A Walk at Tienhoven (Netherlands), February 23, 1998

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum, 9037 Tromsø, Norway; wim@imv.uit.no

The small village of Tienhoven is situated north of Utrecht, in an archetypically Dutch area of shallow lakes (caused by peat-digging centuries ago) and low-lying polders with grassland separated by broad ditches. Between the lakes narrow strips of land (where the peat dried) are left, so you often walk with water at both sides, and strips of alder and willow coppice and broad reed-borders along the path. Later in spring this becomes a very good area for warblers, but none of those had come back as yet, and the dominant bird-song this windy sunny mild day was that of Chaffinches, Robins, and tits, with surprisingly often also the "compressed spiral" of the Short-toed Treecreeper.

In the water along the path pairs of Mallards (often in the strange colour combinations of "farmers ducks") and aggressive coots clearly had spring in their minds, while the beautiful and surprisingly tame Great Crested Grebes freely demonstrated their eel-smooth diving technique, but not as yet their impressive displays. In more open waters flocks of diving ducks, mostly Pochards and Tufted Ducks, were lazing, mostly keeping to the lee of the shore-strips. Mute Swans were present, but less common than in the polders.

Further on, the path left the lakeside and went on through low-lying grassland with broad ditches, a duck decoy and a number of smallish pools, dug by nature conservation in an effort to restore some of the "trilveen", the quaking mire that used to be such an important and plant-rich part of these areas.

Here geese were dominating the scene everywhere; pairs and small family groups of Greylag Geese were walking and flying around, and honking their familiar barnyard sounds. And every now and then some disturbance flushed massive groups of White-fronted Geese -- at least a few thousands -- and their higher cackling (the sound I grew up with in Zeeland as a boy, when I thought that everywhere in the world there must be all those "frost geese" (vriesganzen) in winter) filled the air. Also in these large and dense groups one can see family units, but the distance between groups is so much smaller than with the greylags, that at a distance you get the impression of one massive flock.

Pairs of Mute Swans speckle the polder. Every now and then some of them flew a round and one heard the powerful sighing sound of their wings (Makes you realize that this is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world); the pairs already present on the ditches blow themselves up in defence and look for all the world like old fashioned sailing warships. The geese are winter visitors here, although some of the Greylags may well stay to breed. But there were also definite signs of spring . Large flocks of Northern Lapwings had arrived, and a few had even started their acrobatic display flights (No Black-tailed Godwits here as yet, but I saw a few along the Rhine 2 days later). Also the Starlings were present in numbers and showed off their prowess in formation-flying. A greater joy still were smaller, much looser flocks, that turned out to consist of apparently just-arrived Skylarks; a few even ventured into an abbreviated form of their wonderful song-flight. Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails had arrived as well, and a few Reed Buntings even had not yet finished their moult (or rather abrasion) into full spring plumage and still showed their black heads half masked by light feather-brims. In the small pools hundreds of Coots and Mallards dominated the scene, but there were also a few Teal and a small flock of Smews, the latter winter guests here.

In the duck decoy the mistle thrushes were singing their wonderful "I don't care how cold it is, this is spring" songs, and the Buzzards were displaying and settling the boundaries of their territories by aerial displays. Along the southern-exposed ditches the first golden stars of the Ficaria verna had burst, so in spite of the chilly winds and the preponderance of winter birds, there was definitely spring in the air here, a feeling we still have to wait several months for in northern Norway. But it'll come there too, finally!

List of birds seen on the Tienhoven walk:

Great Crested Grebe        Podiceps cristatus
Grey Heron                 Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan                  Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose              Anser anser
White-fronted Goose        A. albifrons
Cormorant                  Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis
Mallard                    Anas platyrhynchos
European Wigeon            A. penelope
Teal                       A. c. crecca
Goldeneye                  Bucephala clangula
Tufted Duck                Aythya fuligula
Pochard                    A. ferina
Smew                       Mergus albellus
Shelduck                   Tadorna tadorna
Buzzard                    Buteo buteo
Sparrow hawk               Accipiter nisus
Eur. Kestrel               Falco tinnunculus
Wood Pigeon                Columba palumbus
(Stock Dove                C. oenas)
Collared Dove              Streptopelia decaocto
Northern Lapwing           Vanellus vanellus
Oystercatcher              Haematopus ostralegus
(Black-tailed Godwit       Limosa limosa)
Black-headed Gull          Larus ridibundus
Pheasant                   Phasianus colchicus
Great Spotted Woodpecker   Picoides major
Skylark                    Alauda arvensis
Black-billed Magpie        Pica pica
European Jay               Garrulus glandarius
Carrion Crow               Corvus c. corone
Jackdaw                    C. monedula
Starling                   Sturnus vulgaris
Winter Wren                Troglodytes troglodytes
Short-toed Treecreeper     Certhia brachydactyla
Nuthatch                   Sitta europaea
Great Tit                  Parus major
Blue Tit                   P. caeruleus
Willow Tit                 P. montanus
Long-tailed Tit            Aegithalos caudatus
European Blackbird         Turdus merula
Song Thrush                T. philomelos
Mistle Thrush              T. viscivorus
European Robin             Erithacus rubecula
Meadow Pipit               Anthus pratensis
White Wagtail              Motacilla alba
Dunnock                    Prunella modularis
Chaffinch                  Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch                 Carduelis chloris
Siskin                     C. spinus
House Sparrow              Passer domesticus
Eur. Tree Sparrow          P. montanus
Reed Bunting               Emberiza schoeniclus

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser; ugeiser@xnet.com; March 3, 1998