Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Birds of The Netherlands

In December I made a short visit to Amsterdam where Alesia has been working with her consulting job. What a thrill for me to head back to Europe for the first time since being born in what was then West Germany more than half a century ago!

We had three days to explore the ancient city and really packed in a lot. Visited Museums included the Rembrandt House, Van Gogh, Dutch WWII Resistance, Jewish Holocaust, Maritime, and "Our Lord in the Attic." Each was so amazing and interesting.

Amsterdam's public train, tram and bus systems are really good. And kudos to Alesia for purchasing for us I Am Amsterdam cards, which for one set fee gave us hassle (and Euro) free access to all transportation needed and dozens of Amsterdam's best sites and attractions.



I, of course, had my trusty Canon SX 50 with me at all times. We also took many pictures using our iPhones.

Favorite photos will be posted later on this blog. For now, I'm focusing on the abundant variety of birds encountered in Holland.

We didn't do any specific birding excursions, but I was certainly on the look out for them, birder that I am!

Several unfamiliar birds were found in Zaanse Schans. This site, a 20-30 minute train ride from Amsterdam, is described as an "open-air museum" boasting eight well-preserved windmills. The windmills played key roles in industry and agriculture. As a guide told us, a working windmill set up to precisely cut wood for construction could replace 30 men needed to cut the wood by hand.

I found this very detailed listing of Netherlands birds (by William Price) and at night in the hotel would study it to try to identify the birds I photographed during the day's outings.

Several "lifer" birds were discovered, which is always a thrill to us birders. This lovely creature is a Mute Swan spotted at Zaanse Schans.

Cornell University's "All About Birds" calls the Mute Swan "the elegant bird of Russian ballets and European fairy tales."

This Mute Swan was in Amsterdam cruising along one of the city's many canals.

It seems that the lovely bird is not mute, it does have a voice, but it is quieter than other Swan species. It is, shall we say, more muted than the other types, hence its name.

I like this photo because one of  the Swan's webbed feet can be seen.

Mute Swans are not native to North America but can be found in lakes and parks in America's Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, Northeast and Mid Atlantic regions, according to the Cornell ornithology website.





This little cutie I spotted from a distance at the Zaanse Schans windmill site.

Later research would reveal this to be a European or Common Stonechat. What an interesting name!
Whatbird.com says the name comes from the call "that sounds like two stones being tapped together."

A type of thrush, a group of Stonechats is known as a "hermitage" and a "mutation" of thrushes.

I only saw this one and was happy to get a decent shot of it from a long distance.


Walking amid the windmills, this large bird appeared and I thought, wow, a Great Blue Heron here in The Netherlands!

Almost, but this is actually a Grey (or Gray) Heron. Great Blues, according to my web research, have chestnut-brown flanks and thighs. The ranges don't overlap so you are not likely to see these Herons in the same area of the world.


Another delight was seeing and photographing this Great Crested Grebe in a canal while we were walking around Amsterdam.

That poofy black "hair" and red eyes caught my eye. Like the Pied Billed Grebe I see regularly in my area of South Carolina, the Great Crested ones dive underwater for stretches at a time.  You must be quick and patient to photograph this bird as it goes underwater and you have to try to anticipate where it may come up next.

The Great Crested, as seen in this video, is known for an elaborate mating ritual.

Discovering new birds and learning the interesting names for them was a fun part of this Amsterdam trip.

Back at Zaanse Schans, there were many of these grey birds with black faces and piercing eyes.

This would be, along with the Stonechat, my favorite Netherlands bird name: Eurasian Jackdaw. Whatbird.com has interesting tidbits about this crow family member and how it has been a part of  European culture.

They include how four of Aesop's Fables have Jackdaw in their titles.  And how in some cultures a Jackdaw on the roof predicts a new arrival. If the Jackdaw settles there, that's may be a bad omen; it may signify a pending death!  Oh my!

This other site says how the Jackdaw is know for its "thievish propensities."

A group of Jackdaws is called a train.

What a reputation this bird has!


On an Amsterdam street in a tree, a spotted this dark bird with an orange bill.  Actually, I heard its vibrant call first.

Turns out this one is a Eurasian or Common Blackbird, another member of the Thrush family.

This site had an interesting tidbit about a song by The Beatles titled "Blackbird." Paul McCartney reveals what the song was really about.  Hint: it wasn't really about the birds.

I just got off a couple photos of this Blackbird.
Amid the branches, it wasn't easy to get a crisp focus.

Another new "lifer" bird from The Netherlands!

Different types of Gulls can be seen throughout Amsterdam. This pair is the Black-headed Gull. The streaks of black across their heads are striking.

These two (right photo) and the one below it are adult non-breeding Black-headed Gulls. The breeding adults would have black heads or hoods.


In the same canal waters as the Black-headed Gulls was this pair called European Herring Gulls. 

In this photo, I like the front and back perspective. The red spot at the front of the bill is a distinguishing mark, which I missed in my initial identification effort. Thank you to a walkbird.com fellow follower who steered me to this Herring Gull and away from the Common Gull I thought it was initially.




The Herring Gull is one of Western Europe's most abundant birds.







My last but not least "lifer" Netherlands bird is the Magpie, called both the Eurasian and Common Magpie there.

This was the first new bird I saw.  It was near some water close to the Hilton Hotel where Alesia and I stayed. She had told me about a blue, black and white bird she had seen during her previous Amsterdam visits.

It was a neat bird to see. I didn't get the sharpest photos of the Magpie, but am happy I got these.

Wikipedia raves about the Magpie, calling the Crow family member one of the most intelligent birds of all and one of the most intelligent of all animals!  According to Wikipedia, a Swiss naturalist described and illustrated Magpies in a 1555 publication. Now that goes way back!

The Eurasian Magpie is considered to be identical to North America's Black-billed Magpie (Wikipedia).



In the same area where I spotted the Magpie, I also saw this Cormorant. Here, it's called the Eurasian Cormorant. Same crazy poses as the Great Cormorants I see here in South Carolina.


The Coot was another familiar face seen in and around Amsterdam. In fact, it was the bird I saw most often in the various places we visited.

They are called Eurasian Coots here. But I don't see any difference in appearance to their American Coot cousins.


If you go back to the top of this post, the photo of Alesia and me with the windmills behind us, there is a Coot in the water next to the pier where we stood.  Coots are definitely abundant in Amsterdam.

There's no mistaking the Coot's white bill and forehead and those beady red eyes!





Mallards are Mallards all over the world. We saw some at the Zaanse Schans windmill site.

Wet and misty Holland is certainly hospitable to many bird breeds. I'm glad to have seen so many during my short visit in December 2016.
Male Mallard is cruise control.
The Pekin Duck is another worldwide bird, it seems. This was also seen at Zaanse Schans.

Tourists must feed the birds there because the coots, mallards and other ducks seem to not be that afraid of people.

There are two birds I was unable to identify while still in Holland. I'll work on this and update my post once I do ID these two mystery birds. They are also seen at Zaanse Schans.

This one, it seems, is a Common Moorhens.



A challenge of birding is to be thorough in identifications, so I won't rest until I do so with these two.  OK, that's not true but I will turn to whatbird.com's bird identification site for some help.

Whatbird's knowledgeable patrons came through again. This is a female Mallard.

What a great time in Holland during the holiday season!

Here I am amid the Rembrandt statue and a very detailed and large scale sculpture display of the master's great "Night Watch" painting.
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