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Archive for May, 2018

I was particularly excited for my Birdathon this year as it provided me with my first opportunity to see how many species I could find in one day in my new home in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Being such as small country, I could go “coast to coast” from the North Sea to the west to the shores of the man-made Makermeer east of the city with just my bike and one half-hour return train trip. This year also marked my first “green” Birdathon – done wholly by public transit, bike and on foot. The decision to make May 15 the big day was a bit last minute – read 10:20 the night before when I checked the weather forecast for the coming week – and hence some aspects of the day were rather impromptu, but hey, that just adds to the fun right?

At 6:00am I arrived at Central Station where I bought the bicycle supplement for my train ticket to Zaandvort – Noord station. I was counting on the southern sector of Zuid-Kennemerland National Park to account for the bulk of my forest/dune scrub species and I had an good start quickly picking up common forest species such as Song Thrush, Common Nightingale, Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Jay and Great and Eurasian Blue Tits as I made my way to what I thought was the park entrance I wanted. Upon arrival it became apparent that there were no bike paths at this entrance so I backtracked about 15minutes to a different access point. This proved to be an excellent “set back” as in short order I heard a Eurasian Green Woodpecker (quite local) and even better, a singing Wood Warbler! I had seen hundreds of the latter on my recent trip to Italy but they are a rare species in western Netherlands. It was easy to track down as it moved between exposed perches in the understory singing his heart out!

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A poor “record” shot of the Wood Warbler 

Bouyed by my early success and very much enjoying the beautiful spring woods around me I pressed on reaching the scrubby forest habitat soon afterward. Greater Whitethroates were singing from seemingly every shrub and I found my only Tree Pipit of the day followed by a surprise Hawfinch foraging quietly in the canopy of an oak. Movement on the ground below it drew my attention to a male Eurasian Bullfinch, another species I had expected to miss! Up ahead I could hear a Common Redstart singing at a clearing edge and as I made my way towards it my only Northern Goshawk of the day flew over.

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Hawfinch

Moving northward I encountered some proper dune scrub where I was very pleased to hear the cascading notes of a singing Wood Lark, a species I was unsure I would be able to pick up. Here there was also a European Stonechat and my first Common Swifts of the day foraged overhead. With most of the expected species in the bag for the habitats I had been through I spent the next half hour biking out to the coast at Ijmuiden. South of the Ijmuiden pier is a small lake surrounded by reeds and willow scrub and here I came across my first Eurasian Reed Warblers, Bank Swallows, Garden Warbler and a beautiful male Bluethroat. As I made my way back to where I’d dumped my bike I finally heard a Lesser Whitethroat, a species I had been expecting earlier and one I was beginning to worry I would miss.

At the base of the Ijmuiden south pier a lone Barnacle Goose was loafing on the beach with the ubiquitous Herring Gulls, a few Mew Gulls and several Common and Sandwich Terns. Along the pier itself were dozens of Ruddy Turnstones foraging on the rocks with the odd European Oystercatcher as well as a lone Dunlin and two Common Sandpipers. Just as I was about to leave I spotted a distant dark blob on the water. I started biking further out the pier to get closer but it took off and circled around the end of the pier. It was distant, but luckily it came close enough to confirm it was a Common Scoter! I had been hoping for a lingering one as they are reported from here with some regularity but I had all but given up after a fruitless 20 minutes of sea-watching prior to this birds appearance.

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As always seems to be the case on a Big Day, I was behind my very loose “schedule” so I made a push to get back to the train station where I arrived with a couple minutes to spare to catch the 11:20 train back into Amsterdam. Hopping off at Sloterdijk station I biked the half hour south to the Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) where I had only a few targets left to find. At the park entrance I heard the hoped for Alexandrine Parakeet, a species with a small introduced population in the city. My remaining targets for the Bos were Stock Dove, Long-tailed Tit and Sedge Warbler and my first stop was a viewing platform over a patch of wetland, perfect I hoped for spotting flyby doves. A Common Cuckoo was putting on a show, singing and flying between perches around me. Unfortunately, nary a dove had flown past, indeed nary a BIRD had flown by – it seemed mid-day was not the time to be dove-watching. I decided to carry on to where I had a singing Sedge Warbler last summer. This too proved fruitless as despite many Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and other species being in full song my target was not. As I did not have a specific spot for my final target the Long-tailed Tit and would have further opportunities for it, I decided to head to Amstelpark where I knew a pair of White Storks nested. Sure enough, one was on the nest when I arrived.

