Sunday, 25 October 2015

Texel - October 14th - 21st 2015

On 14th October I embarked on my seventh trip to the island of Texel in the north west of the Netherlands, having sailed from Harwich the previous evening from the ironically named Harwich International.  The port, which has almost no amenities had now suffered the loss of the gangway, meaning the handful of foot passengers had to be transported to the ship by a clapped out bus.  Since 2014 the terminal only supports the ferry to Holland, since the Danish carrier DFDS had been forced to withdraw its out-dated ferry for commercial reasons.  After the withdrawal of the Newcastle-Bergen service in 2009, there is now no passenger service to Scandinavia from the UK.

I arrived on Texel on the mid-day ferry, full of excitement, after a week of high pressure and easterly winds promising much.  However, given the vast amounts of cover on the island, it's inevitable that a lot of good birds must get over-looked, yet the island still draws a lot of birders from everywhere in Holland, especially in the autumn when Dutch Birding organize their Birding Weekend, which this year ran from 16th - 18th October.  

Overnight, the weather had turned more inclement with clouds and some rain resulting in a massive fall of migrants onto the island.  I had experienced some good birding on Texel before, but the sheer number of birds present in the following few days was exhilarating.

After dropping off my rucksack at my guest house, I set off to explore the woods and scrub around de Krimbos and Sluftervallei campsite.  It was immediately apparent that something quite extraordinary was happening with common migrants everywhere .   A twitter message I had read earlier, which said ‘Norway is now empty’ was beginning to make sense.  There appeared to be at least one Goldcrest or Robin in every bush, tree and tussock - trust me this is scarcely an exaggeration.  Redwings were breezing through the trees in tremendous numbers – there were just thousands of birds around, with smaller numbers of Chiffchaffs, Bramblings and Siskins adding to the mix, as well as a handful of Wheatears and one late House Martin.  With so many birds moving through, my hopes of something really good in the following days were high. 

The next morning began fine, with cloud thickening during the day and there had been no change in the number of migrants about, which made birding exciting and rewarding.  I headed for the north cape and the lighthouse, seeing a Rough-legged Buzzard briefly, en route.  After adding Blackcap to the week list, I was soon watching a Great Grey Shrike after being tipped off by my friend Jonathan, who helpfully fed me news as and when it broke.  Being literally a minute’s walk from the bird was mere luck.  Any number of Goldcrests were living very dangerously in the shrike's vicinity, and the bird would have a very nice menu with such an abundance of the tiny passerines to feast on.

Goldcrest - Wietze Janse

After a tip off from Erik Mengveld, I headed to the beach north west of the lighthouse, in the company of Norbert van de Grint, where we were able to get wonderful views of two Arctic Skuas loafing on the beach.  The birds were relatively unconcerned with their small audience and it was a rare opportunity to observe these birds on the ground at this time of the year.  

Arctic Skua - Jos van den Berg

After enjoying this spectacle we headed through dunes, observing a female Merlin overhead and then connecting with a nice Yellow-browed Warbler in de Tuintjes – a small scrubby area of willow and sycamore, which is a magnet for good birds.  I spent the afternoon birding alone and rounded off the day checking the low tide at de Cocksdorp, where I had two Spotted Redshanks and a Greenshank among the hundreds of Dunlin and Curlew and thousands of Oystercatcher and Common Redshank.

The Friday was dull weather-wise but adrenaline was pumping as news that a Red-necked Phalarope, found late the previous day was still present at a pool just north of den Hoorn.  Luckily, my host Ger Monterey needed to do the weekly shop at den Burgh and was pleased to drop me off and pick me up.  The bird began right at the back of the pool at Grote Vlak but eventually flew obligingly close, pirouetting furiously around a party of Shoveler and giving fantastic views in the scope.  

I worked the north end of the island in the afternoon, seeing two Bearded Tits, one Ring Ouzel and a Water Rail feeding in the open.  The winds were still veering between east and north east and if anything the number of common migrants had increased and I was almost falling over Robins, and Fieldfares were now pouring in too.  Just before packing in for the day, a walk around the trees to the west of the village provided a surprise in the form of a Northern Long-tailed Tit, with small flock of europaeus.  Remarkably five of these lovely birds were observed in the garden of Vincent Stork, the following day.

caudatus Long-tailed Tit - Vincent Stork

I met up with my good friends, Wietze and Jonathan Janse later and after a superb dinner of baked local Plaice we went to the Eirland House at de Cocksdorp where there was an interesting and informative talk on separating the various forms of Siberian Stonechat.  Although the majority of the lecture was in Dutch, it was remarkably self-explanatory, especially having mugged up on my Dutch topography and because so many names for birdy hues are the same or similar to English.

