer is Maarten Wielstra. If you want to learn more about confusingly similar animal sounds, read this interesting article:
Insect, Amphibian or Bird? British bird, 77, No. 3, March 1984
(link will only work for a week, after that period, you have to search for it in a library or subscribe to British Birds)

So what about this new sighting? News spread quickly and within a few minutes transport was arranged. I got another phone call, a sleepy voice at the other end of the line: "Hi, they called me out of bed, I'm putting on my clothes now and I'll be at your place as soon as possible. It was hard to explain to my girlfriend, she'll probably never understand it, but I was able to get her car anyway. Be ready!"
Then another phone call of a friend (Maarten) who was already at the spot: "Wouter, it's the real thing!!" he said. I could even hear the bird calling through the telephone. When we arrived, there were about 30 people present. Mainly local birdwatchers. It looked ridiculous: 30 people, mainly men, staring with their binoculars in the dark, talking with lowered voices and pointing with their microphones to a ...tree...
No pictures this time, but this is what we heard:
A fantastic scops owl! Apparently the bird was already present since the 12th of May. Residents heard already for a couple of days some kind of alarm... So it's not only Midwife toads that can be confusing.

The next day there were a little more people than the 30 I described above... About 300 (!) people came to visit the Scops Owl:

The European Scops Owl breeds in Southern Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. In the Netherlands there are about 7 previous records of which 3 were found dead and 2 were caught. This was only the second twitchable bird for the Netherlands, the last twitchable bird was already ten years ago, so it is still a true vagrant. However it is a species that's supposed to benefit from Global warming and it is thought to expand it's breeding territory northwards. So maybe we can expect this species more often in the oncoming years.

zaterdag 24 mei 2008

Fochteloër Veen

The Fochteloerveen is a special type of peatbog, called "hoogveen" in Dutch or raised bog in English. It's the final stage of a vegetation succession. Succesion starts with a pond or lake, waterplants die and the pond gets filled by layers of dead leaf material. Under water oxygen levels are very low and therefore the plantdebri hardly decays. Slowly the pond gets filled completely by non-decaying dead plant material. When the pond is filled, slowly a forest can devellop. But even the forest will not be the final stage. Rainwater is the only source of water, which is low on nutrients and it has a relative low PH (it's a bit acid). Nutrients will be washed away and acidity will increase. A lot of plants and trees can't cope with this and die. In the end, you get a very special vegetation of all kinds of rare plants and peat moss Sphagnum. Peat moss can grow continuously. It dies at the bottom and grows at the top. It forms a kind of lens and the area gets a bit uplifted. That's why it's called raised bog.

In the past, large area's of the east part of the Netherlands were covered with this "hoogveen" habitat type. But in the past centuries most area's were destroyed for turf collecting. Now only a few relatively small area's remain, of which the Fochteloërveen is one. There is hardly any turfcollecting left and the area could be retained as an important nature conservation area. You can find here very rare animals and plants. Nowadays waterlevels are being kept high artificially and some other restoration is taking place. The Fochteloerveen restoration is a successtory. Amphibian and reptile numbers are high, numbers of dragonflies are impressive, rare plants are doing well and rare bird species returned or discovered the area. The best succes so far, was the return of breeding Common Cranes Grus grus. (The picture of the crane) isn't from today. The Fochteloereveen becomes one of the most important area's for species that are declining in the rest of the Netherlands.

Our return to this beautiful area wasn't a successtory, though. We wanted to have another look at the group of Red-footed falcons, but they were gone. The last birds left the day before... We couldn't find the reported Red-backed Shrikes, and a possible sighting of a Short-toed eagle was far from satisfying. Things got even worse when friends (Ben and "lucky"Luuk) discovered a red-throated pipit in a different part of the Netherlands. When we started the day there was some sort of funny competition between our two cars, who would find the best birds and the most species and it seemed as if we were the losing today. But although we "lost", we did see some good stuff like European Honey Buzzard, loads of Hobbies, two Red-necked Grebes (in Diependal) and two displaying Common Snipes. To see displaying Common Snipes is a rare thing nowadays and we were very happy with the sighting.

