Monday, 1 February 2016

A weekend in Holland for Siberian Rubythroat

There are few birds that capture the imagination more than Siberian Rubythroat so news of a second calendar year male in the Netherlands on 15th January giving fantastic views was greeted with excitement well beyond the Dutch Border.
Superb photos were regularly posted on both Dutch Birding and Waarneming web sites as well as on Birdguides and RBA. I'm planning a long birding trip for the whole of the Spring departing in March so put thoughts of the Rubythroat to the back of my mind until I received a call from good friends Richard Hart and Angus Molyneux asking if I was interested in a weekend away.
The offer was too good to turn down so we booked a cheap day/overnight return on the Tunnel for £53 and caught the first train on Saturday morning, 30th January. The latest return we could get was 11:30 Sunday which wasn't going to allow much birding that day but we went on the basis that we could always book a second ticket later for the return if necessary.
We drove straight up to Hoogwoud, north of Amsterdam arriving just before dawn and torrential rain. We used the GPS coordinated provided by Dutch Birding for the sports hall car park and all the GPS coordinated provided for both rare and scarce birds on the site which was fantastic both for planning the trip and keeping up to date whilst in Holland.
The rain finally eased and we set of around the small housing estate in search of the area favoured by the bird. There were very few birders in the area which wasn't that surprising given the weather but we soon found the spot, a narrow footpath about 3m wide between the houses, liberally scattered with meal worms. We saw the bird in the vegetation after a few minutes and it wasn't long before it popped out to take a worm before disappearing again in to the foliage. This was repeated every 5 or 10 minutes for the next couple of hours. We were first there so took the prime spots for photography at either end of the narrow footpath. The local birders in addition to providing the meal worms had placed one or two branches on the footpath as slightly more attractive perches although I never saw it use these but it was possible to get nice photos on the edge of the path. We had occasional rain showers and the light was very poor but these were minor complaints. A steady stream of mainly dutch birders came and went whilst we were there so there was plenty of opportunity to get local information although the Waarneming site is sufficient.

Siberian Rubythroat - second calendar year male
The footpath in Hoogwoud frequented by the Rubythroat - it tends to appear by the sticks on the RHS

We left the Rubythroat in search of a male Lesser Scaup at Den Oever, 20 minute drive to the north. Having stopped for half a dozen pairs of Smew on the way we marvelled at the huge raft of several thousand Scaup offshore but failing to locate the Lesser moved on to look at the geese a few minutes away around Stroe and Oosterland. We found several parties of Dark-bellied Brents with a dozen Pale-bellied dotted around plus Barnacles and Greylags but couldn't find the 3 Red-breasted that were frequenting the area. Checking the Waarneming site brought news of a male Bufflehead a few minutes away back at Den Oever so we headed back.
The Bufflehead was immediately on show with Tufted Ducks and Great-crested Grebes just offshore and we watched until the sun set around 5pm.
Bufflehead with Tufted Ducks
We had very limited time on Sunday morning and had decided just to try for the female Pine Bunting near Goes a 2.5 hour drive of 255Km to the south.

We picked a decent hotel, the Bastion, in Roosendaal which was about a 45 minute from the Bunting.
It wasn't getting light until about 8:30 which gave us a fairly leisurely start. We were alone on arrival at Wilhelminadorp but Richard flushed the bunting within minutes of leaving the car, it flew from the seaward grassy area over the raised dyke. We crossed back over the dyke and there was an obvious small area of scrub which looked like good habitat and after a few minutes we got frustrating views of it through the vegetation. We had obscured views of it from various angles then as we stood together it hopped up a couple of branches out in to the open where it stood for about a minute before flying off high to the north giving several calls that I couldn't distinguish from Yellowhammer. 

Pine Bunting - second calendar year female

It then started to rain again so we had a brief look at a flock of around 500 Bean Geese on neighbouring fields before setting off for the Tunnel. We had given up on making our 11:30 crossing at the outset but wanted to get there within the 2 hour window which Euro Tunnel allow and after some traffic delays made it at about 1pm and got a crossing back at 3pm. A great trip and one we'll repeat over a longer weekend  in a future winter.
Thanks to Richard and Angus for making the trip great fun and so successful and Richard for all the driving. A big thank you to the Dutch birders for finding these great birds and to all the contributors to for making the site so helpful for visiting, and non-dutch speaking, birders.