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 Harry Fuller Birding Tours


In one of Europe's densest cities, there's a green respite for birders.  It's Amsterdam's Vondelpark in the Museum Quarter.  The park's southeastern tip is just two blocks from the Rijksmuseum.  The park then runs nearly a mile westerly through one of the nicest residential neighborhoods of Amsterdam.  Vondelpark is, of course, flat.  There are over 120 species of trees on its 110 acres.  Mostly there are deciduous trees, some quite large.  The park was first opened in 1865 so much of its manmade landscape is informal and well-established.  Small clusters of evergreens are scattered through the park which also has grassy areas and several long, winding lakes.  It has the luxuriance afforded by always having enough water.

The park's always open so arrive as early as you can.  I'm told over eight million visitors use this park each year so it becomes quite busy with hikers, joggers, picnics and family outings on a nice day.

The narrow eastern end of the park is assaulted by street noise and heavy pedestrian use so the best birding is in the wider portion of the park west of the Constantijn Huygensstraat.  If you have time, it makes sense to walk west on one side of the park, then along the other side. 

One of the first birds you will notice:  Rose-ringed Parakeets, Psittacula krameri.  There's a breeding population of several dozen.  They're fed by the park workers and not shy.  Their long green bodies and piercing screams often fill the Dutch air.  This same gregarious species is found in south London and scattered cities in Spain, Greece and Germany.  The bird was native to the Middle East .  They are cavity nesters.  In spring you may see nesting behavior.

The lakes will yield Mallard, Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Moorhen and Common Coot, Gray Heron and Great Cormorant all year round.  This Cormorant will remind you of the Double-crested and shares its use of inland waters.  Great-crested Grebe and Mute Swan can show up from the nearby canals.  In summer you can see Common Terns fishing in the Vondelpark lakes.  In winter there should be Common [Mew] Gulls and perhaps a Little Grebe.  You will likely see Egyptian Geese as well.  These birds are feral in Amsterdam as they are in Frankfurt and other European cities.

Both large Wood Pigeons and feral Rock Doves are abundant in Vondelpark.  The native Wood Pigeons nest high in the deciduous trees.

From April through early August Common Swifts criss-cross the Amsterdam sky.  Their clicking and raspy calls may be your first hint to look straight up.  You will get glimpses of their speedy sickle shape.  The park is less than 200 yards wide in most places and surrounded by multi-story residential buildings so the Swifts will only be in view briefly.

Two woodpecker species breed in the park and are present all year.  The Green Woodpecker has some habits like an American flicker, often feeding in the grass.  It's a foot long and makes a striking getaway with its bright yellow-green rump showing between the wings.  This handsome bird also has a dark moustache.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker is actually smaller than the North American Hairy Woodpecker but similarly marked in black and white with a red spot on the back of its head in adults.  Both Amsterdam species have the staccato calls typical of many American woodpeckers.

You may hear a high, thin wispy five-note song.  It will remind you aptly of the Brown Creeper.  It is a cousin, the Short-toed Treecreeper.  Yes, it will be hiking itself up the bark of some tree, checking crevices for insect food.

Check lawns in early morning, and rooftops at other times for the Pied Wagtail.  This handsome bird likes flat, open areas.  No trees, no dogs, no bicycles.  Usually it will wag its tail appropriately as it walks about.

There are three corvids in Vondelpark.  Carrion Crows are the largest.  They often show pale feathers on or below their wings.  The Common Magpie is similar to the Black-billed in America, with the same fine tuxedo plumage and an iridescent back and tail under bright sunshine.  The Crows and Magpies are bold, vocal and aggressive.  The Eurasian Jay breeds in the park but is usually silent and secretive.  Watch for the bright white rump patch when the bird flies.  Plump Jackdaws are also in the city but don't breed in Vondelpark.

Of course, there will be small flocks of Common Starlings.  Their wolf whistles may turn your head.  Here they may imitate magpies, thrushes or even gulls.