Because there were not as many rare birds as we had hoped for, we had to do with other stuff, like these two species of carnivorous plants:

<-- Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia

<-- Oblong-leaved Sundew Drosera intermedia
(the leaves are covered with willow seeds)

Even though things were not really succesfull today, the Fochteloerveen remains a beautiful place. So I can only say:
I'll be back!!!

vrijdag 23 mei 2008

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

In Dutch language we have a language construction that makes it possible to make a size distinction in a noun. For example there is "huis" (house) and "huisje" (small house). In English you use most of the time an adjective, but in Dutch this isn't always neccesary, you can often use the "-je" or "-tje" extension (there are exceptions in English, mostly in childlanguage with words like doggy and kitty, but it's also commonly used in English dialects). This construction (it's called a diminutive) was also used in many Dutch bird names. Apart from giving a size impression, it also makes a word sound nicer or friendlier. All different kinds of names were used to refer to one and the same birdspecies, this was confusing. In an attempt to standardize the Dutch birdnames the sector Environment of the "Centraal bureau voor Statistiek (CBS)" published a list of official Dutch names:
"Van Duuren L., Van IJzendoorn E.J., & Osieck E.R., 1994. Nederlandse naamlijst van Holarctische vogels. Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. Voorburg/ Heerlen."

The list was based on te usage of the names. The ones that were used most often were the ones that got an official place on the list. They kept the diminutive for a lot of birds. This lead to a lot of criticism, since it wasn't clear why you should use "-je" with one bird and not with the other. The critics claimed that "-je"and "-tje" extensions were merely based on affection for a bird rather than on actual size differences. They wanted to have the same rules for all the bird names and argued that the "-je"and "-tje" names should not be used. A few of these critics were translators of influential birdguides like the Johnsson and the Svensson and therefore their ideas and names were quickly adopted by a lot of people and institutions. However a few of their alterations just didn't sound right (or might never have been used before) and therefore they changed a few names back to the old situation. One of the names that was changed back was "Paapje" or Whinchat in English.

I think we should use the diminutives more often. What's wrong with affection? Some birds just happen to cause more excitement with me than others and often it are the ones that have the diminutives. Be honest, wouldn't you like to see a smew (Nonnetje) over a Red-breasted Merganser (Middelste Zaagbek)? Or a Jack Snipe (Bokje) over a Common Snipe (Watersnip)? And isn't a Wren (winterkoninkje) just a lovely creature? So is the Whinchat. For some reason I prefer seeing them over their closest relatives the Northern Wheatear and the European Stonechat, although they are lovely as well. "Paapje", it just sounds right!

Today I saw a singing male Whinchat somewhere in the province of Zuid-Holland. That's a rare place to see singing males. Once they were quite common breeders in the dunes but nowadays they hardly breed in this part of the Netherlands. Numbers went down dramatically in the Netherlands. Probably this was also not a breeding bird, but a migrating male. Whinchats can be hard to monitor. Some birds can still be migrating when other Whinchats are already breeding. Sometimes they sing when they rest during migration. Therefore one sighting of a singing male isn't enough for a breeding record. In the Netherlands it is nowadays a very scarce breeding bird, mainly in the eastern parts of our country. I was very pleased with this sighting since it was my first sighting of a singing male ever.

More about the diminutives in birdnames can be found here (only in Dutch):

donderdag 22 mei 2008

An Osprey!

An overflying Osprey! Thanks again to the gulls (Herring and Lesser black-backed) in my town! As I wrote before, gulls can be very helpfull in finding birds of prey. They make a lot of fuss when danger flies above their heads. Most of the time, they'll find the raptors sooner than you. So keeping an eye on them, would be a good idea. Today, all of a sudden there were alarming gulls everywhere. I realised there was something going on and when I looked out of my window I saw the cause: a soaring Osprey. Nice! Already the second I found this way this year.