I joined Wietze and Jonathan on the Saturday, birding from the car down the east coast and then finding a Firecrest at Prins Henrik before news broke of a Black-throated Thrush at Loodsmanduin campsite.  However, despite hot wheeling it across the island, we were fifteen minutes too late and the bird had flown off with Redwing having showed itself to just 10 people or so.  Despite a thorough search by a couple of hundred birders the thrush was never relocated and a single Marsh Harrier was the only bird of note.  Somewhat deflated, we headed south to check the dunes south west of de Mokbaii.  Spirits were lifted, with the highlight a self-found Siberian Chiffchaff, as well as a single Great White Egret, a Peregrine, six Jack Snipe and two Ring Ouzels, all providing some consolation.

Siberian Chiffchaff - Wietze Janse

After a much needed cappuccino at de Robbenjager, we had a second Siberian Chiffchaff before we working the dunes and bushes around de Tuintjes.  we obtained fantastic views of a Rough-legged Buzzard and bagged another Ring Ouzel as we were careful not to step on the Robins that were flitting between our legs.

Rough-legged Buzzard - Alex Bos

The Sunday was another wet day and we made the most of the poor light, birding from the car and opted to check the various car parks that are dotted down the west coast.  We had a few Wheatears at post 28 and then two Shore Lark at Westerslag near post 15, by the car park.

A random comment that I needed Barn Owl for my Dutch list was a most fortuitously timed remark, as we just a few hundred metres from a known roosting site and we popped in the barn briefly to see one huddled on its perch.  As the weather improved we found a Water Pipit in a flooded field near Oost and then did a detour to de Koog, where a Hooded Crow had been found.  After a bit of a run around we connected with the bird among a gathering of Carrion Crows.  Not uncommon forty years ago in the Netherlands, this is now a good bird to see and the third of four Dutch ticks for me that day. 

Shore Lark - Wietze Janse

After the inevitable and welcome coffee and cake stop, we had a Short-eared Owl overhead at de Tuintjes, before Wietze called time on his weekend trip and I bade him and Jonathan farewell, opting to be dropped off at the lighthouse car park, just as a Woodcock flew past.   A yomp across the beach to the ‘Dam’ a breakwater formed by a row of rocks was rewarded by awesome views of two Purple Sandpipers, bathing and feeding among the Turnstones and Sanderling.  An adult Caspian Gull was also seen here, loafing and preening with the Herring Gulls.

Purple Sandpiper - Andy Hall

Being a solo birder again on the Monday, I opted for a sea watch at pole 28, as the winds had backed north north west.  I had nothing major, but boosted the trip list with a few Gannets, a nice raft of Common Scoter and five Red-throated Divers just off shore.   Working the dunes just south of here I had another Rough-legged Buzzard, initially on the ground and then in flight, plus a single Lapland Bunting overhead and a single Hen Harrier.  As I took a coffee break at Strandpaviljoen, and within the radius of the cafĂ© Wi-Fi I checked the bird news on the app and found that I was just 20 minutes’ walk from an Olive-backed Pipit, which had been found in de Krimbos, the wooded area, just west of de Cocksdorp.  I paid the waitress and headed off as quickly as I could.  Looking at the app, my meagre Dutch told me the bird was nailed on and I joined a group of birders who had the bird on the ground right next to the cycle path.  The bird showed beautifully, its tail pumping, as it favoured the edge of the wood moving between bare branches and the short grass.

Olive-backed Pipit - Marc Plomp

Satisfied with my views and happy to let those with better cameras get some mind-boggling photos I was alerted to a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, which had been found in de Tuintjes.  I wasted no time walking the mile or so north and after a bit of a wait, got onto the Seven-striped Sprite.  The sun even came out and the assembled birders had lovely views of this legendary species at close quarters.  Surely nothing evokes the autumn more for the birder than Phylloscopus proregulus hovering among withered sycamore leaves!

