The Low Countries - December 2008

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT


Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl video - click here


This was a last minute trip originally planned for April next year, but being at a loose end I squeezed it in before Christmas and before I go back to work. The problem with moving the date is that one of my target species hibernates so the chances finding it would be very low - an excuse for a repeat visit! The bonus of going now would be the snowy owl in Belgium that had been showing well. I took the Norfolkline ferry from Dover to Dunkirk a return was £40 although a day trip is much cheaper. The trip was not purely wildlife watching, I did a lot of touristy things along the way. My targets were mainly geese which the low countries have several introduced species but there were real birds as well. I have done quite a bit of this trip in Plastic Fantastic I - So why return - well some new species I missed / did not know about before and during my last visit the weather was lousy, the weather this time yep just as bad. So apologies for the very dull pictures as the sun never showed itself and it drizzled or was misty constantly when not pouring with rain.

Monday 8th

The 4am Crossing arrived on time and I was quickly heading north, I arrived at Blankenberge, Belgium at 8am still in darkness. A petrol station breakfast and I headed into the area through the thick mist. It was not long before I bumped into a local birdwatcher, who had seen the owl last week. He tried a favoured area while I carried on up the road. A few minutes later he caught me up and had found the owl. W went back to the spot and it had gone from the field but we quickly located the snowy owl distantly on a fence post. A hide was closeby and offered a much closer view. We watched it for 5 mins before it flew over us and into a field. We relocated it but only the head could be seen distantly. A ringtail hen harrier was a nice bonus amongst some of the commoner species. After a couple of hours it was time to head off in search of the geese. Brent Geese were seen on the journey as was a white stork which was totally out of place in a field in the mist rather than soaring the thermals. Before more geese were the flamingo's, about a hour later I arrived at the flamingo site Krammersche Slikken Reserve, a rough legged buzzard was flushed from the entrance road. 36 Flamingo's are currently wintering here along with good numbers of geese, mostly greylag and greater white fronts although a couple of egyptian geese were also present. I climbed the bank of the dyke to be greeted by a very strong and very cold wind, making it hard to to take photos as did the distance of the flamingo's. Two lesser flamingos were easily picked out as was a lone carribean flamingo. The greater and chilean were more dfficult to separate at the distance but at least 7 greater perhaps a few more the remainder chilean. There were 7 black swans present at a similar distance to the flamingo's. Frozen solid and disapointed at my poor attempts at photography I headed off. My last stop was at Strijen. Here I was looking for Geese and there were thousands of them, mostly greater white fronted and greylags but mixed in were a few barnacles, pink foots and 20+ swan geese and swan geese hybrids. I eventually picked out 2 lesser white fronted geese which were flushed by a tractor and a brown hare finally opened the mammal account. Darkness forced me onwards.

Tuesday 9th

I awoke to torrential rain in the Hook of Holland, but my quarry was not worried and they eagerly visited to eat my crisps, I counted a total of 15 house crows, with the weather not improving and having had enough of house crows in India a few weeks ago I moved on. Next was a reserve at Woerden near Utrecht which was difficult to access as there are several houses being built and they were landscaping the edge of the lake. I did not let this bother me and in the rain walked through the building site past the earth movers and to the edge of the lake. Here two black swans were easily found, I departed after a few photo's now fully wet through. After refuelling (diesel is very cheap in both Holland and Belgium even cheaper than in France) I headed south to Honswick, south of Houten to an area of grazing fields / flood meadow along a dyke where large numbers of geese feed. I headed west at first picking up good numbers of greylags, feral and egyptian geese, the highlight was a bittern. I reached the end of the road and headed back and eventually encountered large flocks of mainly barnacle but with a few greater white fronts and finally some Canada Geese. Several flocks later an emperor goose was finally found but still no bar headed geese. This was eventually rectified with a small party flying by and then locating a bar headed goose on the deck. The evening was spent doing some touristy things in the snow.

Wednesday 10th
Snow still about I did some more touristy things until early afternoon when I reached the Zonienwald forest just south of Brussels for some more exotics. My task was to find asian chipmunks which are probably hibernating but I would find some site for a return visit. I tried a few sites and spoke to dog walkers with out sucess, finally one dog walker had some news but not of chipmunks but red squirrels in his garden. A few minutes later and with a cup of tea we were watching a red squirrel high in the trees of his garden. Lots of roudy jays and ring-necked parakeets were also present. I spent the evening doing touristy things in Brussels.

Thursday 11th

Struggling with the traffic in Brussels I eventually reached a part of the forest I wanted to try for chipmunks and indeed this was a good spot every dog walker I spoke to had seen them but not for a few weeks, I was told that spring is the best time to see them (so it looks like a trip in the spring is on the cards). A couple of ring-necked parakeets were squabbling in the trees but not much else apart from a grey heron and feral pigeons. I went to my next site where monk parakeets 20 in all were easily found along with their communal nests. The rest of the day was touristy apart from a quick stop for a small population of muscovy ducks a couple were seen easily in a couple of minutes.

Friday 12th

A total touristy day, added green woodpecker, redwing and rabbit to the list.

Plastic Species - 18 - Monk Parakeet, Ring necked parakeet, Muscovy duck, Bar headed Goose, Egyptian Goose, Swan Goose, Emperor Goose, Canada Goose, Black Swan, Greylag Goose, Feral Goose, House Crow, Feral Duck, Feral Pigeon, Chilean Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Carrbean Flamingo, Pheasant.

Species List

Birds - 89

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Grey Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
White Stork
Greater Flamingo
Chilean Flamingo
Caribbean Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo
Mute Swan
Black Swan
Lesser White-fronted Goose
Bar-headed Goose
Emperor Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose
Pink-footed Goose
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Barnacle Goose
Brent Goose
Tufted Duck
Hen Harrier
Rough-legged Buzzard
Water Rail
Golden Plover
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Collared Dove
Snowy Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Meadow Pipit
Mistle Thrush
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Carrion Crow
House Crow
House Sparrow
Monk Parakeet
Ring-necked Parakeet
Muscovy Duck


Brown Hare
Red Squirrel