Saturday, 2 March 2013

Europe - January 2013

I had to travel to France for business and as I had worked through Christmas and New Year, I decided to spend 10 days exploring parts of France that I had not visited previously, together with Yvonne. When we were in France, we decided to extend the visit by another 10 days and also visit Belgium, Holland, Germany and Luxembourg.



Forest Chapel built in 1686 near Rheinbach, Germany

Initially we planned to visit Fontainebleau and the Loire Valley, and after the business meetings which were to be held close to Paris, head up to the Baie de Somme. We never booked accommodation for more than two days in advance and there was plenty of accommodation available through www.booking.com

I had been in France for a week of meetings in late November and it was well into autumn by then but far too early for the over-wintering birds. By January, winter was well on its way and we had heavy snow in the afternoon as we drove up from Paris to the Somme in Picardie. We then had snow for the rest of the trip, except for the last few days as we drove back through France from Luxembourg. Day time temperatures got down as low as -9oC and overnight temperatures were quite a bit lower.

From a birding perspective the best areas we visited were in France and Holland, with the birding in Holland quite amazing with 10’s of thousands of geese being seen.

Itinerary
The actual trip itinerary as it transpired was as follows:

Thursday: 10th January 2013
Depart Melbourne at 22:55 on Qatar Airways arriving into Doha at 06:10 the Friday 11th

Friday: 11th January
Fly from Doha to Paris departing at 07:55 and arriving at 13:10.

We collected the rental car from Europcar which was a very nice Hyundai with plenty of good features. Being a diesel engine it had plenty of power, had excellent fuel consumption and drove well especially on the freeways. We had brought our own Garmin GPS for the car which had been loaded up with the map of Europe before we left Australia, and this worked well for the entire trip.

Drove to Fontainebleau and stayed at the Aigle Noir Hôtel which was conveniently located opposite the Château de Fontainebleau. This was a very pleasant hotel which is close to the village market, restaurants and shops. The hotel provided an excellent spread for breakfast which was a combination of Continental and English breakfasts.
Château de Fontainebleau
Saturday: 12th January
Early morning walk and birding around the extensive gardens of Château de Fontainebleau. After that we headed out into some of the forested areas which surround Fontainebleau and walked the trails of Allée des Vaches which is close to the village of Barbizon. Interesting birds included Bohemian Waxwing, French Crested Tit (sub-species) and Greater Spotted Woodpecker, with the Waxwing being a winter visitor to France.

Allée des Vaches

It was still hunting season in France, which is typically runs from late September through to late February, and we came across a hunting party complete with riders, horses, dogs and bugles, all looking very smart in their hunting tunics. The popping of shotguns starts early in the morning in France and hunters are seen in most forest and lakes. There are more than 1.5 million licensed hunters and an estimated 700,000 hunting dogs in France, which compares with about 100,000 birders, so the hunters have the upper hand.

Sunday: 13th January
Visited the Fontainebleau village market, which being French had a wonderful display of fresh food, plus the smells of food being cooked such as paella. We bought some nice scarves, gloves and other warm clothes, as it was quite cold compared to the recent weather in Melbourne.

Did a tour of the Château de Fontainebleau which included Napoleon’s museum. The visit to the Château was well worth it, with the rooms having been restored and in most cases fully furnished. This has to be a lot better than Château de Versailles which is where most tourists head to.
Château de Fontainebleau
After that we visited the forest close to Insead University for some birding. Rock Bunting and Black Woodpecker had been reported in the area over the past couple of days however we didn’t manage to see them. Did see a female Eurasian Bullfinch which would be a winter migrant.

We drove down the Loire Valley just after midday, which is the second most popular destination in France for tourists. We had booked to stay at the Château De La Coutancière for three nights, which is located just to the south of Brain Sur Allonnes.


Château De La Coutancière - Packing up the car

The Loire Valley (Vallée de la Loire) is known for the quality of its architectural heritage in its historic towns such as Amboise, Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours, but in particular for its world-famous castles, such as the Châteaux Amboise, Chambord, Saumur and Chenonceau.