Pallas's Leaf Warbler - Alex Bos

My last full day was spent locally in the morning where I found a spanking male Black Redstart and then in the afternoon on the east coast looking at ducks and waders.  Between de Waal and Oost I stumbled across a field with a nice assortment of waders, including 150 Ruff, 2000 Golden Plovers, a Grey Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone.   On the Waddenzee north of Oost were about 1000 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5000 Golden Plovers, along with thousands of Wigeon, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, a few hundred Avocets, along with stacks of Knot and other common waders and ducks.

Eurasian Wigeon - Andy Hall

In the evening I ate at de Rog, now re-opened with new management, and still serving excellent food.  I had the Texel salad, which is chicken strips with cashew nuts, avocado and green salad.  This was washed down with the award winning Texelse Bok Beer. 

After yet another successful autumn trip I am eager to do a spring trip, where I am told Bluethroats are in every bush and Dotterel are a safe bet.  Something to look forward to!

I would like to extend special thanks to Wietze Janse, Jonathan Janse, Jos van den Berg, Marc Plomp, Alex Bos and Vincent Stork for their assistance, friendship and hospitality and for the photos.  Thanks to Josie Plomp for the coffee .

Species List

Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Tundra Bean Goose Anser fabalis
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Brent Goose Branta bernicla
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Gadwall Anas strepera
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Pintail Anas acuta
Shoveler Anas clypeata
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Common Eider Somateria mollissima
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Gannet Morus bassanus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Great White Egret Egretta alba
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Merlin Falco columbarius
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Coot Fulica atra
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
European Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Rock Dove Columba livia
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
House Martin Delichon urbicum
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta
Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus
Blackbird Turdus merula
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Redwing Turdus iliacus
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Pallas's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Siberain Chiffchaff Phylloscopus tristis
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Coal Tit Parus ater
Great Tit Parus major
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Siskin Carduelis spinus
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Mealy Redpoll Carduelis flammea
Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

Andy Hall October 2015

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Gibraltar Point - September sea watching and more

In need of a break and with an interesting northerly blow predicted, I opted for a weekend in Lincolnshire from 4th - 6th September, 2015.  Knowing this was prime sea watching conditions for Gibraltar Point and the chance of some migration, I set off after work on the Friday.

The train was not as bad as it could have been, with the school holidays over and the carriage not too full, I arrived at Skegness just before 4pm and after checking in, in my hotel in Seacroft, I headed for the nature reserve.  A one and a half mile walk, often relieved by taking the path through the dunes, I stuck to the road, following information that recent high tides had made the coastal path treacherous.  My one departure from the route was to take the path into the dunes, which is a public right of way over the golf course, which was a good move, as I bagged a nice juv Cuckoo hawking insects there.

My first port of call in the reserve proper, was the hide over-looking Tennyson Sands, where I had three Spoonbills (there had been up to 18 in August); also here were three Spotted Redshanks and two Greenshanks, plus the host of Avocets and commoner waders.  Satisfied I had cleared up there, I headed for Mill Hill, the highest point on the reserve, and the favoured spot for sea watching.  Kev Wilson, the warden had just arrived and I set up my scope as he was getting onto an Arctic Skua.

In one and a half hours, which used up the best of the light, we had two middle distance Long-tailed Skuas moving south.  Juv birds, they showed the typical rakish jiz, faltering progress and very little of a white mark in the primaries.  A more distant bird going north, was less useful, but still identifiable.  Apart from the size and structure, the Arctic Skuas seemed far more direct and purposeful in their flight, the Long-taileds doing more shearing, and with a somewhat see-saw like flight.

A Kittiwake, several Sandwich Terns and a Common Tern were added to the list and we finished off with a failed search for a Garganey on the mere, though getting awesome views of a Barn Owl. Thanks go to Kev for the lift back to my hotel.

My digs, the Links Hotel in Seacroft, which is the posh end of Skegness, was a bit like entering the 1970s.  I expected chicken in a basket to be on the menu with its oak beams, white table cloths and red napkins.  Instead I had the meat and potato pie with chunky chips.  It was fantastic!  rather rustic but extremely competent and tasty.  The chips were proper man's chips with the emphasis on chunky!  It was all washed down with drinkable pint of Bateman's XXXB.

I opted for a packed breakfast, setting off for Gib at 5.30 on the Saturday morning.  There seemed to be a bit of a movement of hirrundines, including a Sand Martin, while on the reserve, I had a Peregrine, which put the 130 Black-tailed Godwits to flight.

