Beth and I decided to spend April in Europe, mainly so she could see the Netherlands in tulip season. As a concession she agreed to go to the WWI battlefields, where the uncle who raised me had fought.

We began by spending a few days with friends who have a B&B about 100 miles northwest of Bordeaux (think red wine). They live in the country so birding was good. I added greatly to my Europe list and a few to my life list. (Unfortunately, I chose to audit my list while there and lost almost as many as I added.) My most impressive lifer was the Ring Ouzel, not so much for its looks but because it’s so odd to spell. The most spectacular for looks was a European first, the Hoopoe, a zebra on brown little guy with a spectacular crest.

We meandered up the west coast, visiting some great old towns plus Mont St. Michel and the WWII sites Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach and Dieppe. We then spent five days visiting Canadian and Commonwealth monuments and cemeteries from WWI around Amiens, Arras and Ypres. Hard duty as the number of headstones is mind numbing and the reproductions of trench life were horrifying. I had copied maps and downloaded the Division War Diaries for several battles in which my uncle’s division had fought, so we were able to follow some of them on the ground.

We then enjoyed three days in Bruges, Belgium, as an enjoyable decompression. What a great city and what delicious chocolate!

After that I felt that I had earned enough credits for a day’s birding and Beth agreed. We elected to go to The Provincaal Naturpaark Zwin. We thought we knew where we were going so we confidently headed north out of Bruges. We saw several birds in fields, including the beautiful Pied Avocet, and zigzagged our way along as we birded. After awhile we became concerned that neither the coast or Zwin wetlands were showing up. We finally stopped and asked an elderly gentleman resting his bicycle. We said “We are trying to reach Zwin.” He said “Oh that is in Belgium. We are in Netherlands.” Oops! He kindly aimed us back toward Belgium and we presently arrived at Zwin. On the way in we saw several ducks and geese, a few shorebirds and our first storks.

A negative here is that part of the area is a zoo where birds are in large cages and several ducks and geese are loose but have their wings clipped. The positive of the zoo is that they feed the storks. There were majestic White Storks all over with more than a dozen nesting in trees, on stands and atop a chimney in the space of about an acre. The noise of their bills clacking, as they expressed irritation, joy, or whatever was incredible. Also, Beth got some great photos.

The rest of the wetlands were disappointing. Rather than the great flocks advertised, there were few birds and many tourists. The surrounding area was fruitful however and we ended the day with, among others, six goose species; Barnacle, Greylag, Canada, Snow (a rarity), Greater White Fronted and, as we were leaving, a pair of Egyptian. We finished with a truly spectacular Western Marsh Harrier who we followed for a mile as he hunted his way along.


Now for some tulip watching.