Bluethroats in Oostvaardersplassen, Netherlands.

08th May 2016
If there is one bird that I’ve been keen to get some images of for some time it’s the Bluethroat. I have seen many on my travels, some in the UK, Poland and a huge fall of 400 birds in China, with eight sitting in one small bush. Frustratingly, however, I have never been in a position to photograph them.
Bluethroats are such a charismatic little bird, so colourful with their light ochre undertail sides, a large rusty breastband with another smaller breastband above, delicately fringed with black and white and that intense ‘blue throat’. They also have a broad and conspicuous creamy white supercilium’.
There are three races of Bluethroat; white spotted birds which are found in southern and central Europe; red spotted birds found in northern Europe and birds with no spot typically found in eastern Turkey.
In the UK the red and white spotted races are sometimes seen, although very infrequently, with perhaps one or two birds a year and with many years none at all. The Netherlandss has become a hotspot for the white spotted race with a large increase in population over the last twenty years. With this in mind last week we flew from Cardiff to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, a flight of only 55mins. Picked up a hire car and drove the 60km or so to a little thatched cottage we had booked near Harderwijke.
We chose this area because it is fairly close to the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, a famous Bluethroat location, in south Flevoland. After picking up some supplies from a local store we unpacked and went for a walk in the local countryside. After showering and having supper, feeling tired we got an early night and were up at first light the next morning full of anticipation. We drove to the reserve in about 40mins and went straight in to the reedbeds where the Bluethroats breed.
In theory you could leave Cardiff, and in under four hours be at Oostvaardersplassen amongst Bluethroats.
Getting there is straightforward, (if you have the confidence to drive in Dutch traffic), more about that in the full trip report!!
Photographing these enigmatic birds, however, at this site is far from straightforward. They exist almost exclusively in the reedbeds where you can hear their song which characteristically starts with a repeated squeak which has been likened to a wheel on a child’s bicycle. This is followed by a series of rapid twittering notes interspersed with sharp whistles and creaky calls, it sounds difficult but once heard it is quite easy to identify.
Walking along we met a Dutch birder and said good morning, we asked him if there were any (Blauwborsten), Bluethroats. He said he had seen one bird only that morning, we thanked him and carried on to the reed beds. After about twenty minutes a bird started singing and flew into the top of a small tree, it was badly silhouetted against the bright sky but nevertheless there were birds there.

We walked the track between the reed beds and although we could hear several birds no further sightings were had. We left disappointed but decided to try again the following day.
The next day we were up early again and at the reed beds, where we saw another, much older Dutch birder who said it was too windy and like other reed bed birds they keep down in these conditions. He also told us the birds like the sun to come up just above the horizon on a calm morning and then they would usually show. His one caveat was that the birds wouldn’t show for long, about an hour, then they usually went quiet. These observations were based on his thirty years birding there. He said the forecast was good for the next morning and wished us luck, we left and went for a walk around. This reserve is pretty amazing with huge amounts of birds and animals, one area was basically a field of Comfrey and Dock which held hundreds of Whitethroats, many Grasshopper Warblers and Blue Headed Wagtails.

A truly lovely spectacle.
The next morning just after first light we were there again and the same bird was singing, silhouetted at the top of its favourite tree. However, as the sun rose higher, up the track we could see birds starting to fly around and we could now finally see the ‘Blauwborsten’. The grizzled old Dutch birder was right, you can’t beat local knowledge!! There was an estimated ten birds flying around the reeds along a hundred yard stretch of track. We just stood still and waited until a bird started to sing from a perch and then slowly walked along and took some photographs. It was an absolutely glorious morning there was no one else around and some of the birds were really confiding, it really was special. Some birds even flew onto the grassy track to feed and were walking towards us completaly unconcerned.

One male bird perched really close to us on an old dead stick amongst the reeds and allowed me to take some lovely images it was a dream finally come true.

It was an hour we will never forget and yes after about an hour they started to go quiet!
Please see Latest Images, Bluethroats, for more photos.