I was a week late for the really good drift migration on the east coast, but there were still healthy numbers of Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and one each of Lesser Whitethroat and Common Redstart.

A sea watch produced another Long-tailed Skua, but closer than the previous evening's birds, as well as some really close Arctics, three Fulmars and then three distant Sooty Shearwaters.

After a break for lunch at the temporary visitor centre, where a Green Sandpiper came out of the creek, I headed for the east dunes and then out to Millennium a ridge.  A small party of birdwatchers were scanning the Wash, and one of them pointed out a very high raptor, which was moving south east some way to our right and so not quite overhead. I got the scope on the bird, and it was clearly a Honey-buzzard.  We watched the bird continue on its way and somewhat somewhat surprisingly head out over the Wash and was lost as tiny speck, on its way to Norfolk.

I added to the day list later with Common Buzzard to the west of the visitor centre, and then managed pretty passable photos of two Spoonbills on Tennyson Sands.

I managed a couple of hours birding on the Sunday morning, adding Great Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier to the trip list, but apart from numerous Siskin 'tueeing' around the reserve it was rather quiet in the beautiful weather.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Black Kite at Barton-in-Fabis -- one that got away?

This is an account of a Black Kite seen from the tower hide at Attenborough last weekend.  How much I wish the bird could have come a bit closer.  You win some - you lose some.

On 22 August at around 4.30pm, I was watching Gadwall Anas strepera from the Corbett hide, when Sandy Aitken drew my attention to a raptor, which he thought was not a Common Buzzard Buteo buteo. I got onto the bird immediately.  It was at medium height in the direction of Thrumpton.   My initial impression was that the bird was a kite Milvus sp. but not a Red Kite, so I considered if the bird was a Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus.  However, I didn't think it looked right for a harrier of any kind, mainly owing to the shape of the bird and the persistently flat profile of the wings in flight.  I have seen a few migrant Marsh Harriers over the years and I think they are quite distinctive, after the initial 'it's not a buzzard' moment.  The light conditions though bright, meant that the bird was largely in silhouette. 

After about a minute, I noticed the bird twist the tail and I saw a shallow but definite 'fork' or notch, though far less pronounced than the blunt scissors of Red Kite Milvus milvus.  At this point I first seriously considered that the bird was a Black Kite Milvus migrans.

I continued to watch the bird in my bins, as Sandy switched to his scope.  It began to drift closer but changed tack and headed away towards Barton. It continued to fly steadily away and then lost height as it flew in front of Brandshill Wood.  It was very hard to see at that time and we both lost the bird to view for about 15 seconds. However I did manage a very brief glimpse when it showed dark brown upperparts.  It then reappeared on the top of the tree line at the far left of Brandshill and then soared for a while before drifting out of sight at around 4.32pm.

We had discussed the identification as we watched the bird, effectively ruling out Red Kite and Marsh Harrier and both reaching the conclusion that it was a Black Kite.  

We put the news out and Rob Hoare searched for the bird from his side, but to no avail.  We waited for a good hour, in case the bird returned but it appeared to have left the area.


A medium large buzzard-sized raptor.  The bird was a fairly concolorous dark brown.  The cloud cover and position of the sun made assessment of colour tone and detail impossible.

The bird glided mostly, always on flat wings, never once showing a shallow 'V'.  When it did flap, the flight was very elastic on what were rather angular-looking wings, compared with Marsh Harrier.  The tail was seen to twist a few times, on one occasion revealing a very shallow fork, but in the main, the tail appeared to be straight ended.

The structure of the bird was somewhat more compact than Red Kite but looser than Marsh Harrier or Common Buzzard.  The tail was long like a kite.  Although there were no birds for comparison, my impression that it was smaller than Red Kite.

Despite my best efforts, I saw no plumage features at all, though Sandy saw a paler contrasting area on the upper wing near the carpal area.

After considering all the options, including juv Red Kite, I was convinced of the identification of Black Kite.

I have seen hundreds of Black Kites in France in the last six years, at every angle and distance.  I am 100% certain of the ID.

Confusion species

In considering Black Kite in all but ideal conditions, one must eliminate Marsh Harrier.  However, the shallow tail fork, flat wings and angular wing shape, bent at the carpals were all wrong for Marsh Harrier.  