Ospreys can be found almost everywhere on our globe, except Antarctica. They belong to the most widely distributed birds in the world. However they don't breed in the Netherlands! And no-one knows exactly why. The picture of the breeding Osprey is a picture I took in Florida in the USA. There are 4 subspecies in the world. In Europe we have Pandion haliaetus haliaetus and in Florida you have a different subspecies Pandion haliaetus carolinensis, but I couldn't find many differences with our own Osprey. In Florida they were breeding everywhere, so why not in Holland? Conditions in the Netherlands seem perfect, with our lakes, marshes, fish rich area's, but they are not here. We had some birds staying in Summer and a few breeding attempts in recent years but they were not succesful. I think reasons might be historic: Ospreys were hunted severely for ages and their eggs were collected (mainly in Great Brittain). Another serious reason for their historic decline was the use of some chemicals, like DDT. Ospreys are at the top of the food piramide and at the top the concentrations of persistent chemicals are higher. The top predators store most of the stuff their preys already stored and therefore accumulate much more than other animals. DDT caused serious problems with many kinds of birds. One of the main problems was the thinning of the eggshells and the toxicity to embryos. Some birdspecies were on the brink of extinction. Then by 1972 DDT was banned for agricultural use (however in some countries it is still being used). After DDT was banned, populations of birds of prey slowly recovered (but up to now concentrations can still be traced in the eggs of birds). The population of Ospreys also recovered from the DDT catastrophe and other pollutants and nowadays they are also much better legally protected, so hunting pressure went down enormously. That's why numbers are increasing, but expansion of their breeding distribution apparently goes slowly. Because there are no breeding pairs close to the Netherlands, it probably takes some time before they will establish here. At least that's what I think.

So for now, we have to do with migrating birds. And who knows, maybe in a couple of years we will also have a few of these magnificent birds breeding over here.

maandag 19 mei 2008

A Lifer! (American Golden Plover)

A lifer is a bird species you see for the first time in your life (actually, it doesn't have to be a bird, it could also be a mammal, a fish, a plant, or any other biological taxon). Some people will call it a tick on the lifelist.

That's easy, right? ...No, it isn't! Most birdwatchers make things a bit more complicated. For instance a bird can only be counted as a lifer if it is a wild one. So sorry folks, zoo-animals don't count, nor do escapes. But what about introduced species that manage themselves for many years (like the Pheasant in Western Europe), or reintroduced species (like the Raven in the Netherlands)? What would you do with them?

Things can become even crazier, there are rarity committees who examen your rare sightings. In the Netherlands you have the CDNA (Commissie Dwaalgasten Nederlandse Avifauna). In their minds (and in the minds of many other birders) you can only officially "tick" a rare species if the committee has accepted the sighting. The whole idea behind it, is off course to better document rarities and to exclude obvious mistakes, but for many birders it looks more like a game of getting a new tick on their list. Discussions wheter the committee should accept or reject a bird can be very long and very funny. Famous discussions (only in Dutch) were about a Green heron (more than 600 reactions and over 35000 views!) and about a Canvasback (More than 500 reactions and over 30000 views!).

And then above all you've got the fundamentalists who are even stricter than the committees: I've got some friends who don't count a bird when they've only heard it. So no Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla for them...even though they are absolutely sure that's what they've heard.

I am a bit in between all this. For me the list itself is not that important. But I do like to remember what I've seen and when I've seen it. I only count birds on my own list if I'm definately sure about the identification. And if I'm sure about a sound I will count it.

This Sunday resulted in a lifer. It was an American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica. In the past, before they were split, American Golden Plovers were considered conspecific with Pacific Golden Plovers Pluvialis fulva. They were two races of the Lesser Golden Plover, nowadays they are both considered full species. You can read more about them in this (probably outdated, but nevertheless interesting) article:

We (the same guys with whom I visited the Red-footed falcons yesterday) almost missed the bird. When we arrived the bird had just flown away. We drove around and scanned the surroundings but couldn't find it. In the end we decided to return to the place where it was last sighted... and there it was! It was a beautiful male in summerplumage and for me, Ben and Luuk a lifer!

