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Speaking Double-Dutch

We were excited to be flying out to the Netherlands to speak at the Dutch Birding Association meeting at the weekend – this date had been a long time coming – but were we going to make it this time? The prospects weren’t looking good. We’d had a first attempt a year ago in 2010, when we’d succeeded in battling through the snow to Manchester airport and had landed safely in Amsterdam despite even more snow there, only to learn the next day that the event had to be cancelled due to bad weather. Still we had a great weekend staying with our lovely friends Roy and Anja who’d looked after us so well – and we even saw a Northern Oriole during our brief stay - but we hadn’t had the chance to fulfil our invitation to speak to the top twitchers in the Netherlands.

Dutch Birding Association

So we had our fingers crossed when we were invited back again this year, but the omens weren’t good. This year we battled our way through galeforce winds to Manchester airport, and just as we were arriving, we received a call from the airline to tell us our flight had been cancelled due to the weather, but no worries, we were being put on a flight to Paris instead – not much help when you’re due to give a talk in Holland! A bit of friendly persuasion saw us with reallocated seats on an alternative flight to Amsterdam, but our troubles weren’t over. This second flight was delayed due to an overflowing toilet but some 5 hours later, we finally boarded a wet-carpeted plane (just don’t think about it too much!) for a rather bumpy flight to Amsterdam. Sadly our late arrival cut short the amount of daylight left for a spot of birding that day, but that didn’t stop Roy and Anja taking us out to enjoy the heart-warming spectacle of fields carpeted with birds – masses of European White-fronted Geese were strewn across the grassy fields and it was exciting for us to see such quantities of birds everywhere we looked. That night, Roy cooked us a delicious supper – if ever there’s a series of Masterchef Holland Roy will win it for sure, he is such a superb chef.

Ruth Roy and Anja

The next morning the wind hadn’t abated as we headed for the venue for the day. No mere gathering of a few birders as we had expected, this was a full day’s event for Netherlands’ keenest twitchers, with a full programme of international speakers and various trade stands. Feeling rather unprepared with only as many books to sell as we’d been able to fit into our luggage, we spread them out on our ‘stand’ and within seconds we had people queuing up to buy signed copies, even before we’d given our talk.

Ruth signing books

Arjan gave the Chairman’s welcome and then it was our turn, speaking to around 200 attentive birders. Of course we couldn’t manage our talk in Dutch, but they are excellent linguists and seemed to enjoy the talk in English if the laughter during the talk and compliments afterwards were anything to go by. And there was a good queue to buy books afterwards and we quickly sold out (Note to self: always double-check the scale of the event before travelling!).

Alan giving talk

During the day we enjoyed talks about Brown Fish-Owls in Turkey, the finer points of warbler identification in the field, birding in the Falklands and a summary of blockers or ‘blokkers’ in Holland over the last 50 years. Even the language barrier didn’t stop us enjoying the talks and the wonderful images of birds that were shared during the day. And as always at these events, it’s the networking and making new birding friends that really makes the day as we got to know some really lovely people and keen and enthusiastic birders. Over supper together, the conversation and laughter continued to flow, and we went home, tired and a little croaky, having had a wonderful day.

And the fun didn’t stop there. The next morning after a tasty breakfast, we headed out into the still gusty wind. At least the threatened rain didn’t materialise. First target: Smew – and Roy and Anja knew just where to take us to see both Redheads and the extremely handsome Drakes, while Scaup also bobbed on the rough water of the lakes. Later, we checked out a known area for Rough-legged Buzzard, and were thrilled so get very close to one perched on a fencepost before a passing car disturbed it.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Still we kept checking fields and fields of geese hoping to connect with one of the small number of Red-breasted Geese that had been seen across the country. Everywhere we looked, we saw hundreds of European White-fronts, and Barnacle Geese in huge numbers too – it really is wonderful to see these birds in such great flocks – and we even found hundreds of Taiga Bean Geese. Roy took some amazing photographs with his new camera and we had a go with our far inferior lens! But the elusive Red-breasted Goose gave us the slip again. Hey ho, we’ll just have to come back and try again next year!

Taiga Bean Geese

After another slight hiccough at the airport – having cancelled our original outbound flight, the airline had also cancelled our return tickets completely! – we boarded the plane for another buffetty journey home. We think the Netherlands is overlooked by many British birders – it’s a great country for birding, and once again we had a wonderful weekend thanks to our fantastic hosts, Roy and Anja. We’re hoping we may be allowed back again to catch up with our new-found friends at the Dutch Birding Association, and we’re definitely looking forward to birding with Roy and Anja again some time soon.


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