Happy Spring!

Happy belated vernal equinox. I read that it occurred sometime last evening, depending on your time zone. Anyway, I’ve got some pictures left over from the weekend that “didn’t fit the narrative,” so I thought I’d use them to help celebrate this special occasion.

First up, here’s a handsome tufted duck drake from Saturday, when the sun was out.


And here’s a common shelduck, from Sunday, when the clouds were thick and threatening drizzle. He’s probably a male, by the looks of his “particularly crisp” coloring, “bright red” bill, and “prominent knob at the forehead.”


Here’s a northern lapwing, and his “long crest and a black crown, throat and breast contrasting with an otherwise white face” all suggest that he is also a male. They are making an incredible sound lately, which I didn’t hear last summer, that sounds for all the world like a kid playing with an electronic toy.


Here’s another ring-necked pheasant cock strutting his stuff in the morning sun…


And here’s the bevy of hens he’s trying to impress. Don’t they just look enthralled?


Here’s yet another grey heron picture just because they seem to let me take these portraits if I’m quick about it.


Finally, here’s another look at the singing robin from Saturday, but deep in the shade.


Lastly, here’s another look at the singing bluethroat, also from Sunday. I read that you can also spot these in northern Alaska, in case you ever happen to be there. Keep an eye out.


‘Tis the season…

I spoke too soon about the spring weather, I guess, because the cool breeze this morning cut right to my bones even with another layer on, but I should thank my lucky stars that at least it wasn’t also raining.

The chill was worth it, however, to catch a glimpse finally of the aptly-named bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), one of only eight birds pictured on the wall of the blind at Ackerdijkse Plassen, so I figure it’s gotta be special. I had already been searching the reeds for a while, had decided to call it a morning, and was walking back to my bicycle, when I finally spotted this brave fellow willing to let me have a peek.


Take a listen to the sweet song he sings to announce his arrival.


Bluethroats aren’t the only birds belting out a tune these days, of course, and here’s a European robin making his contribution to the cacophony.


I also finally captured an image of a male European greenfinch (Chloris chloris) making his distinctive buzzing sound that I’ve been hearing for a couple of weeks. We’ve only ever seen a female before, but that was back in July, and she was keeping quiet at the time.


Back to the reeds, here’s one of several reed buntings chiming in, whom we saw already last week, and who are a lot bolder than the bluethroats.


That’s it for the little birds today. Next up, we have another member of the family Columbidae, the doves and pigeons, who is brand new to us: a stock dove (Columba oenas). I first noticed a pair last weekend and thought they were just feral pigeons, like the ones you can see in just about any city in the world, but they were in an odd location, far from town, and much shyer than pigeons usually are, so they took off as soon as I stopped for a closer look, hence my lack of a picture until now.

There were two again this morning, and they appear to be nesting under the thatched eave of the windmill on which he is perched.


Bigger still are these great crested grebes, whom I almost caught in the middle of their courtship dance, but who quickly quit as soon as they noticed me watching.


Even bigger, are these nesting storks, who appear to be up to a little remodeling this morning.


Perhaps he’s the one remodeling, and she’s just trying to stay out of his way. In any case, I sure hope he can wrap that up before the stork arrives…..


Anyway, here at last are a couple of the biggest birds on the polder performing their courtship maneuver. I had stopped my bike beside the trail, and I heard a ruckus behind me, but by the time I could get myself turned around, this was all there was to see.


Starting to get on Spring’s good side…

With any luck, we are finally done with snow and heavy overnight frost. Today I got away without wearing my poofy coat for the first time this season, and I mostly left my gloves in my pocket.

Another noticeable change is that the chiffchaff are back and singing up a storm. This morning it was sometimes difficult to hear other birds over the chorus of chiffchaffs busily announcing their arrival, but it’s always great to see that kind of enthusiasm.


The black-headed gulls have finally grown their black head-feathers back out.


Here’s one of the feisty little squawk-boxes suggesting to a buzzard that it soar over someone else’s pond.


Here’s a better look at that buzzard’s pretty underside.


