Although the Netherlands is a densely populated country, it is one of the best countries in Western Europe to watch birds. You will find a great variety of habitats on a very small area: wetlands, rivers, coastal sites, agricultural land and forests. This means you are able to observe a large number of bird species in a very short time. In this article you will discover the most attractive birding areas in the Netherlands.
Coastal sites 1: Waddenzee
When to visit: winter, spring, autumn
One of the largest reserves in the Netherlands is the Waddenzee, a coastal site very important for migrating birds. Millions of waders migrating from the north to the south (vice versa) rest here for a few weeks before continuing their migration. March, april and may are the best months to observe migrants, waders and summer breeders, while september and october are the best months to observe migrants to the south. Large flocks of wader winter in the Waddenzee.
Best sites for watching birds in the Waddenzee:
- Texel, the largest island in the west of the Waddenzee and in my opinion the best site for watching birds in the Netherlands in spring, autumn and winter. Waders, ducks, spoonbills, migrants are easy to spot.
- The area of the Lauwersmeer. An important area to observe waders, ducks and raptors like the White-tailed Eagle. Best seasons: spring and autumn. In autumn and winter good site for observing Snow Bunting, Horned Lark and Twite.
- Dollard at the border with Germany, a large estuary. Best periods to visit: spring and autumn. I have seen here enormous flocks of Avocet, Dunlin and Spoonbill. Montagu’s harrier breed in the field nearby. The north of the provence Groningen is the only area in the Netherlands where this graceful bird of prey breeds.
Although Texel is the main island for birders, the other islands in the Waddenzee attract thousants of waders and duck as well. All islands in the Waddenzee are excellent sites to combine a family seaside and birding holiday. Texel and Ameland are the most crowded islands. Vlieland, Terschelling and Schiermonnikoog are smaller islands and very interesting for birders, especially in spring and autumn (as from the end of August). In spring some reserves may be not accessible to give breeding birds rest.
Watch this film of Bearded Tits in the Lauwersmeer:
Coastal sites 2: In the south-west
When to visit: winter, spring, late summer, autumn
Although coastal sites in the delta in the provinces Zeeland and Zuid-Holland are smaller than the Waddenzee, the mudflats of the Oosterschelde and the other bays belong to the most important birding sites in the Netherlands during all seasons. In spring, late summer and in autumn you will see here large numbers of waders and ducks. Some parts of the Oosterschelde are difficult to reach, but fortunately you find many interesting reserves behind the dikes that protect the land behind. In all parts of the delta you will observe terns like Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern (small numbers) and Little Tern. In the swamps with reedbeds you may find Bittern. In the salt marshes Little Egret and Spoonbill are foraging. In case you like to observe songbirds, you should visit the delta in spring for Meadow Pipit, Common Linnet, Skylark and many others species. The best sites in this region are:
- Schouwen-Duiveland is the most important islands in the delta for birdwatchers. Here you walk along the Oosterschelde and have magnificant views over the Oosterschelde and its sandbanks. At high tide waders and ducks rest in the reserves directly behind the dikes. Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Greenshank and Turnstone are very common during migration periods and in spring. In winter you will see large numbers of Brent Goose, Barnacle Goose, White-fronted Goose and Bewick’s Swan. Small groups of Whooper Swan are foraging on the inland fields. During migration periods you may expect rare species like Red-necked Phalarope, Purple Sandpiper and Dotterel. In late autumn and in winter the Brouwersdam is one of the best places in the Netherlands to observe sea birds like Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Shag, Cormorant, Brent Goose, Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver.
- I mentionned the Brouwersdam above. The other dams, like the Grevelingendam, Philipsdam en Oesterdam are good sites for observing waders and ducks too.
- An excellent bird hide is situated in a small reserve, named Inlaag Keihoogte near the village Wissenkerke. When the water is high, waders and duck will pass surprisingly close to the bird hide. All species of waders mentionned above pass this beautiful reserve or breed here. Early in the morning is the best period to observe Litte Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Snipe, Green Sandpiper andCommon Sandpiper.
- Westerschelde. Although the Westerschelde leads the biggest ships to the ports of Antwerp, the mudbanks are very important for migrating waders, ducks and other species. Unfortunately, these mudbacks are not easy to reach. At some points you have a good overview, like the dikes in the neighbourhood of the village ‘s-Gravenpolder. Here you find also salt marshes behind the dikes. In april/mei and in august/september you may see Curlew Sandpiper in these marshes.