Red-footed falcons (Falco vespertinus)

There's an invasion going on of Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus in the Netherlands. It started three weeks ago when the first rumours of Red-footed Falcons migrating north came from Spain and France. A few days later, the first falcons were reported on migration points in the Netherlands. Numbers and sightings increased and then the first reports of present falcons came in. Every year in spring we have a few sightings of Red-footed falcons, but normally they remain rare. This year however, the winds were good (we had a long period of eastern winds) and the falcons were probably driven by the winds to Western Europe. They were seen on numerous locations and it was the first time since the last invasion of 1992 that large groups were present.

Red-footed Falcons normally live in Eastern Europe and Asia. They breed there in small colonies, mostly within colonies of a different bird, the Rook Corvus frugilegus. Of which they use old deserted nests. In winter they migrate to Africa. In spring, when they return, they can get lost, that's when they show up in Western Europe. On rare occasions, this can result in a breeding record. There are some records of breeding Red-footed falcons from Germany, Sweden and Finland. In the Netherlands it however never occured, but who knows what this invasion will bring! They are mainly insect eaters and need areas with many large insects, like dragonflies.

Last Saturday me and some friends went to an area called the "Fochteloër Veen". There supposed to be a group of at least 30 Red-footed Falcons present according to the nature database Waarneming.nl. When we saw the pictures, we decided we should go there. The problem was, we couldn't. First opportunity was this weekend, so we were crossing our fingers and hoped the birds would stay. And they did! What marvellous birds! I always hoped to see them and never succeeded untill this year. The first ones I ever saw, was at the migration counting point at Breskens this year, but views were bad, nothing compared to what we saw at the Fochteloër Veen area. WOW!!! When we arrived at the spot in the morning, the birds were sitting in the top of dead Birch (Betula) trees. We counted at least 31 but it might also have been 34. I won't bore you with the details about this ambiguity concerning the count, what's important is that there were so many birds present!

It was possible to see all the plumage variations you can find in spring. First of all, in this species the sexes are not alike (they show sexual colour dimorphism) and there were males and females present. Then there were adults and 2nd calender year birds, so different age classes. But there were also large differences within the 2nd calender year group, which was really nice to see.

We were enjoying the falcons when my friends got a pageralert, through the Dutch Bird Alert system. A Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus was dicovered at the Lauwersmeer area. For three of us a Terek was a lifer and a bird which was high on our whishlist and thus we decided to go. It didn't work out; we didn't see the bird. The Lauwersmeer is however one of the best birding places in the Netherlands and although we didn't see the Terek we had a good time over there. Apart from the pleasant company the birds were also pleasant. Like numerous shorebirds at close distance (male ruffs in breeding plumage, temminck stints at 3m., etc etc.), 2 nice Whiskered Terns Chlidonias hybrida, 6 Black Tern Chlidonias niger, one Osprey, one Caspian tern Hydroprogne caspia and loads of other birds. On the way back we saw in Groningen two White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus (which completed the three marshterns you can see in Europe) and then we went back to the Fochteloër Veen to have a last look at the Red-footed falcons.

The falcons were even better than in the morning, catching insects (mainly dragonflies). Sometimes I saw them jumping into small trees or on the ground. It was colder than the days before and most dragonflies were inactive, so they had to grab them from the trees and bushes. They were flying right in front of us and weren't afraid at all, I even saw them hover! Splendid!!

donderdag 15 mei 2008

rooftop breeding gulls

Eradicate them! Kill their young! Get rid of them, this is not natural! I can't sleep! They are dangerous! All different kinds of reactions I've heard on the Large gulls breeding in our town. These comments look a bit overdone, but the gulls do cause problems. Even I have cursed a Herring Gull, that smudged my new suite. I can still lively remember the embarrassing moment. I could throw away the pantalon...