Out of food and needing to pick up my scope at the apartment I headed home. A check of the bus schedule showed that I had an hour before I needed to leave to catch the bus out the east side of the city to the Durgerdam area so I decided a quick nap was in order. Of course, I accidentally set my alarm for “weekends” and overslept by 10 minutes! Rushing to get to the bus station I was relieved to see the bus still there however, an extra few seconds struggling to detach my tripod from my bike cost me as the bus pulled away just as I was stepping onto the platform. I had not been looking forward to biking over the two bridges between me and my destination, especially as I would be going into the wind, but there was nothing for it but to bite the bullet so I reattached my tripod and started peddling.

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Eurasian Spoonbill

Arriving at the fields north of Durgerdam I quickly spotted my first Great Egret of the day. On the other side of the road a Eurasian Kestrel hovered. Despite the habitat seeming perfect I couldn’t hear any Eurasian Skylarks singing and I would ultimately miss them, along with Meadow Pipit despite returning via this route – I suspect the fairly brisk breeze had something to do with it. At Uitdamerdijk and a wetland nearby I was hoping to pick up a few waterfowl and several shorebirds. The first stop had the usual locals such as Common Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit and across the way I could see several Northern Shovelers. A little further along the dike I reached the edge of the Makermeer, a man-made lake, where an enclosed bay is often quite good for shorebirds. Unfortunately the water level was high and only a few slivers of shore were available. A couple dozen Eurasian Spoonbills foraged along these and a couple pairs of Red-crested Pochards were in the bay along with the common ducks but no lingering wigeon or teal. A sharp “tseep” overhead alerted me to my only Western Yellow Wagtail of the day flying over. My final stop in the area was along the shore of the pond that held the Shovelers where there was a bit more exposed mud but only the locally breeding shorebird species. A lone immature Great-blacked Gull loafed with them and finally, I heard a Sedge Warbler – big relief! The surrounding fields held several hundred Barnacle Geese but no Meadow Pipit or Skylark.

It was 7:30 and I had one more area to visit so I slogged back across the bridges towards the city. Atop the second bridge I was surprised to hear a Cetti’s Warbler give a burst of song. Stopping to make sure of it I did not hear it again. Doubting myself I was contemplating moving on when again it sang, yes, definitely a Cetti’s! It seems as if maybe a few pairs (or at least singing males) are present in the city year round but this was the first time I had encountered one (although again, I had seen and heard several in Rome on the aforementioned Italy trip).

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Little Grebes may have been AWOL but Great Crested Grebes were common

Continuing along the banks of the Rhine Canal I stopped at a pond in the south of Diemer Park where I found the hoped for male Common Pochard, one of the last species I had a realistic hope of seeing. One more target remained (having given up hope on the Long-tailed Tits), Little Grebe, a species I had found a few pairs of in April at the nearby Diemer Vijshoek. Nearing the trailhead for this protected area I could hear a soft, insect-like buzzing coming from a reed bed at the side of the bike path. Stopping I compared it on my phone to the songs of a couple warbler species and yes, it fit Savi’s Warbler! I tried in vain to see it, as it would be a lifer for me, but it wouldn’t budge from wherever it was hunkered down. Still, another new species and an unexpected one at that and one that made up for the fact that there was no sign of any Little Grebes, despite checking several ponds and the shoreline around the park edge.

It was 9:35pm and the day was drawing to a close, as was my Birdathon. My weary legs slowly pedalled me homeward and as I contemplated my day I was brought back to the present by another Cetti’s Warbler singing from the willows beside me. My second Cetti’s and a fine finish to an exhausting, but exhilarating day!

Once home, and after a very late dinner of leftover dahl and naan from the night before, I submitted my ebird checklists and waited for my day totals to be summarized. 95 Species was the final count! I had figured that with good luck with lingering early migrants/wintering waterfowl 100 species would be a realistic hope and given I was lacking in those departments, as well as missing several shorebirds that I had hoped for, this was a very respectable tally!

Thank you to all who have contributed to my Birdathon, proceeds from which will go towards funding the migration monitoring program here at TLBO. To make a contribution please go to:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon/page/averys-birdathon-for-tlbo/

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