The weather that day was quite icy with the wind chill. Along the drive we plenty of Western Buzzard perched alongside the road plus hundreds of Northern Lapwing and Black-headed Gull’s roosting in the fields.

Monday: 14th January
Spent the day visiting various areas of the Loire Valley, local forests and lakes. First stop was the Fontevraud Abbey where King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their son King Richard I of England, were buried. Unfortunately the abbey was closed either due to roadworks or being out of tourist season. Fontevraud Abbey also has the most northern colony of Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) which are usually only found in the South of France.

We then headed up to Lac de Rillé which is a pleasant lake alongside some forests and farmland, with a birdhide as well. It would be a popular tourist destination in summer, but in winter was all closed up. For the rest of the day we visited the many small villages within the Loire Valley.

Lac de Rillé

A number of good birding sites in the Loire Valley can be found on http://divers.lpo-anjou.org/english.htm

Tuesday: 15th January
We visited the Château de Saumur in the early morning, which was closed and then the Forêt de Chandelais just north of Le Guédéniau later on in the morning. The Forêt de Chandelais is a beautiful forest in Anjou with its 100-year-old trees and is particularly noted for its woodpeckers: the Black, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are all found here. We saw three Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Eurasian Sparrowhawk in the forest, which were very pleasant for walking through in the cool winter morning.

Château de Saumur

In the afternoon visited Château de Amboise and Château Chenonceau. Leonardo da Vinci (1452– 1519) is buried at Château de Amboise in the St Hubert Chapel which is well worth visiting. Compared to Château de Fontainebleau these Châteaux were a bit of a disappointment, however nice views of the Loire River and had an excellent lunch in Amboise.

St Hubert Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci is buried

Wednesday: 16th January
After another splendid breakfast we headed up to Forêt d'Écouves which is north of Alençon. The 8,000 hectare forest has broad-leaved (sessile oak and beech) and Scots Pine trees, and is well known for its deer and birds. Wolves used to roam the forests up until 1882. We saw the first signs of ice and snow in the forest, an indication of colder weather to come as we headed further north.

Forêt d'Écouves - Ice formations

After lunch we drove through to Montfort-l'Amaury which is close to Trappes (south of Versailles) where I had to make a presentation on the Thursday, which took up the full day. We stayed at the Hotel Saint-Laurent for two nights, which is where I had spent a week in November last year. In the evening we went to La Treille which is the best French restaurant in town and were joined by Brett who had also been in the Loire Valley the previous week, and was also involved with the presentation in Trappes.
Cathedral at Montfort-l'Amaury in the evening

Friday: 18th January

After a good breakfast and a late check-out, we headed up to Baie de Somme for a further two nights. I also changed the return flights back to Australia and extended the stay in Europe by another 10 days. Changing the flights using the Qatar office in Paris was hopeless with the phone continually being cut off. I had to phone Melbourne to change the flights and then they buggered it up the booking which I only found out a couple of days before we were due to fly out.

Snow had been predicted to start falling by 1pm, so we were keen to get to our accommodation before the snow started to impact on the roads. We also stopped in Rouen on the Seine River to visit the local Europcar dealer and extend our car rental.

It did start snowing that afternoon and by evening there was quite a bit of snow, probably a couple of cm’s.

Gardens at Le Thurel

We stayed at Le Thurel which was just down the road from d’Arry in Somme, Picardie. The accommodation was lovely and we had some great dinners around the fireplace with friends of the hosts and other guests.

Saturday: 19th January
In the morning the courtyard and car had quite thick snow and we had to scrape off the snow and ice from the windows before we could drive away. The local roads hadn’t been graded and were slippery. We saw salt being sprayed onto the roads later in the day and by the afternoon most of the roads had slush rather than snow on them. So very slow driving all day, particularly in towns at roundabouts and intersections, being careful not to accelerate or brake too hard.