Speaking of gulls, here’s another new one for us, a common gull (Larus canus) this time. It has grey wings and back, like a herring gull, but is almost as small as a black-headed gull, has a reddish ring on its bill almost like a ring-billed gull, and has dark eyes.


Speaking of new birds, here is yet another wading bird that I’ve never seen before, the striking pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), back perhaps from wintering along the northern coast of Africa. There were three of them, and even though they flitted around a bit, they kept about a couple hundred yards away, so I’m thrilled that the pictures came out as clear as they did.


Meanwhile the Egyptian goose goslings, which we first saw just last month, have already more than doubled in size, and are even starting to get their adult plumage in.


Finally, flowers are blooming everywhere, mostly crocuses and daffodils so far, but these actually look wild, and I believe they are the same marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) we see in Estabrook Park, but not until April. It appears that the Dutch call them spindotterbloem, which Google translates to spider marigold.


Almost drizzled out.

Oof, what a morning! At first, I was all excited because the rain did quit early, as I am sure you all hoped, and the radar looked nice and clear. Then, when I got out to the Ackerdijkse Plassen, I was reminded that soaking drizzle does not appear on radar, and I only dared take out my camera a couple of times.

Happily, one of those times was when this dashing sparrowhawk surprised the heck out of me and landed on a grassy berm just 10 yards in front of me. I had to shoot through a screen of tall reeds, but they were sparce enough and close enough to me that they barely degraded the image.


It didn’t take long for ol’ hawkeyes to spot me through the same reeds, however. Can you tell how I knew that my cover was blown?


And that’s it for today, I’m afraid, but luckily I still have a couple pictures from yesterday that I haven’t shown you yet. Here are a slew of curlews waiting for the ground to thaw enough for them to go foraging in it with those amazing beaks.


Here’s a passel of black-tailed godwits in a similar boat.


Here’s a common redshank, on the left, and an oyster catcher, on the right, just standing around on the ice.


And here’s a lapwing, on the left, and a redshank getting to work, on the right, after the ice finally melted.


Lastly, here’s a handsome ring-necked pheasant rustling up his own breakfast and completely unaware of all that ice.


A brand-new bird, some returnees, and a vagrant, oh my!

The trip to Bavaria I mentioned last weekend didn’t pan out, so I’m still here in South Holland, and what a beautiful day it was, especially after the rain and snow we had for most of the week. It was cold, and most open water had a skin of ice, but the sun was out, the air was calm, and the day warmed up nicely. The friend I was going to visit, Christoph, is also here, so he came with me into the countryside to see what we could see.

The first big surprise was this spoonbill, which we’ve seen before, but not yet this season, circling over the Ackerdijkse Plassen. Welcome back, you big beauty!


I mentioned that the water froze overnight, and here is a group of curlews, the bigger bird with the curved beak, and godwits, the smaller bird with the straight beak, standing around on said ice and waiting for it to thaw so they can get to their breakfast trapped below.


If you are wondering which godwits those are, good for you, but wonder no longer because here you can plainly see that they are black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa), a brand new species for us, and not the bar-tailed godwits I showed you last summer.


Here’s another big surprise, but in a smaller package. Long-time readers may recognize this female hooded merganser, whom we often see in Estabrook Park, but who has no business fishing on a canal in South Holland, or so I read. Where did you come from, little cutie, and how did you get here?


The northern shoveler, on the other hand, has a naturally occurring world-wide distribution, accept for Australia, so this drake is right at home.


Another new arrival I spotted today is this reed bunting, whom we haven’t seen since last summer.


And finally, here’s a great cormorant collecting nesting materials, and in case you are wondering where they nest…


…here you go. They have a whole rookery, with about a couple dozen nests, of which here are two, at the west edge of the Ackerdijkse Plassen, and to which there is a short footpath that I only discovered today. Better late than never, eh?


Those are the pictures fit to print from today, and thanks to Christoph for helping me spot so many gorgeous creatures. It is supposed to rain overnight, so keep your fingers cross that it quits by morning.

