A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Netherlands Trip Report - Nutcrackers and the plastic fantastic (12th - 13th January 2019)

The Netherlands – home to a network of winding waterways, windmills, cyclists and for winter 2018/19 at least, surprisingly the host of a vagrant Spotted Nutcracker. Originating from the vast Russian mountains far over to the east, this popular, showy and well-watched individual originally set up home in the Dutch town of Wageningen back in the middle of November, and having stayed faithful for over a month, we made the decision to head over for the weekend in an attempt to connect. 
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
The rather showy Spotted Nutcracker that took up residence back in Winter 2018/19
Having booked our flights on Christmas Eve for the 12th January (the cheapest and earliest dates we could go) it was a little concerning when the bird went AWOL a few days later, with no further reports after lunchtime on the 30th. Luckily and rather remarkably the Nutcracker thankfully got re-found just 3 days later at an entirely different location, testament to the great birding community the Netherlands boasts, and it was all systems go come the morning of the 12th with the bird staying in place right up to the Friday before our trip. 
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands

Logistics

Flights were booked directly from Manchester to Amsterdam Schiphol with Flybe, taking on average just over an hour each way, with car hire from Hertz for the two days (picked up directly from the airport). For our overnight stopover we checked in to the fabulous Ammonite Hotel on the outskirts of Amsterdam, sporting a gemstone and fossil theme with amazing decorations to boot, as well as an upmarket restaurant with excellent quality food (including their signature ammonite chocolate dessert with 24 carat gold leaf that we couldn’t resist sampling). 
Ammonite Hotel - Amsterdam
Ammonite Hotel - Amsterdam
Ammonite Hotel - Amsterdam
Ammonite Hotel - Amsterdam
A well earned treat after a day in the pouring rain!
During the trip we got all our intel from the highly recommended Dutch website “waarneming.nl”, which lists all recent bird (and other wildlife) sightings in the country as well as providing GPS locations and maps to aid finding them. For anyone looking to visit the Netherlands this website is invaluable. 

Trip Report

With our flight departing Manchester early doors at 7am and landing in Amsterdam just an hour later at slightly after 9am local time, collecting our hire car was a quick and easy process and we were soon well on our way to Wageningen where the Nutcracker was currently residing. Alex’s friend Paul and his young son Zac had joined us for the first half of the weekend, and with a journey time of just over an hour we were on site by 11:30am, parking up on a nearby side road and setting to work exploring the block of houses where the Nutcracker reports were emanating from. 

The GPS co-ordinates pointed to a cluster of houses next to the main road, but with no other birders on site we were a touch unsure of where exactly the bird had been favouring. Splitting up in an attempt to track it down, we had soon located the set of feeders in a front garden where the bird had been photographed the previous day, indicating we were in the right driveway at least, and sure enough, a few moments later I turned around to see one fat Nutcracker staring back at me from a small shrubby tree mere feet away. Calling out to Alex (who’d disappeared off down an alley) and with Zac and Paul joining me from their lookout further down, a few frantic phone calls to Alex later and the four of us were admiring the Nutcracker up close, foraging and bathing in the garden birdbath literally feet away. 
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Our initial views of the Nutcracker
The paved driveway next to the houses was to be the Nutcracker’s stage for the next few hours, and this charismatic individual put on a fantastic show just feet away (despite the pouring rain that seemed to have set in), gathering the array of hazelnuts Paul had brought with him and perching obligingly on the nearby fence and branches.
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Storing the gathered nuts in a small pouch below the bill, we watched as it hopped comically from side to side (with extremely corvid like movements) burying them in the adjacent lawn or storing them in the forks of branches after picking off the shells – fascinating to watch.
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
We were never sure if the Nutcracker had sustained wing damage, or if it was merely soaked wet through due to the rain
Over the course of the afternoon we achieved outstanding views as the Nutcracker gorged on the hazelnuts we put out for it, extremely tame and even coming to feed out of our hands on several occasions without any signs of fear. An absolutely unforgettable experience and unbeatable views of our first Nutcracker!
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Couldn't resist!
With the Dutch bird being of the subspecies macrorhynchos (the Slender-billed Siberian race from the north east of Russia), this occurrence in the Netherlands mirrors a number of irruptions across Europe this winter, which this subspecies in particular is especially prone to doing when cone crops fail en-masse in their home range - a prime example being the remarkable figure of 315 that arrived in Britain in 1968. The nominate race caryocatactes (found in Scandinavia and Europe) is slightly larger than this subspecies, sporting a thicker bill at the base with a narrower white band at the tip of the tail. 
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
Note the slender base of the bill
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands
As well as the white band on the tip of the tail - just visible here
Getting our fill of the Nutcracker and exploring the nearby working windmill (in hindsight we should have been off looking for Middle-spotted Woodpeckers in a nearby cemetery car park!) we headed back north to Amsterdam to drop Paul and his son back off at the airport for their flight back to London, eyes peeled along the way for any Bar-headed Geese merged in with the goose flocks at the side of the road. 