In the morning we visited Parc du Marquenterre which has to be one of the best birding sites in France and a place that I had visited in November last year. There was plenty of snow around and ice on most of the lakes, which didn’t seem to worry the birds. The Blackbirds were scratching away the snow to expose the earth and food, whilst the European Robin would follow up and feed in the exposed soil. Both birds were very approachable and we saw between 20 and 30 robins, which was a lot.
European Robin

Also saw a single Greater White-fronted Goose amongst the many Greylag Geese, plus Whooper Swan, Eurasian Spoonbill, Northern Pintail, Common Crane, White Stork, Eurasian Redwing, Green Woodpecker and Wood Nuthatch amongst over 50 birds seen at this site.
Parc du Marquenterre

In the afternoon we went shopping for warm clothes and found a local store which was very reasonably priced. With thick jackets, scarves and decent gloves we were now far better equipped for the cold weather. We had heard that it had reached -18oC in the Netherlands, so we were anticipating some even colder weather, as we travelled north.
Birding in the Snow

Sunday: 20th January
As we left the accommodation in the morning, the car couldn’t get onto the local road, which hadn’t been cleared of snow. Yvonne got out of the car and noticed that we had a flat tyre, so we reversed back into the courtyard and changed the tyre with the help of one of the French guests. Not sure why we had a flat tyre as the car was new with only 3,000 km and the tyres were also new.

Today we were driving through to Belgium and due to the heavy snow around, decided to take the A16 freeway past Calais and Dunkirk, directly to Veurne where we were staying. The drive was very slow going and we probably only averaged 40 to 50 km/hr on a freeway where the speed limit is 130 km/hr. It wasn’t uncommon to see a car lock up its wheels on a very gentle curve and slide towards the edge of the road. No good trying to brake and it’s best just to take your feet off the brake/accelerator and let go the steering wheel, which at least gets the car straightened up as opposed to going sideways.

As we got closer to Belgium the condition of the roads improved with the snow ploughs in action, and the speed picked up on the freeway.

The accommodation at Campagne Sur Mer to the east of Veurne was excellent, modern, very clean and spacious. The rooms overlooked farmlands which were all covered in snow, which continued to fall through the night. It was a bit of a relief to get to our accommodation after driving in the snow. The breakfast was the best so far on the trip and nearly everything from the bread, to the jams etc was all home made in a spacious and modern kitchen.
Campagne sur Mer - View from our room

Monday: 21st January
In the morning the major roads had all been cleared of snow and driving was nearly back to normal. We drove through to Zeeland, which is in the South West of the Netherlands and consists of a number of islands. We left Belgium and entered the Netherlands, although there were no signs to indicate a border crossing, and then took the impressive 6.6km Westerschelde tunnel under the sea. This was the only place we paid a toll fee in the Netherlands whereas in France there were toll points on all the major freeways. In fact we never paid another toll fee until we drove back into France.

We travelled up to the large island of Schouwen-Duiveland and visited a couple of recommended birding sites, Kwade Hoek and Brouwersdam. There were plenty of birds to see as we drove across the various islands, which are a rich farming area, although prone to flooding.

Kwade Hoek is located on the North West coast of the northern island of Goeree-Overflakkee, close to the town of Havenhoofd. This site has wetlands, sand dunes and the beach, is a good site for Snow Bunting, Twite and Lapland Bunting. I only managed to find four Snow Bunting although sightings of the Twite had been made on the days we visited the area. The area has quite a few wetlands and the ice was quite thin, so I managed to crash through the ice a few times into knee-deep water which wasn’t too pleasant, the water being cold and stinky. The beach had snow right down to the water’s edge and there was a cold wind blowing off the sea, but quite a few seabirds and waders present.

Brouwersdam is actually the road or causeway between the islands of Schouwen-Duiveland and Goeree-Overflakkee, which is used to control water flows. To the west of the main road is a parallel road running along beach and to the sluice gates, the latter area being excellent for seabirds. Some of the sightings at Brouwersdam included Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Barnacle Goose, Goosander, Common Scoter, Common Goldeneye, European Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Golden Plover and Common Redshank.

We stayed at a farmstay at Bellas Artes close to Kerkwerve for one night which had a lovely farm style cottage with lots of room. The breakfast was quite amazing, lots of fresh farm produce and other goodies. As an indication of prices, this place was only €115 for the night with breakfast included. Bellas Artes has an on-site gallery which is very popular during the tourist season.

