What a fabulous sight the Dutch bulbfields are in spring, a patchwork of the most intense shades of scarlet, orange, yellow and mauve, woven into neat blocks like a panoramic tapestry. From a botanical feast, to a gastronomic spread, laid out by the Hardersluis Hotel, where we spend three nights enjoying superb meals and first class service.
Our first day of ‘serious’ birding is in the huge wetland reserve of Oostvaardersplassen, where every newly arrived warbler including Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow, Reed, Sedge and Grasshopper seems to be performing an all day song contest. Star of the show is a Savi’s Warbler, taking a break from its strange insect-style reeling song to dash out of dense reeds, pose for us all in a nearby bush, and show off a substantial cocked tail with deep buff undertail coverts. Umpteen Cuckoos add to the wall of sound and also show well, while Short-toed Treecreepers distinguish themselves by song rather than appearance. With Red Deer grazing the woodland edge and a Water Vole nibbling reed stems at point blank range, it is hard to believe that this entire terrestrial habitat was reclaimed from the sea less than fifty years ago!
As two Red Foxes stalk the water’s edge, Black-necked Grebe, Great White Egret, Greenshank and Spoonbill keep their distance and remain alert to the threat from several Marsh Harriers out on patrol. A spectacular crowd of ten thousand plus restless Barnacle Geese, fattened up for their Arctic journey, and a single Swift, fresh in from Africa, highlight this exciting transition from winter to summer. Throughout the day our list of sightings grows to include Little Ringed Plover, Snipe and elegant Avocets, while haunted by the elusive skulking nature of the Bluethroat, which keeps us on tenterhooks until early evening before a lovely male gives grand exposure in various profiles for all to admire. This dazzling display was certainly worth waiting for.
It’s the first day of May, with glorious warm sunshine streaming through the fresh green Beech leaves of Veluwezoom National Park, where early birds include Pied Flycatcher and Tree Sparrow, followed by a busy nest building Nuthatch. A Black Woodpecker calls in the middle distance but remains invisible, whereas the delightful clean bright Wood Warbler shows beautifully as it flits between branches, pouring out its two distinctive songs. A handsome male Redstart with female companion is another pleasing addition to our list.
After lunch in the woods, we explore the heathland, extending unbroken in every direction, making it hard to believe this is one of the most crowded countries in the world. Here we enjoy plum views of a Tree Pipit, performing a parachuting song flight with numerous encores, the exhilarating hawking flight of two Hobbies and the unusual sight of three smart male Wheatears competing for the same treetop branch! Our last sighting is probably best of the bunch, when a cocky Crested Tit appears from nowhere to call at close range, as a grand finale to another good day’s birding.
Across the road from our hotel, Nightingales sing so loudly they can be heard inside the rooms with the windows open. A stake out fails to pin down this shy songster, but some spot a Hawfinch, which makes a more than adequate consolation prize.
On our way back to Delft for some final sightseeing, a brief stop at a small area of wet meadows produces nice views of a smart Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit, resplendent in bright red breeding plumage. Then a male Garganey suddenly drops into the same pond as the Spotted Redshank, like a gift from heaven, giving us two top birds in one view! With 99 species in the bag, who say’s it’s flat in Holland?