While the flat green fields were full of Egrets, Herons, Greylags and Mute Swans, we couldn’t pick out any interesting goose species as we sped along, and with Paul and Zac safely dropped off at the airport we set to work trying to locate some of the Alexandrine Parakeets that had been seen regularly at one of the parks on the outskirts of Amsterdam - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos. With our gen once more garnered from waarneming.nl, it was obvious the birds had taken up residence in a nesting hole halfway up the trunk of a large Willow tree right on the edge of the park, but with the light now starting to fade as dusk approached it was apparent nobody was home – the hole was empty. 
Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos - Netherlands
Sadly nobody home on this occasion
After a quick distraction of an overwintering Dusky Warbler skulking in the bushes alongside the canal, loud squawks led us to a pre-roost party of Ring-necked Parakeets high up in the neighbouring trees, and it wasn’t long before a louder, harsher and lower pitched parrot call saw us track down two Alexandrine Parakeets calling vociferously from the trees lining the pathway next to the car park, their diagnostic red shoulder markings still visible even in the fast fading light. 
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Success at last!
With one of the birds (the female) hopping in to a small hole in one of the dead trees we were able to get a closer look, but with the light now all but gone we resolved to get better views and photos the following day, instead checking in to our Ammonite themed hotel for the night and tucking in to a fine dining feast of duck rolls and “pulled chicken” after surviving the day munching on croissants and dry snacks.
Amsterdam
The view across Amsterdam from out hotel
With the weather forecasting more of the same downpours and lashing gales for the Sunday, we abandoned our plans to try for Middle-spotted Woodpecker further south in the country and instead I punched in the grid reference to a small flock of Bar-headed Geese seen the day before on the outskirts of Amsterdam, just 25 minutes from the hotel (once more superb and highly accurate info from waarneming.nl.) I’d been having trouble nailing down a reliable flock that wasn’t several hours in the wrong direction, with most birds either in the far south east or north of the Netherlands, so it was a stroke of luck to find a recent report so close to the Airport. Approaching the fields they had been spotted in revealed White-fronted and Greylag Geese en-masse with a handful of Egyptian Geese thrown in for good measure, and sure enough, turning the corner and arriving at the exact field of the GPS we were met with the ghostly grey figures of four Bar-headed Geese
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
The field in question where the Bar-headed Geese were residing
Being far from a purist when it comes to Cat C listing abroad, I was especially keen to catch up with this species during our short time in the Netherlands, and we filled our boots as the quad slowly made their way through the field, feeding up and eventually settling down to rest.  
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
The Bar-headed Geese in all their glory!
With the Dutch being renowned for their lax approach to ferals, escapees and altogether plastic additions to their official country list – not even having a Category C (or for that matter a Cat D!) in place, there are three species on the Netherlands list of established exotics that are “countable” – Alexandrine Parakeet, Bar-headed Goose and Black Swan (the latter of which we’d already seen in Australia).

Native to central southern Asia, while Bar-headed Geese have been introduced to several countries, the Netherlands is the only place where a sustainable breeding population has been established, and 100-125 breeding pairs are now present since first being introduced in the 1970’s.
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
Bar-headed Geese - Amsterdam
With success on the plastic goose front and with several hours to spare before our late afternoon flight back to Manchester, we slowly made our way back to Amsterdamse Bos for a second crack at the Alexandrine Parakeets, this time in daylight. Established in many of the parks around Amsterdam (including Vondelpark and Oosterpark) and a Cat C species here in the Netherlands, while present in much smaller numbers they reside alongside the ubiquitous Ring-necked Parakeets that seem to be continuing with their urban takeover. 
Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Thankfully this time one of the Alexandrines was in attendance at the nest hole, peering out and glaring at us from above, and after a short walk around the canal system we returned to find the pair mating on one of the large branches nearby.
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
Alexandrine Parakeet - Amsterdamse Bos - Koenenbos
With our flight now calling we made the short ten minute drive back to Schiphol Airport and bid Amsterdam farewell after what had been an enjoyable short break away (despite getting to the airport 2 hours early and with no baggage to check in, the sheer size of the airport and masses and masses of gates and terminals meant we spent almost an hour of this getting to our gate – a word of warning for anyone traveling from Schiphol – get there with plenty of time to spare!)

With unbeatable views of the Nutcracker despite the horrendous weather and two Cat C species in the form of Bar-headed Goose and Alexandrine Parakeet in the bag, this was an incredibly easy weekend journey to plan and one I’d highly recommend for anyone thinking of doing a bit of Netherlands birding – indeed the 1 hour flight back to the UK meant we were even home in time for tea!
Spotted Nutcracker - Netherlands

