During the first week of July, I made my first trip to the Netherlands to attend the Animal Movement Analysis course at the University of Amsterdam. Although the majority of the trip was spent learning how to analyse spatial data, I did manage to get an evening exploring the cracking local wetland reserve of Polder Ijdoorn, thanks to a lift from Dutch birder and fellow course participant Sander Lagerveld. Leaving the city centre, the countryside rapidly opened up into the anticipated mosaic of pancake-flat arable fields surrounded by drainage ditches which, whilst somewhat monotonous, created wide open vistas replete with brooding summer skies.
The reserve, located only a few miles from the city centre, consisted of a mixture of reedbed, ditches and a large scrape that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the north Norfolk coast. Whilst a relative novelty for a birder largely confined to the western fringes of Britain, the species present were also highly reminiscent of what you might expect from a mid-summer visit to Titchwell or Cley. As we walked up to the viewing point a couple of Cuckoos perched up on a post giving great scope views, sadly the first of the year for me of this iconic species. The scrape held truly impressive numbers of waders with triple figures of Ruff in varying states of moult and a smart Spotted Redshank the pick of the bunch. At least three Garganey and a Great White Egret provided some variety whilst several flyover Spoonbills and a pair of Red-crested Pochard picked up by accompanying Dutch birder Bart Hoekstra were also noteworthy. Perhaps the highlight of the evening were a couple of distant Bluethroat hopping around at the back of the scrape, picked up by a local Dutch birder who later turned out to be none other than the world yearlist record holder Arjan Dwarshuis!
The evening excursion provided some welcome respite from the academic intensity of the course and the chance to experience a great birding site close to a major city. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to Amsterdam in winter and witness the incredible numbers of migrant geese that the country is famous for! The rest of the trip was relatively quiet birdwise although a White Stork on the walk to the science park one afternoon was a nice surprise. Also unusual was a gang of urban Grey Herons scavenging leftover fish at a street market in the suburbs. Apparently these birds are famous for their boldness but the incongruity of several herons perched on top of a fast food stand mere metres away was striking for this Brit at least! The sighting got me thinking about the fitness consequences of urban living for this usually retiring species – perhaps an avenue for future research if I ever get sick of gulls.