Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Going Dutch, part 2: plastic fantastic

Bar-headed Goose with Greylags (and Ruddy Turnstone) in The Netherlands, where this introduced and well-established species is largely ignored by local birders but ticked by visitors.
"Do you realise how low you've sunk?" Marcel heckled as I zoomed in to appreciate the finer points of an immaculately plumaged Bar-headed Goose. He was of course right. 'Cat C' listing is, frankly, pretty desperate stuff, and in no way does it feel like 'proper' birding. For this reason, I completely ignored the fistful of potential WP ticks on offer last time I was in The Netherlands in 2012: that was on a family holiday in the south-west, and I wasn't going to disrupt proceedings and go out of my way for a goose, a swan or a parakeet. But this time, on an overnight trip targeting the wintering Siberian Rubythroat and with a few hours to spare, why not? And by any standards, Bar-headed Goose is an aesthetically outstanding species.

Marcel's scorn is rooted in a major cultural difference in the birding scene in Holland. Probably uniquely, the Dutch don't recognise naturalised introductions as part of their avifauna. Unlike all other 'advanced' birding countries in Europe, they don't even have a Category C as part of their national list (nor in fact a Category D for species of uncertain origin, but that's another story), From a purist's point of view ignoring these species might therefore seem justifiable, but in practical terms does it make sense? Like many other western European countries, there are significant populations in the wild of birds derived from introductions or escapes. Like it or not, they have become part of the national avifauna, and in some instances - for example Barnacle Goose - the division between wild and feral birds actually seems pretty blurred.

Alexandrine Parakeets in Oosterpark, one of several Amsterdam sites where the species occurs in numbers.
The list of established exotic birds in The Netherlands includes three species - Bar-headed Goose, Black Swan and Alexandrine Parakeet - which are not 'countable' in Britain as they do not have populations that are officially recognised as established (probably wrongly so in the case of Black Swan). This means that for WP listers from Britain, and indeed many other parts of Europe (notably Scandinavia and countries bordering the Mediterranean), any visit to The Netherlands means the chance of three ticks which, paradoxically, Dutch birders routinely ignore.

I may have shunned them last time I was here, but now it was time to put pride to one side and get the job done. And with the help of Marcel, who despite misgivings kindly staked out the Bar-headed Goose prior to my arrival, I'd got off to a good start. After a second helping of the rubythroat, I had to complete the task on day 2 with the help of, where news of Black Swan sightings revealed one close to my route back to Amsterdam, and in the city itself I scored with Alexandrine Parakeet in Oosterpark thanks to a tip from Laurens Steijn (this species is also possible in Vondelpark and Beatrixpark, and several other localities).

Game, set and match! A Black Swan with its Mute cousins completes the Dutch plastic fantastic overnighter.
While I'd draw the line at long-haul targeted trips for 'Cat Cs', I'll continue to tick them when the opportunity arises. Incidentally, WP listers might be interested to know that the latest version of the Italian national checklist includes Muscovy Duck as an established species for the first time, thereby also adding it to the Western Palearctic list. On the debit side, however, Fischer's Lovebird is no longer considered self sustaining in France, so if you've already got tickets booked for Nice, head to the hills or Camargue instead and do some real birding!

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