Yesterday we (Frank van Duivenvoorde, Luuk Punt en me) left for Belgium. A couple of days ago, a Dusky Thrush was reported in Erezée in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes. The bird stayed, and beautiful pictures arrived also in the Netherlands. When Luuk called me if I wanted to join, I didn't hesitate: The Dusky Thrush was a lifer, views were apparently really good and the Ardennes is a very nice area. So I cancelled my other appointments (sorry for that, my friends!) and went to bed, to catch some hours of sleep. We left at 5.20 a.m. for a long drive to Erezée. A major part of it, we had to drive in the dark, temperatures were way below zero. It was years ago, since we had these arctic circumstances in this part of Europe. Especially when we entered the snow covered parts of Belgium, the temperature dropped. Our record was -16 °C. There was one luck however, there were no clouds and no wind. When we saw the sun rise, it was actually a quite pleasant day.
When we arrived in Erezée, there were already about 20 - 30 people present. Different languages were spoken, French, Dutch, German and English: We weren't the only twitchers that wanted to see this species. Many of our Dutch birdwatcher friends had also left for Erezée. Ridiculous if you think of it... without knowing of each other we met in a small place in the Dutch Ardennes. A place that probably no-one had heard of before... but there we stood, waiting for a lost bird to arrive in -15 °C.
It had chosen a small orchard with appletrees. One old tree had still a lot of apples on its branches. And about 15 Blackbirds, one Fieldfare, a few Starlings and one Mistle Thrush were feasting on these apples. Especially on the ones that were fallen below the tree.
Then all of a sudden the Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus arrived. We had magnificent views on this beautiful bird, that originates from central Siberia and eastwards. Dusky thrushes are rare vagrants in Europe. Apparently it was the fifth record for Belgium, but the first since 1956!
The combination of very fine plumage elements made this a very nice bird. The wing pattern, the double breastband, the diamondshaped markings on the sides, it's supercilium, all fantastic! All these different tones of brown colours, wow! The crowd stayed calm, the bird showed off, the snow,... a small vacation in Belgium. All in all it was a fantastic twitch.
We drove through the Ardennes in the direction of the Dutch Province of Limburg. Near Herstal we saw the reported Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides. Inland Iceland gulls are rare and we had some short but good views. After a few minutes the bird flew off together with a couple of thousand Black Headed Gulls. We are quite used to large amounts of gulls, but this was really enormous.
The rest of the day we spent birding and enjoying the nice scenery in the Dutch Province of Limburg. We dipped out on the Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo on the Pietersberg near Maastricht. But had some magnificent hours at the Hamster nature reserve near Sibbe. This is a large agricultural reserve. Made for the last Dutch wild Hamsters Cricetus cricetus, but many other animals can benefit from this protected area as well. We saw hundreds of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Common Wood pigeons, Jackdaws and Rooks and in betweens these groups we found about 15 Corn Buntings Miliaria calandra. A speciality from this area, they have become really rare in the rest of the Netherlands. A few Northern harriers and splendid views of a hunting Merlin.
All locations and pictures of the birds can be found through http://waarneming.nl/ and http://waarnemingen.be/
A last picture from our very nice day. The scenery from a typical "Holle weg" (= hollow road) in Sibbe in Limburg. Frank and Luuk ahead of me walking towards the car.