Tuesday: 22nd January
In the morning we revisited the local birding sites and then drove through to Oeffelt, which is close to the Nijmegen and also the border with Germany. We had booked to stay for three nights at Kerkplein 5, which was a lovely self-contained cottage right up against a lovely old church. The bed and breakfast accommodation was excellent, being very comfortable and of high standard, plus the hosts were very welcoming and friendly. Again the breakfasts were sumptuous and provided a good start for the day.

Church with bell tower next to Kerkplein 5

The plan for the next couple of days was to do some intensive birding with Justin Jansen who is an experienced birder living in Grave, another small village close by.

Wednesday: 23rd January
After breakfast we met up with Justin in Grave and then visited a number of birding sites around the Nijmegen area. It certainly makes a huge difference to go birding with someone who knows the local area and where the target birds could be found.

We had dropped off the flat tyre for repairs in the morning and arranged to collect it in the evening. In the late afternoon we had a second flat tyre and had to drive through rush hour traffic to get to a dealership that could repair the tyre. As it happened we only managed to get to a side road about 100m from a Hyundai dealership as the car was shaking and vibrating too much to drive. The tyre was wrecked and we managed to get a new tyre, after a lot of negotiating by Justin, just before the dealership closed for the night. Justin also arranged for the other repair shop to stay open so that we could pick up the other tyre. Bit of an expensive exercise with the snow tyre replacement costing €230, however the repair for the other tyre was only €20. In addition, the Hyundai dealership would only accept cash and luckily I had sufficient cash on me. Without Justin’s help however we would have been a lot worse off. My travel insurance SureSave later paid out for the full cost of the new tyre which I thought was very decent of them.

So it was a bit of a long day but the birding was excellent with the highlights being Tundra Bean Goose, Great White-fronted Goose (400), Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Grebe (uncommon), Smew (25), Black-throated Loon, Horned (Slavonian) Grebe, Linnet and Brambling.

At one stage we also had all three swans together, the Mute, Whooper and Berwick’s Swan, so that we could compare the Berwick’s with the Whooper Swan. The Berwick’s is a subspecies of the Tundra Swan which is also found in northern America, and has a shorter neck and less yellow on the bill than the Whooper Swan.

Whooper Swan

In the evening we heard a Tawny Owl calling from our accommodation, which also had Barn Owl nesting in the roof of the building.

Thursday: 24th January
We picked up Justin after breakfast and the first stop was at one of the local village churches which had about six Long-eared Owl roosting. We dropped Yvonne off in Nijmegen for shopping and then headed south to Roermond which is close to Germany. Roermond has a series of lakes running from the South West to the North East of the city which had some of my target birds including Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern Loon, Caspian Gull and Eurasian Siskin.

On the way down, we visited a number of small villages and farming areas, which had thousands of geese in the fields. We were looking for Red-breasted Goose which is a rarity for the Netherlands and most birds head down to Greece and Turkey for winter. We didn’t find these geese but we did see about 7,000 Greater White-fronted Goose, 200 Barnacle Goose and Pink-footed Goose. We also visited a site for Jack Snipe where it had been seen recently but we were unsuccessful, this being a difficult bird to find in winter.

We then headed back to Nijmegen to pick up Yvonne and then visited a gull roosting site at Kraaijenbergse Plassen as the sun was setting. Justin estimated about 10,000 Black-headed Gull and 6,000 Mew (Common) Gull there plus we saw a few Yellow-legged, Greater Black-backed and Herring Gull.

Sunset at Kraaijenbergse Plassen

Had dinner at a local hotel with Justin, then coffee at his place in Grave meeting up with his girlfriend, before heading back to Oeffelt. Justin has been to Australia several times and has an impressive list of birds seen in Australia, and is currently planning his next trip.

So it was an excellent couple of days birding in the Netherlands, thanks to Justin’s great skill and knowledge of the local area. I had never realised just how good the birding could be in winter, certainly far better than the other countries we visited on this trip. Seeing thousands of geese in the fields and flying over is not something I had seen before and is well worth seeing.

