Otters en Vogels – A Dutch Adventure

Something of a mini-post this one as Mrs Sausage and I were fortunate to be able to spend a long weekend in the Netherlands early in July. We found ourselves a wonderful Air BnB in Lelystad, a little under 40 miles north-west of Amsterdam and more importantly within cycling distance of one of the Netherlands best-known nature reserves, Oostvaardersplassen.

Our Dutch discoveries began the day we arrived at our temporary Lelystad home, an incredible home built by our host family from scratch with simply astounding precision, attention, care and genuine love. Located in a quiet street outside of the main town, our room allowed us access to a rooftop patio overlooking a reedbed and narrow waterway. It was whilst taking in the view from here that Mrs Sausage spotted a Reed Warbler.

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This was a welcome, if unexpected sighting and we did our best to capture a few shots.

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It was whilst we were “warbler watching” that our eyes were distracted by movement in the water just below our patio. Again, it was Mrs Sausage who called it first, an otter!

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The view was somewhat fleeting but unmistakable. Here in our temporary back garden was a European Otter! We waited patiently for clearer views but they were not forthcoming. However we were lucky enough to have a sighting on each of the four days we were in Lelystad. Each time the otter came from the same direction and each time it was carrying a mouthful of green foliage. Our suspicion was that there may well be a den very close to our location, quite possibly under our hosts’ decking in the back garden.

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This was a sighting made all the more special as our post trip research has revealed that otters were all but extinct in the Netherlands by 1989 and a reintroduction programme was only started in 2002 with a modest 140 being recorded by 2013. All things considered, a fairly remarkable sighting according to Mrs Sausage’s Dutch academic supervisor.

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Sunday 10 July was a bright, sunny, scorching day that found us heading to Oostvaardersplassen. With bicycles kindly leant to us by our lovely hosts, we wobbled and fumbled our way along the dikes of Flevoland towards the reserve. After several much needed drink stops and an absolutely compulsory ice-cream pause, we arrived at our destination. With it being a beautiful Sunday afternoon the place was fairly bustling with visitors, not many birders but plenty of families on a day out. In some ways, it reminded me of the Wetlands Centre at Barnes. In the interest of relieving our saddle-sores, we took a steady stroll along the main pathway. We were surprised to find this Swallow, sitting quite still almost under a small footbridge and completely un-interested in the footfall above it.

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It even had time to sing / call while we were indulging ourselves in the closest and longest views we would probably ever get of a Swallow, a bird that otherwise always seems to be in motion.

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Also quite obliging and in good number at Oostvaardersplassen were Pied (or White) Wagtails. Another bird that normally eludes my camera for decent shots, today’s wagtails at least allowed us to get a little closer that we usually manage back home.

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We left the main reserve on the advice of one of the staff for a pathway which was a little more “wild” and where we might be able to observe more birds than the main reserve was offering. Thankfully for still sore backsides, this was on our route back. While making this journey we spotted our first raptor of the trip in the shape a Kestrel. We also had Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes, Common Terns and a selection of Black-headed and Herring Gull. The alternative pathway was still somewhat quiet as we made our way around. A single Jay played hop along the pathway with us for a short time.

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We had a far too brief encounter with a Bearded Tit as we approached a large, well built hide. As we stepped inside there was a flurry of feathers and flapping as several Swallows vacated the space. We sat and started to scan the outside only to realise quite quickly that the Swallows had returned, into the hide and were sitting on the viewing ledges staring at us.

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As we started to consider some kind of real-life re-make of Hitchcock’s The Birds was imminent, a quick look above us revealed the reason for the return of the Swallows. We had two nests in the hide, one in the area where observers would be sitting, nestled just below ceiling height, the other above the doorway that lead to a long corridor back out to the path.

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The Swallows became accustomed to our presence quite quickly and we spent a short time observing what little action we could see out on the water. The most common bird seen at the reserve was the Cormorant. Squadrons of half a dozen and more birds were constantly crossing the sky. We had one very long distance view of a fairly large raptor whilst in the hide. Both light and distance made it very hard to ascertain what we were looking at. However, Oostvaardersplassen does boast Marsh, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers and even White-tailed Eagles.

We left the Swallows to their parental duties and made a slow cycle back to Lelystad. Once again, our hosts’ garden offered us another piece of bonus wildlife with this Common Frog enjoying their decking.

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Without doubt, Oostvaardersplassen is a reserve that merits more than just a few hours during the traditional “off-peak” birding season. Given the opportunity, we would definitely head back again for a more in-depth look; and where better to base ourselves than a house with otters, warblers and more in the back garden.

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