AT A GLANCE
Half of the country is below sea level (Netherlands literally means ‘lower countries’), and it is in this area, the polder landscape, where the avian treasures of the country live. In fact, in the cultural landscapes reclaimed from the sea is where one may find the highest density of birds anywhere in the world! It is surprising that this happens in northern Europe, with its relatively cool climate, but the picturesque grassy pastures interspersed with windmills and canals are home to large numbers of geese, ducks, herons and wading birds. Add to this picture the tidal Wadden Sea, center of the European flyway for migratory birds, as well as the extensive forests in the eastern parts of the country, and this country offers a way to see a large chunk of Europe’s avian diversity without covering too much ground! The avifauna of the Netherlands include a whopping total of 534 species recorded in the wild.
On this trip we will visit the Lauwersmeer, Hoge Veluwe, Limburg, and many other vital birding stops to ensure we get a great trip count but also some spectacular specialty birding and great Dutch scenery!
DAY 1: Amsterdam airport to Lauwersmeer
Our first stop on this trip is a large wetland complex half an hour east of the Dutch capital. The Oostvaardersplassen are part of a large island reclaimed from the former South Sea, which is now Lake Ijsselmeer. The surrounding land is no older than about 70 years! Parts of the island never dried up as much as land reclaimers would have liked and are now a maze of pools, willow copses and mud flats. We will search for Bluethroat, Cetti’s, Savi’s and Grasshopper Warbler and we have a chance of finding the impressive White-tailed Eagle.We will continue to the Lauwersmeer, in the far north of the Netherlands. Lauwersmeer is an impressive wetland bordering the Wadden Sea. The area used to be part of the Wadden Sea in fact, until it was dammed and the water gradually turned fresh. From several hides, we can observe gigantic groups of water birds. We hope to find Caspian Tern, Temminck’s Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank and large groups of Ruff in their extravagant and variable male breeding plumage. We will also keep a look out for groups of the shy but exquisite Bearded Reedling and other reed inhabitants such as Water Rail, Spotted Crake and Savi’s Warbler.Poplar forests in the area hold populations of the stunning Eurasian Oriole and the famous Common Nightingale. Springtime means any wooded area is bursting with song, and we will look for Icterine and Reed Warbler.
DAY 2: Lauwersmeer
We will start the day scanning the open fields surrounding the wetlands for Dotterel, which migrates through during this time of year and can often be found in small groups. Open fields are also the habitat of both Yellow and White Wagtails and Sky Lark.
A bit further afield, the same habitat holds the only population of Montagu’s Harrier of Northwest Europe, and carefully scanning across the open fields should yield this species, as well as Marsh Harrier.
The coasts of the Wadden Sea are shallow, muddy and brackish and we should see good numbers of Common Shelduck, Brant Goose, Redshank, Turnstone, and if we are lucky Curlew Sandpiper and Arctic Tern. Grey Seal from a local nursery are also usually around.
DAY 3: Zuidlaardermeer to Hoge Veluwe
Whiskered Tern is generally regarded a species of warm climates, but the only Dutch population breeds in the north of the country. We will visit a beautiful marshland, where we can observe these graceful terns, as well as Black Tern, at length on their nests. Nearby birds should include an assortment of ducks, including Garganey, as well as Stilt, Eared Grebe, and displaying Black-tailed Godwits. If we are lucky, we can find White-winged Tern at its most western breeding site, to complete the set of European marsh-breeding terns.
After lunch we transfer to the center of the country, where one of the largest forests of western Europe provides a different scenery and a range of different bird species. On the way we make a quick stop at a breeding site of Red-necked Grebe, where we can watch these beautiful birds from a nearby hide. Later, we will search the heaths of the Hoge Veluwe for Linnet, Tree Lark, Stonechat, Tree Pipit, and Raven. In the evening, we will listen for the continuous rattling of Eurasian Nightjar to localize the species.
DAY 4: Hoge Veluwe
The forests of the Hoge Veluwe National Park hold plenty of boar, red deer and roedeer. The stately beech and spruce trees are also home to an amazing array of European forest birds including Wood Warbler, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Pied Flycatcher, and Green and Black Woodpeckers. We should also be able to find several European finches, such as the bright-red Bullfinch, the hefty Hawfinch and the colorful Goldfinch.
In the afternoon, we transfer to the far south of the Netherlands, where yet a very different landscape awaits us, one that is quite atypical of the Netherlands.
DAY 5: Zuid-Limburg
The province of Limburg is a bit of an odd case; not only does this strange narrow strip of land dangle off the southern end of the Netherlands, it is also culturally and gastronomically closer to Belgium or Germany and its landscape is anything but flat! This results in a distinct set of birds not found in other parts of the Netherlands and more akin of the central European mountain ranges.
We will start the day off in a hilly forest, to search for Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Eurasian Treecreeper, both of which are localized residents in the Netherlands. We should also find Hawfinch, Firecrest, and with some luck the dainty Little Spotted Woodpecker. The surrounding streams hold healthy populations of Gray Wagtail and are surrounded by trees holding both Willow and Marsh Tits.
The hilly country of Limburg has been subjected to mining, mostly of sandstone for construction. This has resulted in the only rocky places in the entire country and also in one of the few breeding sites of Eurasian Eagle-Owl, which we should see on its day roost.
DAY 6: Transfer to Amsterdam airport
We transfer to the Amsterdam airport area (3 hours), with a stop in a Purple Heron rookery on the way.