Friday: 25th January
Justin had recommended visiting the Monschau area of Germany and we managed to get some great accommodation in the region at the Waldhotel Rheinbach hotel in Rheinbach. This was an excellent hotel, lots of space, well furnished, good food and located next to a huge forest just outside of Rheinbach. The forest provides good walks and is quite popular with the locals and also runners, although running on the slippery paths has to be hazardous.

Rheinbach Forest (close to hotel)

The drive from Oeffelt to Rhenbach took us past Roermond and then into Germany, along a series of excellent freeways, many of which don’t have speed limits. As it didn’t take long to drive to Rheinbach, we took a drive through the local villages and visited a lovely area which had steep winding roads alongside an alpine river.

The forests in the area have Middle Spotted Woodpecker, which was one of my target birds, and one I thought I saw in France but wasn’t 100% certain. We did find about five birds over the two days and the only other bird of note was the splendid male Bullfinch which we had outside our hotel room window.

Saturday: 26th January
In the morning, we took a long relaxing walk through the forest and went as far as Rheinbach. After than we took a drive towards Bonn and along the Rhein River, which was flowing strongly. We then drove though the lovely local villages and as it was starting to snow again, headed back to our hotel in Rheinbach.

It’s noticeable how the standard of the houses improves from France through to the Netherlands and then Germany, with the latter two countries taking a lot of pride in their gardens and houses. Many of the small villages in France have old decaying buildings, which are often in the process of collapsing.

In the evening we took a walk through the delightful town of Rheinbach and had dinner there.

Sunday: 27th January
After breakfast, we drove through to Luxembourg taking some of the smaller roads which go through the lovely villages. This was a very scenic route with the villages and churches looking like Christmas postcards. We were heading towards Bourscheid and had booked to stay at the Cocoon Hotel La Rive for two nights. The area was a lot more scenic than I had imagined with steep valleys, large fast flowing river and with Le Château de Bourscheid overlooking the valley.

View of the Hotel from Le Château de Bourscheid

Monday: 28th January
We took a walk up to Le Château de Bourscheid in the morning, which is a good 40 minutes walk up the steep hill from the hotel. This is a castle which is well worth visiting and we were able to explore all parts of the castle, which is not possible for many of the castles in France. There were magnificent views from the castle and its location is very strategic making it difficult to attack.

Entrance to Le Château de Bourscheid

The castle appears to have been built around the year 1000 on earlier foundations. It was extended on several occasions: the outer wall dates from 1350, the Stolzembourg house from 1384 and the courtyard from 1477. The southern and eastern towers are from 1498 and the artillery bastions were built in the 16th century.


Le Château de Bourscheid

The Lord of Bourscheid died in 1512 and the castle started to dilapidate after that time. When French revolutionary troops under Napoleon invaded Luxembourg by 1794/5 the castle was most likely abandoned. Just to ensure that it wasn’t used again, the French troops knocked down a few of the defensive walls. In 1936 the ruins of Bourscheid were declared an historical monument and the state of Luxembourg took it over by 1972 undertaking restoration since then.

The history of Luxembourg also makes fascinating reading and over time, the territory of Luxembourg has been eroded, whilst its ownership has changed repeatedly, and its political independence has grown gradually.

After the Eighty Years' War, Luxembourg became a part of the Southern Netherlands, which passed to the Austrian line of the Habsburg dynasty in 1713. After occupation by Revolutionary France, the 1815 Treaty of Paris transformed Luxembourg into a Grand Duchy in personal union with the Netherlands. The treaty also resulted in the second partition of Luxembourg, the first being in 1658 and the third in 1839. Although these treaties greatly reduced Luxembourg's territory, they increased Luxembourg's independence, which was confirmed after the Luxembourg Crisis in 1867.