The bird was more compact than Red Kite and we would have seen the more obvious tail fork of an adult.  On juvenile Red Kite, while the tail fork is less pronounced, these are considerably paler birds and this would have been evident in the brief views I had against Brandshill Wood.

Weather conditions:
Very warm and humid, with tall white and dark grey cumulonimbus.  Light good, but scattered and diffused in cloud. The winds were south easterly force 4 with thundery outbreaks of torrential showers following our observation.

Opticron Verano 8 x 40

I was all ready to submit this record, but unfortunately Sandy, having lost valuable time finding the bird in his scope, just when it showed best, admitted he could only be 99% sure of the id and therefore could not submit the record.  I feel a good record has been lost, but credit for Sandy for sticking to his credentials.  In the circumstances, I felt I could not proceed with the submission.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

South Limburg 20 - 23 March, 2015

Having missed a few species in my previous trip to south Limburg in May/June 2013, I opted for an early spring trip to the Netherlands' southernmost province in March 2015.

Leaving Nottingham on an early train to Grantham, I took the Virgin train first class to London.  The service on the train was first class in every respect with unlimited coffee and a scrummy cooked breakfast all in the ticket price of £79.  Yes expensive by European standards, but feeling oddly good value for money with the comfortable seats and expansive leg room, wifi etc.

There was a nice connection in London, meaning I could check in immediately on the Eurostar after the short walk from king’s Cross to St. Pancras International.  I travelled Standard Premier, which is only slightly better than standard and includes a light continental breakfast and coffee with refill, plus extra leg room.  Probably worth the upgrade (just).  Had the croissant, roll and Danish been warm it would have been perfect, but there you go.

I changed trains in Brussels, Liege and Maastricht, which sounds more arduous than it is and was birding in Valkenburg by 3pm with my good friends Wietze and Jonathan Janse.  Valkenburg is a delightful little town, in the hilly district of south Limburg.  It has retained its mediaeval charm with ruined castle and quaint streets.  There is a plethora of restaurants and basic amenities.  Good birding is available on its doorstep around Geulpark and Ingendael, about which more later.

We headed south of the town into a flat arable area with scattered hedgerows near the village of Sibbe.  Here we located a Corn Bunting among 20 Yellowhammers, plus Redwing, Common Gull and an obliging Kestrel.  Corn Bunting is now a tricky species in the Netherlands and this was a good one to get under the belt.  Unable to improve on the species list beyond the basics, we headed back to Valkenburg and parked at the castle carpark at Oud Valkenburg, which has an old watermill and excellent tea rooms. 

Walking along the wooded footpath by the river Geul we quickly added the stock woodland species, including Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Short-toed Treecreeper.  A little further on, by the bridge we bagged a very nice male Grey Wagtail and a Kingfisher.  On our return route I spotted a couple of woodpeckers, which on brief views looked ‘different.’  A short wait and the birds picked their way along a trunk and we got good but fairly brief views of a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.  The species is increasing in south Limburg, and March is the time to see the species when the trees are bare and the birds are active and calling.

After a super three course meal at de Munt in Valkenburg, we said goodbye to Jonathan, who had work the next day and I had an early night.

The Saturday like the previous day was cool with overcast skies but birding in the forest as we had planned didn’t require nice weather.  Wietze and I  headed for the Belgian border and the extensive forest of Vijlenerbos.  These are ancient forests of oak, beech, spruce and Larch.  Leaving the car we had a Common Crossbill overhead and then set about finding our target woodland species.  There is a network of paths and without GPS or someone who knows where they’re going, one could get seriously lost.  

Over the next three hours we logged around 30 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 40 Nuthatch, 1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, three Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, one Firecrest and at least one macrodactyla Eurasian Treecreeper, which showed extremely well.  Short-toed Treecreeper were also present, with Goldcrest, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit etc.

With the sun threatening to show through we stopped off at the lovely water mill at Volmolen Geudal near Epen.  Here we had nice views of a female Black Redstart and more Marsh Tit, which are remarkably abundant in the area. 
South Limburg is famous among other things for its vlaai; a moist tart of various fillings.  We found a nice little restaurant, with views over the hills towards the Belgian border and I had a scrumptious piece of pineapple vlaai with my cappuccino. 