Weekend Wrapup

Besides all the new birds I saw yesterday or was finally able to photograph for the first time, there were plenty of old favorites around, too. While I was checking out the falcons up on the School of Architecture tower, I noticed a pair of European jays in the tree right over my head. They seemed oblivious to me, which was really odd, until I noticed a third, which suggests they were probably too busy sorting out some kind of love triangle to pay me any attention.


Out on the polder, I was happy to spot a small group of white-fronted geese, whom I haven’t seen recently, and whom I feared had all returned to the tundra already to make more .


Out on the water, I captured my best picture yet of a pintail drake and hen. This is the first time I’ve seen one sporting their namesake “pin tail”. Just last month the drake kept his pointed down toward the water.


I saw my first curlew of the season during the week, when I was just out on a bike ride without my camera, and I was sure glad it stuck around for me to come back and get this picture. Welcome back sweetie!


Here’s another picture of that amazing snipe I first showed you yesterday. I hear they are reported in Estabrook, from time to time, and know that I know where and how to look, I hope to show you some local ones in the future.


Finally, the gray herons, who have been here all winter, are as plentiful as ever, and here’s one from the southeast corner of campus.


I think that’s it from this weekend, and I doubt I’ll have anything to show you during the week, but next weekend I’ve booked a train ride down to Bavaria to visit a buddy, and he promises good alps and good marshes, so I have a hope for some good pictures. Wish me luck!

A morning of many firsts…

Wow! What a “morning”, and I’m using scare quotes because I didn’t get home till 1pm, even though I headed out right after sunrise, at around 7:30. I must admit that some of that time was spent waiting out rain showers, under a roof if I could find one, or just under my umbrella if not, but there was also just so much to see.

I started out on campus, as I did yesterday, and I heard the green woodpecker again, but couldn’t spot it today. Instead, here’s an oyster catcher doing its best warrior III (virabhadrasana III) yoga pose to show us its pretty black-and-white wing and even a little bit of jewelry.


The fun really started, though, when I got out into the countryside. Just as I came to the first big, open field, I heard a call that reminded me of killdeer, so I immediately stopped to look for it. Instead of a killdeer, I saw a small blue flash that I was just barely able to track. It bounced a few times farther down the canal before I could finally get my camera on it, so this picture is not so great, but it will do to identify our very first common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Man, they are tiny compared to the belted kingfishers we have in Estabrook. At just 34–46 grams (1316–158 oz), they can easily perch on just a reed, compared to the 113178 grams (4.06.3 oz) plus a belt, which definitely requires a real branch.


Then, while I was waiting out a rain shower in one of the observation blinds on the edge of Ackerdijkse Plassen, I heard another familiar call. This one was a bit more distinctive, and loud as heck, so I got it right this time. It helped that I’ve heard it many times here last fall, although I have never managed to spot the bird before, until this morning. Here’s my first ever Cetti’s warbler (Cettia cetti) picture, and this one came out not too bad.


Once the shower was done, I pressed on to see who was out on the water, and came across another big surprise in a little package, yet another new bird for us, a water pipit (Anthus spinoletta). It was about as far away as the kingfisher, so the picture is about as good, but it’ll have to do for now. Some of you might be thinking, “haven’t we just seen a couple of pipits already?” Well, you’re right. We saw an American pipit on the Rio Grande in Texas, and then a meadow pipit on the Sečovlje Saltpans in Slovenia. For whatever reason, pipits have been popping up all over lately, and no one is more surprised than me.


Right in front of the pipit was another bird with a well-deserved reputation for hiding, which I’ve glimpsed once or twice, but never managed to photograph until now. Here’s our first picture of a common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), and yes, they are quite real, despite what you may have heard in your youth.


Finally, the lapwings are back in droves!

DSCF0541 (2)

Hundreds of them!


That’s enough excitement for one day. I’ll have some more pictures for you tomorrow.