In the following decades, Luxembourg fell further into Germany's sphere of influence, particularly after the creation of a separate ruling house in 1890. Luxembourg was occupied by Germany during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. When Hitler invaded Luxembourg in May 1940, the German troops, made up of the three Panzer Divisions did not encounter any significant resistance save for some bridges destroyed and some land mines, since the majority of the Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps stayed in their barracks. Total Luxembourgish casualties amounted to 75 police and soldiers captured, six police wounded, and one soldier wounded. Luxembourg remained under German military occupation until August 1942, when the Third Reich formally annexed it as part of the Gau Moselland. The German authorities declared Luxembourgers to be German citizens and called up 13,000 for military service. 2,848 Luxembourgers eventually died fighting in the German army.

Since the Second World War, Luxembourg has become one of the world's richest countries, buoyed by a booming financial services sector, political stability, and European integration.

Tuesday: 29th January
After breakfast we left Luxembourg and drove through Belgium and into France on our way to our final stay at the La Villa Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart Bed and Breakfast in Ludes, which is located in the Champagne wine region of France.

This area is best known for the production of the sparkling white wine that bears the region's name. The term "Champagne" is reserved exclusively for wines that come from this region, which is split into five wine producing districts of Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The towns of Reims and Épernay are the commercial centres of the area.
Champagne wine region


The accommodation was splendid and in the morning we took a tour of the champagne wine cellars where the champagne is produced and stored for maturation. The wine cellars are naturally temperature controlled at 11 to 12oC and the bottle storage areas were cut into the chalk by hand many years ago. The wine cellars descend about 30m below the ground; all located below the house and is quite fascinating to visit.

Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast and rock sugar. A minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared and some Champagne will be made from and labelled as the products of a single vintage rather than a blend of multiple years' harvests. This means that the Champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the Champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.

After aging, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage, so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup is added to maintain the level within the bottle and, importantly, adjust the sweetness of the finished wine. Many houses still employ a highly skilled Remueur, who can adjust 40,000 bottles per day, controlling each one precisely.

It’s quite a lengthy process all done by hand and the inventory of champagne bottles on site is huge, all contributing to the significant cost of producing champagne.

Wednesday: 30th January
After another great breakfast and the wine cellar tour, we took the relatively short drive to Charles de Gaulle airport, which takes about 1.5 hours.

Depart from Charles de Gaulle airport on the Qatar Airways flight to Doha at 15:00.

Thursday: 31st January
Arrive into Melbourne at 22:25 on Qatar flight from Doha.

Accommodation
In general the standard of accommodation and meals were excellent, with some really good deals available. Being out of tourist season however, quite a few of the hotels and tourist destinations, such as the castles were closed. The accommodation and meal costs were typically a lot less than the equivalent in Australia, with the current strong exchange rate, not to mention the better service, free WiFi and interesting scenery. For our last holiday to Europe in 2009, the exchange rate was €0.45 to the A$, whereas the exchange rate (after fees) was €0.77 for this trip.

In the Netherlands we found it difficult to find accommodation that would accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards, and even the Hyundai dealership, which was a large dealership, would not accept these credit cards. The locals use ATM and Maestro cards, which are debit or cash cards, and which appear to be widely accepted.

When we were searching for accommodation of Booking.com we added credit cards to our selection criteria, in addition to free WiFi, breakfast included, floor area of at least 30m2, a bath and being in a good location i.e. close to forests etc. That wish list certainly reduced the available options when searching for accommodation.

Driving
Driving in the snow in France can be hazardous as they are not as well organised as in the Netherlands and Germany, where the snow is cleared away quickly. Driving up a four lane freeway with only one lane being used, was slow and even driving at 30 to 40 km/hr was slippery, with cars seen sliding across the road with their wheels locked up. It was very difficult passing slow moving traffic in these conditions as the lane which wasn’t being used had up to 6 inches of snow.

At one stage we were driving along the freeway in France, going up a hill and the Gendarmes had stopped the trucks allowing the cars to pass. However if you stopped in the snow and then tried to drive off again, going uphill, the wheels would just spin and the car would slide to the side. The Gendarmes were helping by giving the cars a shove in the right direction. We had snow tyres fitted which helped but even then it can be very slippery. It’s also important to note that there is no insurance cover if you have an accident in Germany without snow tyres fitted.