Warm and refreshed we headed for Maastricht via the scenic route and parked up at the reserve at Eijsder Beemden, which has a number of lakes by the huge river Maas.  This was a productive spot.  We explored the area on foot and we added, on the outward route, a pair of Willow Tits, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Common Pochard, Gadwall and a Caspian Gull.  The river itself was unremarkable for birds, so we made a big loop around the pools, where we saw four Garganey – including two drakes, several Teal, a Pintail, single Common Snipe and an awesome ringtail Hen Harrier. 

We returned to the car just in time to avoid a huge deluge and crossed the river near Maastricht and made our way to the hill at Sint. Pietersberg.  This is home to a pair of Eagle Owls, which breed in a cave above the quarry there.  With the sun now beaming down, we had excellent scope views of a bird sitting on the edge of its cliff.  We watched the bird for half an hour, along with yaffling Green Woodpecker, a perched Common Buzzard and Long-tailed Tit.

The rain set in again, mixed with hail and we sought shelter near Valkenburg near Ingendael, an area of wooded hillside with nature trails.  The excellent Villa Warempal supplied an awesome Dutch apple pie with cream, ice cream and coffee.   The place is an old guest house now a pension and tea rooms, done out in an old fashioned style with rustic charm.

Replete, we set off up the hill and had amazing, prolonged views of a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Wietze had a single Waxwing here, although I didn’t get on to it.  There were a few Redwings here also, the obligatory Marsh Tit plus Goldfinch and Greenfinch.

We returned to de Munt for dinner and I had escargot and fillet steak, washed down with the Affligem Dubbel, a dark but mellow beer at 6.8% abv. The restaurant has an excellent selection of local beers, some coming in at 13% abv!

We were out early again after breakfast on the Sunday, this time heading north to the German border at Brunsummerheide  This is an area of mixed woodland and heathland.  It was cold and birds were slow to rise.  However, we had a Black Woodpecker giving the distinctive krik-krik flight call, two pairs of Wood Lark and totally mind-blowing views of two male Crested Tits in full song.  We also saw Kingfisher by the car park, as well as Siskin.

Wietze needed to be back home by the evening, so after coffee and apricot vlaai at the castle tea rooms at Oud Valkenburg, he left me to my own devices.  I decided to explore the hills to the south of the village.  It was now sunny and raptors were beginning to do their thing and I had three Common Buzzards, displaying Goshawk, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.  In the woods I had a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  Returning to Valkenburg, I did a full circuit of the river and lake at Geulpark.  I was rewarded with close views of two Hawfinch, a pair of Garganey and another male Goshawk.  There had been a big arrival of Chiffchaffs and I counted 10 singing birds.

After watching the first episode of the Stonehenge series on BBC2, I dined at de Munt yet again and had the fresh trout.  All meals come with either a chips or fried potatoes, fresh vegetables and a side salad. 

I had a quick breakfast on the Monday, noting a singing male Black Restart en route to the railway station. 

Accommodation was at Hotel Riche, Neerhem 26, Valkenburg.  I was charged 120 Euros for three nights bed and breakfast via  The continental breakfast at the Riche was particularly noteworthy.  They don't cut a dash in bedroom furniture but it was clean and adequate.  

London St. Pancras International to Brussels return was £190 Standard Premier or £130 standard.  But note: prices vary daily.  Travel time was 2 hours.  Brussels to Valkenburg return was 56 Euros.  The travelling time was two hours and thirty minutes including changes at Liege and Maastricht.

Species list
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Barnacle Goose (ouo)
Red-breasted Goose (ouo)
Common Pochard
Tufted Duck
Grey Heron
Great Crested Grebe
Little Grebe
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Water Rail
Common Snipe
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Caspian Gull
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Eagle Owl
Green Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Crested Tit
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Eurasian Treecreeper
Short-toed Treecreeper
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Black Redstart
House Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Common Crossbill
Corn Bunting

ouo = of unknown origin

A few photos from the trip

Apricot vlaai

Chiffchaff at Geulpark

Crested Tit at Brunsummerheide (Wietze Janse)


Feeling happy after good birds and Dutch baking

Garganey at Eisjder Beemden (Wietze Janse)

Middle Spotted Woodpecker at Ingendael (Wietze Janse)

Hen Harrier at Eisjder Beemden (Wietze Janse)

Pineapple vlaai

Sparrowhawk at Valkenburg

River Geul in valkenburg