In this video I visit the Grevelingdam and walk over the mudbanks in search of Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover:
Coastal sites 3: Near Amsterdam
When to visit: April till end-May and September till November
IJmuiden, soms 40 km west of Amsterdam, is a coastal site where industry and seabirds come together. Everywhere you go, you will see the industrial complex of Tata Steel, one of the worlds largest producer of steel. The port of IJmuiden is the largerst fishing port in the Netherlands. The reason of these activities: the North sea channel that leads ships to the port of Amsterdam. Two piers guarantee ships a quiet beginning of their tour to inland ports. The south pier (Zuidpier) is approxamately 3 km long, the north pier (Noordpier) some 2 km. Both piers and the beaches beside, are awesome sites to observe migrating birds between September to November and April and end-May. Thousants of gulls, terns, geese, waders and ducks pass here on their journey to the south or north. In winter both piers belong to the best places in the Netherlands to watch sea birds like Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Shag, Cormorant, Brent Goose, Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. Little Gull and Kittiwake fly together with other species and rest in the surf. During stormy weather Skuas and Gannets can be seen. Flocks of Snow Bunting fly around in the dunes and on the beaches. Short-eared owl hunt for prey and pass. You will make surprising observations everydag during migration periods.
Unfortunately both piers are closed during heavy weather (as from wind force 5 of 6 Beaufort). Best time to visit the piers is early in the morning. During midweek the piers and the beaches are more quiet than during the weekends.
The piers, especially the south pier, are my favorite sites during migrations periods.
Watch my Youtube presentation of seabirds at the pier:
Inland site 1: the Biesbosch
When to visit: late winter, spring, autumn
The Biesbosch, an area of 90 km2 of marshes, reedbeds, woodland, meadows, creeks and mud banks, is an important site for wintering and passage waterbirds. Little Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Bittern, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, Teal, Pintail, Gargany, Shoveler, Pochard, Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander as well as Spoonbill, Kingfisher, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper all can be seen in the Biesbosch during migration periods. White-tailed Eagle and Osprey breed in this vast reserve as well as Hobby, Marh Harrier, Sparrow Hawk, Buzzard and Goshawk. Hen Harrier can be seen in autumn and winter.
In February impressive numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff and other waders forage on the mudbanks.
In spring I am always impressed by the many songbirds singing in the woodlands and reedbeds. Bluethroat, Redstart, Stonechat, Cetti’s Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Savi’s Warbler (a few territories), Sedge Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Reed Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Nightingale, Bearded Reedling, Willow Tit, Chuckoo, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker show themselves. Remarkable numbers of Skylark breed in the meadows. A colony of Sand Martin breeds besides a creek (and a road).
Visiting the Biesbosch can easily be combined whit a visit to the Zouweboezem, an authentic wetland nearby. Here you observe all kind of warblers mentionned above at a remarkable short distance. A colony of Purple Herons breed in the woodland. Black Tern breed in the marshes near the hiking trail. Best period to visit: spring.
Near Unesco World Heritage Kinderdijk, approximately 40 km away from the Zouweboezem, you find the Donkse Laagten, a small but very important reserve where Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Avocet and Lapwing are breeding. Large numbers of White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose and Barnacle Goose winter in this protected area. The famous windmill complex Kinderdijk is an important breeding site for Purple Heron and Black Tern. Best period to visit: spring.
Although the Biesbosch is one of the most important reserves in the Netherlands, there are only a few bird hides in the area. And unfortunately, these hides are really miserable. You better can visit the Biesbosch by foot of by bike. The Biesbosch in the neighbourhood of the village Werkendam is well accessible by car.
In this video I show you the impressive numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits in February:
Inland site 2: Oostvaardersplassen
When to visit: spring, late summer and autumn
The Oostvaardersplassen, some 40 km east from Amsterdam, has been created by man. In 1968 the Flevopolders were reclaimed from the IJsselmeer, a vast lake in the centre of the Netherlands. Till early 20th century, this lake was named the Zuiderzee. The water was salt and the tide set the rythm of the day. Since the construction of the Afsluitdijk, the water became fresh and the name of this basin was changed in IJsselmeer. In 1968 new land was created and a part of that new land changed into one of Europe’s most important wetland reserves. It covers 5.600 hectares and has become a ‘mecca’ for birders in spring and autumn. It attracts waders, ducks, raptors and songbirds. Specialties are White-tailed Eagle (breeds in the Oostvaardersplassen), Bearded Tit, Bluethroat, Mars Harrier, Goosanders and Smew. Its attraction in spring lies in de variety of warblers, migrating waders and waterfowl. You can make several beautiful walks through the reservce. Several well equiped hides bring you at short distance to the birds.
I observed these Goldcrests in autumn in the Oostvaardersplassen:
Best birding sites in the provence Zeeland
In this article you will discover the best birding sites in Zeeland, an excellent provence to watch birds. National Park the Oosterschelde with all the smaller inland reserves attract thousants of waders, duck, geese and songbirds. Discover the best birding sites in Zeeland.
This article is still under construction. I will complete this article in the next few weeks.