The roundabouts operate the same as in Australia except in Nijmegen in the Netherlands (close to the German border) and in Germany. With these roundabouts the incoming traffic has right of way unless it’s marked with a blue roundabout sign. So with a four lane roundabout you just drive straight into the traffic moving around the roundabout and they stop, unless it’s a tourist who doesn’t know system! It’s very confusing driving around the roundabout with incoming traffic which you have to give way to. Luckily I had Justin with me in Nijmegen who could tell me exactly what to do.

Each country in Europe has its own system of traffic signs and rules of the road, so when driving through three countries in a morning, it can get a bit confusing.

Scenery
Some of the best scenery was in Germany and Luxembourg, with decent hills and lovely villages in the snow, looking much like Christmas cards. The area around Rheinbach (Germany) and then travelling west towards Monschau (Germany) and into Luxembourg was particularly interesting, if one kept off the main roads and took the smaller roads which go through the various villages. This area includes the Eifel National Park which appears to be a popular destination for holidays and cross-country skiing.

A Village in Germany on way to Luxembourg

The area around Bourscheid was lovely, the hotel we stayed in being alongside a river in a steep valley, with the Le Château de Bourscheid overlooking the valley. In the evening the chateau was lit up and looked impressive through the mist and clouds.

Birding Resources
Birds of Northern Europe, BirdGuides iPhone App

Birds of Europe, Princeton Field Guides, 2ndEdition by Lars Svensson etal.

Bird Sightings in France: www.faune-iledefrance.org

Bird Sightings in the Netherlands: http://waarneming.nl/index.php

Bird Sightings in Belgium: http://waarnemingen.be/index.php?lang=en

Birds
For the trip I saw 119 birds of which 22 were lifers. Most of the new birds seen were over-wintering birds. The list of birds according to the IOC taxonomy, with subspecies identified where possible, was as follows:

Galliformes

Pheasants, Fowl and Allies (Phasianidae)

Grey Partridge [sp] (Perdix perdix)

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)

Anseriformes

Ducks, Geese and Swans (Anatidae)

Tundra Bean Goose [rossicus] (Anser serrirostris rossicus)

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

Western Greylag Goose (Anser anser anser)

Greater White-fronted Goose [sp] (Anser albifrons)

Eurasian White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons albifrons)

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)

Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla)

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Bewick's Swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

Gadwall (Anas strepera strepera)

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

Mallard [platyrhynchos] (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca crecca)

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Greater Scaup [marila] (Aythya marila marila)

European Eider (Somateria mollissima mollissima)

Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)

Common Goldeneye [clangula] (Bucephala clangula clangula)

Smew (Mergellus albellus)

Goosander (Mergus merganser merganser)

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Gaviiformes

Loons (Gaviidae)

Black-throated Loon [arctica] (Gavia arctica arctica)

Great Northern Loon (Gavia immer)

Podicipediformes

Grebes (Podicipedidae)

Little Grebe [ruficollis] (Tachybaptus ruficollis ruficollis)

Eurasian Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena grisegena)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus cristatus)

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus auritus)

Ciconiiformes

Storks (Ciconiidae)

European White Stork (Ciconia ciconia ciconia)

Pelecaniformes

Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

Eurasian Spoonbill [leucorodia] (Platalea leucorodia leucorodia)

Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)

Grey Heron [cinerea] (Ardea cinerea cinerea)

Eurasian Great Egret (Ardea alba alba)

Suliformes

Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)

Continental Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis)

ACCIPITRIFORMES

Kites, Hawks and Eagles (Accipitridae)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter nisus)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk [nisus] (Accipiter nisus nisus)

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Rough-legged Buzzard [lagopus] (Buteo lagopus lagopus)

Western Buzzard (Buteo buteo buteo)

Falconiformes

Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)

Common Kestrel [tinnunculus] (Falco tinnunculus tinnunculus)

Gruiformes

Rails, Crakes and Coots (Rallidae)

European Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus aquaticus)

Common Moorhen [chloropus] (Gallinula chloropus chloropus)