No, these gulls weren't always there. As a matter of fact they arrived only recently. Most gulls probably originated from a nearby gull colony. This colony was situated in Meijendel, a dune area north of The Hague. The colony got some fame through the experiments and observations made by Nobelprize winner and biologist Niko Tinbergen. His book "The Herring Gull's World" from 1953 is mainly based on observations made in this colony. The colony thrived untill the end of the eighties. By that time, 1986 to be precise, something changed in the dunes: we experienced the return of the fox (it's not really clear wheter the foxes were illegally introduced or wheter they arrived naturally, but they were there). It had a major impact on many animals in the open dune area. The gulls experienced a lot of predation and disturbance and then they moved. They fled to other large colonies, but some of them adopted a new breeding strategy, they started breeding on flat roofs. It looks strange, but maybe the gulls saw the buildings as some sort of cliffs.

It was a perfect situation for the gulls. Predation numbers were low in the city and food was close. The population grew and so did the problems. Apart from the fact that Dutch people always have to complain about something, there is, I think, at least one really serious problem and that's sleep deprivation. The gulls make a lot of noice, even by night and keep people awake. The local government tried everything to diminish the problems but untill now they weren't succesfull.

In our city you can find Lesser black-backed gulls and Herring gulls breeding. Some Common Gulls might also be breeding but I haven't seen them here. Common terns are also known to breed on rooftops and there's a breeding colony not far away.

Why would I write about dull gulls? Because the gulls aren't that dull. I enjoy watching them when I'm working and this year I was them very thankfull. Their alarmcalls resulted in a sighting of an Osprey and a sighting of a Black Kite, both scarce in the Netherlands during migration. So even if you don't like gulls, keep an eye on them!

dinsdag 13 mei 2008


The Raven Corvus corax plays an important role in our West-European Mythology and in our fables and storytelling. The two Ravens Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) for instance were the messengers of the North Germanic God Odin. They roamed the world by daylight and reported the God by night. There are also numerous stories and fables about ravens. One very well known is The raven and the fox by Jean de la Fontaine. In this fable the raven is portraited as a dumb bird of which we should know that it's song is not so nice. But in reality Ravens are very intelligent birds. They belong to the most intelligent birds in the world. Besides their intelligence they can be very vocal, and make all sorts of sounds.

Although Ravens are smart and adapted to eat all kinds of food, they were driven to extinction in the Netherlands. They had a bad name and were thought to bring bad luck. Therefore Ravens were shot, poisoned and their eggs were destroyed. By 1940 we lost them as breeding birds. A couple of unseccesful re-introduction programmes were started, and only in the 60's one of the programmes was succesful. Ravens were starting to breed again in the Veluwe (a major forest and moorland in the center of our country). But in the beginning things went slow. By now, they seem to be able to maintain their population and they start to expand their distribution.

This is a map with breeding territories in the Netherlands in 1998 - 2000. The map was created by SOVON: http://www.sovon.nl/ a non-governmental organization concerned with bird counts and research in the Netherlands.

Ravens are fantastic birds. In Holland they breed in quiet places and can be illusive. I was very fortunate to see a breeding pair with their young this weekend. The young birds had just fledged and were flying around with their parents. They were calling each other and sometimes they landed in the trees above me. Unfortunately I didn't bring my scope. So I had to "digibin" some pictures. Pictures are of a flying parent and a resting young.

The forest in which the Ravens were breeding was also good for some other nice species. I saw Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata. But best of all was a European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus peforming a butterfly flight right above my head!

I always liked the television series "the Storyteller" by Jim Henson. One of the stories is called the three ravens. It's a nice old folklore story and it would have been a nice addition to this message. I found it on Youtube, but it has been removed, so I can't give you a link.

zaterdag 10 mei 2008

Spring Migration in Breskens

Breskens is the best place in the Netherlands to view migrating birds in spring. On days when the winds are good (East/ South-east, 4 Beaufort scale) and the temperature is nice, birds pass in impressive numbers. The best time is the last two weeks of April en the first two weeks of May. This year the winds were extremely good and it rained rarities. Also commoner birds like swallows, swifts and meadow pipits were seen in high amounts and more than 100 species were observed while migrating every single day! That's why Frank and I decided to have another try at the Breskens migration point (it was our 4th time this year). Our main goal was to get a good view of red-footed falcons. Normally Red-footed falcons are quite rare in the Netherlands but occasionally they can show up in larger numbers. There seemed to be a small invasion going on and they were reported from many places in the Netherlands.

