Schoutenwaard, Lower Rhine valley, The Netherlands, mid April 2013

14 April 2013 -  

I meet Rob at seven as arranged. It is still cold and many birds are not yet active. As we walk the survey route we are struck by the low numbers of most species and speculate as to whether the late, late spring is the cause, or the lack of rain, or the seemingly high number of crows this year. We see and hear a few recently arrived migrants including singles of Willow Warbler and Whitethroat and three Chiffchaffs. A male Wheatear is sitting alert on top of a small Hawthorn. Clearly anxious, he doesn’t stay long, and flies down to the river where Swallows are passing to the east in a steady trickle.

There is more life on the lagoon.  A few waders – Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Lapwings – are active and noisy in the shallows and on the wing, but there is no sign of the Little Ringed Plovers. We disturb three Green Sandpipers which burst into flight, calling and repeating their very distinctive wild, thin, but loud and clear ”tluuui tluui”, flying fast and high where they are lost to sight in the east. Remnant numbers of wintering ducks are lingering as well and we see small flocks of Teal, and Wigeon. The Mallards will definitely stay to breed, and probably the Tufted Ducks, but Shovelers, which stay to breed in some years, seem unlikely to do so in a dry year like this.

Scanning the lagoon through the ‘scope from the causeway in another search for the Little Ringed Plovers, I see a Blackbird with pale wings flying away at extreme range – at least 800 metres. A Blackbird with pale wings has to be a Ring Ouzel – a scarce migrant en route to the mountains of Scotland or Scandinavia – but it’s a frustratingly quick and distant view. I steady the ‘scope and find the bird – a male- at rest on the edge of the lagoon. This time it’s side-on and the white crescent on the upper-breast can be seen. Rob manages a quick look before it flies off again. Half an hour later we are approaching the west end of the lagoon and we hear the Ring Ouzel – an abrupt, stony chuckle – before seeing it, with a jump of excitement, very close this time, in a Blackthorn hedge. A slimline Blackbird with a very prominent, white half-moon across the upper breast, greyish panels in the wings and greyish-brown tipped feathers on flanks and mantle, giving a scaly effect that was not visible at distance. The bill is a paler, lemon-yellow than a Blackbird’s and has a dark tip and ridge The Ouzel drops down to the ground below the hedge and, amazingly, is joined by a second – also a male – before they both fly back to dead ground by the lagoon, flashing those distinctive pale wings.

The Ring Ouzels are the highlight of a quiet but satisfying morning. The first I have seen since a spring visit years ago to one of the Wadden Sea islands, where they are regular passage migrants. I wonder how long they took to get from Africa – The Atlas Mountains are a key wintering area – and how long it will be before they reach their breeding range in the northern uplands.

Comments are closed.