Monday, 17 February 2020

Michigan Birding Trip Report (25th May - 2nd June 2018) - Photo Gallery

Michigan Trip Photo Gallery: Lifers

Acadian Flycatcher - Nan Weston Preserve, Michigan, USA
Acadian Flycatcher - Nan Weston Preserve (31st May 2018)
Alder Flycatcher - Haughton Boardwalk, Michigan, USA
Alder Flycatcher - Haughton Boardwalk (26th May 2018)
American Woodcock - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
American Woodcock - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Bobolink - Fibre, Michigan, USA
Bobolink - Fibre (30th May 2018)
Brewers Blackbird - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Brewer's Blackbird - Grayling Forest (26th May 2018)
Broad-winged Hawk - Mayfield, Michigan, USA
Broad-winged Hawk - Mayfield (28th May 2018)
Brown Creeper - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Brown Creeper - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Clay-coloured Sparrow - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Clay-coloured Sparrow - Grayling Forest (28th May 2018)
Common Nighthawk - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Common Nighthawk - Grayling Forest (26th May 2018)
Dark-eyed Junco - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco - Grayling Forest (27th May 2018)
Dickcissel - Sharonville SGA, Michigan, USA
Dickcissel - Sharonville SGA (31st May 2018)
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Field Sparrow - Sharonville SGA, Michigan, USA
Field Sparrow - Sharonville SGA (31st May 2018)
Golden-crowned Kinglet - Hulbert Bog, Michigan, USA
Golden-crowned Kinglet - Hulbert Bog (29th May 2018)
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road (28th May 2018)
Grasshopper Sparrow - Sharonville SGA, Michigan, USA
Grasshopper Sparrow - Sharonville SGA (31st May 2018)
Henslow's Sparrow - Sharonville SGA, Michigan, USA
Henslow's Sparrow - Sharonville SGA (31st May 2018)
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling Forest (27th May 2018)
Lark Sparrow - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Lark Sparrow - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Least Flycatcher - Hulbert Bog, Michigan, USA
Least Flycatcher - Hulbert Bog (29th May 2018)
Mourning Warbler - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Mourning Warbler - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Pine Siskin - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Pine Siskin - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Sedge Wren - Lake Lansing, Michigan, USA
Sedge Wren - Lake Lansing (2nd June 2018)
Sharp-tailed Grouse - Rudyard, Michigan, USA
Sharp-tailed Grouse - Rudyard (30th May 2018)
Sora - Lake Lansing, Michigan, USA
Sora - Lake Lansing (2nd June 2018)
Trumpeter Swan - Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio, USA
Trumpeter Swan - Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (25th May 2018)
Upland Sandpiper - Munuscong Potholes, Michigan, USA
Upland Sandpiper - Munuscong Potholes (29th May 2018)
Veery - Hulbert Bog, Michigan, USA
Veery - Hulbert Bog (29th May 2018)
Vesper Sparrow - Grayling Forest, Michigan, USA
Vesper Sparrow - Grayling Forest (26th May 2018)
Willow Flycatcher - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Willow Flycatcher - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Yellow-breasted Chat - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Yellow-breasted Chat - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Non-lifers
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
American Redstart - Shumsky Road (28th May 2018)
American Robin - Detroit, Michigan, USA
American Robin - Detroit (31st May 2018)
Bald Eagle - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Bald Eagle - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Blackburnian Warbler - Hulbert Bog, Michigan, USA
Blackburnian Warbler - Hulbert Bog (29th May 2018)
Black-capped Chickadee - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Black-capped Chickadee - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Cedar Waxwing - Hulbert Bog, Michigan, USA
Cedar Waxwing - Hulbert Bog (29th May 2018)
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road (28th May 2018)
Common Yellowthroat - Lake Lansing, Michigan, USA
Common Yellowthroat - Lake Lansing (2nd June 2018)
Eastern Kingbird - Fibre, Michigan, USA
Eastern Kingbird - Fibre (30th May 2018)
Eastern Phoebe - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eastern Phoebe - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Eastern Wood Pewee - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Gray Catbird - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Gray Catbird - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Northern Cardinal - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Northern Cardinal - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Purple Martin - Lake Lansing, Michigan, USA
Purple Martin - Lake Lansing (2nd June 2018)
Red-eyed Vireo - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Red-eyed Vireo - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Red-headed Woodpecker - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Red-headed Woodpecker - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Red-winged Blackbird - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Red-winged Blackbird - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Sandhill Crane (Lesser) - Fibre, Michigan, USA
Sandhill Crane (Lesser) - Fibre (30th May 2018)
Savannah Sparrow - Fibre, Michigan, USA
Savannah Sparrow - Fibre (30th May 2018)
Song Sparrow - Oak Openings Preserve, Ohio, USA
Song Sparrow - Oak Openings Preserve (1st June 2018)
Swamp Sparrow - Lake Lansing, Michigan, USA
Swamp Sparrow - Lake Lansing (2nd June 2018)
Tree Swallow - Fibre, Michigan, USA
Tree Swallow - Fibre (30th May 2018)
Warbling Vireo - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Warbling Vireo - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
White-breasted Nuthatch - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
White-breasted Nuthatch - Hartwick Pines (27th May 2018)
Wild Turkey - Haughton, Michigan, USA
Wild Turkey - Haughton (26th May 2018)
Yellow Warbler - Magee Marsh, Ohio, USA
Yellow Warbler - Magee Marsh (25th May 2018)
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