After a 2,5 hour drive, Frank and I arrived in Breskens. There were not as many birders as the days before (on good days there can be more than 150 people, today there were not many more than 50) and there were not many birds either. We got some really good species, but views were bad and numbers low. And although we got the Red-footed falcons we didn't go home completely satisfied. Maybe we got spoiled by al the good stuff we got the week before, or maybe we were a little jealous on our friends who decided to try their luck at other places (and were more succesfull), who knows....

Anyway, the best things I saw today were 2 (maybe three) Red-footed Falcons, 1 Red-rumped swallow, 2 Black Kites, 1 Osprey, 1 Montagu's Harrier, about 10 Hen Harriers, a few Hobbies and a few Merlins and 1 very nice Short-eared owl.

Candy of the day (translated directly from Dutch and probably not a proper English expression, but I like it anyway) was a Cattle egret in summer plumage in an area called "De Braakman". Frank got the sighting through his pager and since it was on the way back we decided to have a go at it. It's discoverers were still present and they pointed the bird to us. Otherwise it might have been quite difficult because the bird sometimes vanished into some pine trees which appeared to be a new Grey heron, Little egret and Spoonbill breeding colony! It collected sticks and small branches and apparently was building a nest. Wheter it was paired or not, we couldn't tell. We saw only one bird. Nevertheless a nice sighting. Also my first Cattle egret in breeding plumage in the Netherlands.

You can find the total results of the counts of today on the migration database Trektellen.nl , but don't forget to change the date to the 10th of May.

donderdag 8 mei 2008

Even more waders!

The waderplace I described here yesterday, becomes better and better! Last night I got a telephone call by a birderfriend, who told me numbers had increased and that there were some new species as well. I had suggested him (I even might have been a little pushy.. ) to visit the place. He called me in surprise. New species for the area that Bas discovered were Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula. Not real rarities, but nevertheless nice ones. Bas also saw a male Garganey Anas querquedula. One of our most beautiful ducks in Europe, and quite scarce.

These new discoveries were reason enough for me to visit the place again. With migrating birds you never know what to expect. Birds can stay for a couple of days or be gone in a few minutes. If you want to see something good, you should check good locations regularly. The inundated fields aparantly worked as a magnet for waders, so this was a potential good spot to find a rarity.
I didn't find any, but I enjoyed my stay. Numbers were high and birds were close. I got some splendid views. Taking pictures was a little harder.

I saw 20 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, 4 Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, 7 Ruff Philomachus pugnax, 5 Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola and some other nice stuff.

Really special was the emergence of thousands of Mayflies. They were everywhere, crawling up my tripod, my throusers, my bag. We saw the emergence from their last larval instar to adulthood. For some species of Mayflies this only happens on one or two days in a year and the insects live very short maybe only as short as a few hours. This makes it even more special!

For more information on Mayflies see Wikipedia

Local Patch Birding

I've found an interesting spot for waders (or shorebirds as Americans would call them), very close to my home. Some time ago I saw the place when I passed it in the train. At the time - it was January- I thought the place had good potential for spring migration, and I was right! The place is a small mitigation project created to mitigate the building of houses next to it. The fields were inundated a little and there are some higher and dryer grounds. Although the place is small and there are loads of people and it doesn't look like a nature area at all, there áre birds! In quite a few numbers for such a small area! It's amazing to see what a little water could attract!

Yesterday I saw 5 Temminck's Stint, 8 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Common Greenshank, 4 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 4 Common Redshank, 1 pair of Black-tailed Godwit with 4 very small and beautiful young. The picture above shows one of the five Temminck's stints.

A local patch is a birding place that you make your own. You visit it often and try to figure out all its ins and outs. This place might become my local patch if it stays like this. I will at least try to visit it as much as possible the next few months!