In spring listen for the slurred and melodic warble of the Blackcap, and the sing-song "chiff-chaff" two-note call for which the Chiffchaff is named.  These two warblers breed here but most migrate out in the harsh Dutch winter.  The song of the European race of Winter Wren should sound familiar to a North American birder.  The Wren maintains a winter territory and can sing almost any time of year.  It's the lone species of wren found in Europe

The thrush family is represented in Vondelpark by a trio of birds.  Most obvious will be the Common Blackbird, which is in the same genus as the American Robin.  You will see this Blackbird hopping about on the lawns, picking bugs and earthworms.  The males are jet black with a yellow beak, the females a drab charcoal color, the juveniles dark and streaky.  Their song is also recognizably similar to that of the American Robin.  You will also hear and see the European Robin which is a plump little bird often in the low shrubs or on the ground.  Its bright orange throat will often flash even in the deep shade.  The European Robin's sounds are high and complex:  a mix of wind chime and small bells, slurred notes, scolding tik-tik calls and multi-note chords that no human whistle can approximate.  These Robins often respond to pishing with a curious, brief look.  If you're in Vondelpark in the first five months of the year, listen for a sprightly, clear song mindful of a Northern Mockingbird.  This will be the Song Thrush.  The male will often repeat favored phrases four of five times, not just three like a Mocker.  When the male is not singing, this brown, speckled thrush acts much like the similar Hermit Thrush, sticking to dense shrubs and trees with occasional brief sprints across an open area.

Present in all seasons, and nearly invisible in most months, is the Dunnock, a member of the Old World accentor family.  They are usually present in pairs, and are very sedentary.  They lurk on or near the ground, in shady and protected areas.  Yet in the spring the male may fly to the top of a tree or building and give out with a very sweet warble of high-pitched slurred notes.  On first sight you can mistake it for an American sparrow with a very gray face, but look again.  Here is the fine beak of an insect-picker.

You will find small flocks of insectivores - these will be dominated by various species of tit.  In winter the flocks get larger and often contain several species including the Treecreeper and a woodpecker or two.  The largest of these colourful chickadee cousins is the Great Tit, bigger than a House Sparrow.  The adults have a bright yellow chest with a black keel stripe.  The Great Tit has a variety of clear, sharp, repetitive calls that will remind you of the American titmouse.  With a more chickadee-like chatter the diminutive Blue Tit is abundant.  They lay a single clutch of miniature eggs per season, incubating a dozen or more.  A Blue Tit family group in mid-summer can include as many as sixteen little birds.  All busy and fizzing.  The Long-tailed Tits are shaped much like a gnatcatcher, and have striking black and white pattern with a pinkish wash on the paler plumage.  They too are gregarious in all seasons.  The tits often respond to a timely pish.  In winter and fall check tit flocks for Goldcrest which is a European kinglet species.  Also, there may be a stray Willow, Marsh or Coal Tit in the flock.  In late fall Eurasian Siskins may pass through the park.

The buzzy call of the Greenfinch may be new to you, but their flight note is a sweet chip similar to the American House Finch.  The Greenfinch may nest in loose colonies and is often in small groups.  The Chaffinch is more solitary, often deep in a tree singing its single, sweet note without changing pitch.  Its spring song is a series of rapid chips, ending with a fuzzy slur.  The Chaffinch shows white in tail and wings when it flies.  Both these large finches are year-round residents.  The European Goldfinch may pass through in spring or fall but there aren't the needed grasslands and weed patches to induce them to breed here.  The Greenfinch and European Goldfinch are both in the genus Cardeulis which they share with America's goldfinches and siskins.

Finally, expect flocks of House Sparrow.  They're abundant throughout Amsterdam.

Reaching Vondelpark by public transit is easy.  Several tram lines will get you there.  Lines 1 and 6 run along the north side on Overtoom.  Lines 2, 5 and 20 stop at the Stedelijk Museum a short walk south of the park.  Line 2 then continues west along the park's southern edge on Willemsparkweg.  Further south, but still a short walk, Tram Line 16 follows De Lairesstraat.  There are numerous buses through the Museum Quarter as well.  Some of the nicest small hotels in Amsterdam are within a few blocks of Vondelpark and the Youth Hostel is on its northern edge.


TOWHEE.NET:  Harry Fuller, 820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, OR 97128