A couple of surprises on a soggy Saturday

I haven’t been able to take pictures for a couple of weeks, sorry, but I have been able to pay attention to the birds around on my walk to and from work, and I’ve been hearing this guy, a European green woodpecker like the one we saw in Ljubljana, in nearly the same tree for about a week. Well, this morning, it chose to make its characteristic call from a slightly different tree, and I was finally able to spot it, way up high. Woo hoo, this is only the second time I’ve been able to see one, and the first time in South Holland.


A bit further south and a lot closer to the ground, I found a pair of long-tailed tits, also about where I’ve seen them before, but this time it was pretty clear that they are a pair. Here’s one, peeking out from a wall of climbing ivy.


And here’s the other one, with a much wider black eyebrow and maybe a bit more brown on its back, on a nearby tree branch. I got to watch the two flit back and forth between the ivy, that tree, and another tree behind me, and I’ve got dozens of blurry pictures to prove it.


Then, since I don’t have to go to work today, in fact I can’t because they keep the building locked all weekend, I continued south into the countryside where I was treated to the glorious sight of this ring-necked pheasant.


A little bit beyond the pheasant, I came to the stork nest, and both expecting parents were home this morning.


Finally, we’ve got a new bird this morning. There were three of them, and their jet-black back really made them stand out, but this is the one who stayed nice and still for the slow exposure that the gray skies required. Say hello to our first lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus). For my convenience, there were even a few helpful herring gulls around sporting their “pale gray backs and wings”.


Which reminds me, when I was down in Slovenia, another gull posed nicely for me, so I took the picture, of course, but I figured it was just another herring gull, so I never bothered to show you. I did, however, upload the picture to accompany my birding report on ebird, and a keen observer kindly emailed me to report that that was no herring gull. Instead, it is our first, and only so far, yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis). Cool, eh?

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

And that’s it for today, I’m afraid. There were a slew of birds out there, 51 species that I saw this morning, but the thick clouds just kept leaking, despite even letting the sun peek through once in a while, and I couldn’t get you any more pictures. Maybe next time.

Midweek Dutch Grab Bag

Here are a few pictures from the last three days that haven’t yet “fit the story”, for “reasons”.

First up is an ever-adorable European robin at the edge of the playing fields at the south end of campus Saturday morning. I rarely catch them on the ground like this.


Next is a shot of the falcon clockface yesterday morning with two falcons on it, for a change, one on the hour hand and one in the six o’clock slot.


Here’s one of a couple ring-necked pheasant cocks strutting their stuff out in the countryside on Sunday morning.


And a grey heron on break in the cemetery at the north end of campus Saturday morning.


Finally, the family of Egyptian geese with four goslings in front of my building on campus, which I first spotted last Wednesday, was still doing just fine yesterday morning and voraciously mowing the lawn.


Here’s a close up of just two of the little wiggle worms.


More Signs of Dutch Spring…

Besides all the newly-arrived migrating birds, freshly-hatched goslings, and nesting grebes, here are some additional signs that spring is on its way in South Holland.

There was at least a half dozen jackdaws on this gnarled tree trunk Saturday morning noisily trying to stake out one of a few cavities that might be suitable for nesting.


Here’s one jackdaw enthusiastically gathering nesting material.


And here’s that same jackdaw right after it has deposited that nesting material behind an ornamental grate in the side of the TU Delft Architecture building. There were about a dozen of these grates in that brick wall, and I could see birds or nesting signs in each one. I don’t know what humans intended the grates for, but the birds sure are putting them to good use.


Meanwhile, at the top of the tower above that same Architecture building, the peregrine falcons sound like they are getting busy with the same task. I imagine that they may find the generous supply of jackdaws immediately below quite handy in the coming weeks.


Finally, there is a willow tree in front of the building on campus where I work that leans out over the same body of water on which I showed you the goslings swimming, and it must have a cavity or two that rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) find enticing, because there has been at least a pair, and often several pairs, flitting from branch to branch and chattering loudly to each other for the past week. Fortunately for us, they are so engrossed in this activity that they let us get a good look at their namesake rose-colored neck ring for the first time.