Eurasian Coot [atra] (Fulica atra atra)

Cranes (Gruidae)

Common Crane [grus] (Grus grus grus)

Charadriiformes

Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)

Eurasian Oystercatcher [ostralegus] (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus)

Plovers (Charadriidae)

Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)

Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago gallinago)

European Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica lapponica)

European Curlew (Numenius arquata arquata)

Common Redshank [totanus] (Tringa totanus totanus)

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

Ruddy Turnstone [interpres] (Arenaria interpres interpres)

Red Knot [sp] (Calidris canutus)

Purple Sandpiper [maritima] (Calidris maritima maritima)

Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

Gulls, Terns and Skimmers (Laridae)

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Common Gull (Larus canus canus)

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

Western Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis michahellis)

Columbiformes

Doves and Pigeons (Columbidae)

Rock Dove [livia] (Columba livia livia)

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia ''feral'')

Stock Dove [oenas] (Columba oenas oenas)

White-necked Wood Pigeon [palumbus] (Columba palumbus palumbus)

Eurasian Collared Dove [decaocto] (Streptopelia decaocto decaocto)

Strigiformes

Owls (Strigidae)

Tawny Owl [aluco] (Strix aluco aluco)

Little Owl [vidalii] (Athene noctua vidalii)

Long-eared Owl [otus] (Asio otus otus)

Piciformes

Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Middle Spotted Woodpecker [medius] (Dendrocopos medius medius)

Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)

Great Spotted Woodpecker [pinetorum] (Dendrocopos major pinetorum)

Green Woodpecker (Eurasian) [viridis] (Picus viridis viridis)

Passeriformes

Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Continental Jay (Garrulus glandarius glandarius)

Eurasian Magpie [pica] (Pica pica pica)

Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula spermologus)

Rook [frugilegus] (Corvus frugilegus frugilegus)

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone corone)

Waxwings (Bombycillidae)

Bohemian Waxwing [garrulus] (Bombycilla garrulus garrulus)

Tits and Chickadees (Paridae)

Marsh Tit [sp] (Poecile palustris)

Willow Tit [sp] (Poecile montanus)

Willow Tit [rhenanus] (Poecile montanus rhenanus)

Continental Coal Tit [abietum] (Periparus ater abietum)

French Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus abadiei)

Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)

Continental Great Tit (Parus major major)

Continental Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus caeruleus)

Larks (Alaudidae)

Crested Lark [cristata] (Galerida cristata cristata)

Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)

Bushtits (Aegithalidae)

Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)

Continental Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus europaeus)

Kinglets (Regulidae)

Goldcrest [regulus] (Regulus regulus regulus)

Wrens (Troglodytidae)

Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes troglodytes)

Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Wood Nuthatch (Sitta europaea caesia)

Treecreepers (Certhiidae)

Short-toed Treecreeper [sp] (Certhia brachydactyla)

Short-toed Treecreeper [megarhynchos] (Certhia brachydactyla megarhynchos)

Starlings (Sturnidae)

Common Starling [vulgaris] (Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris)

Thrushes (Turdidae)

Common Blackbird [merula] (Turdus merula merula)

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Eurasian Redwing (Turdus iliacus iliacus)

Continental Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos philomelos)

Mistle Thrush [sp] (Turdus viscivorus)

Chats and Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)

Continental Robin (Erithacus rubecula rubecula)

Old World Sparrows and Snowfinches (Passeridae)

House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)

House Sparrow [domesticus] (Passer domesticus domesticus)

Eurasian Tree Sparrow [montanus] (Passer montanus montanus)

Accentors (Prunellidae)

Continental Dunnock (Prunella modularis modularis)

Finches, Siskins and Crossbills (Fringillidae)

Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)

Continental Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs coelebs)

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

Hawfinch [coccothraustes] (Coccothraustes coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Eurasian Bullfinch [sp] (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Eurasian Bullfinch [europoea] (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europoea)

European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)

European Greenfinch [chloris] (Chloris chloris chloris)

Common Linnet [cannabina] (Linaria cannabina cannabina)

European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)

European Serin (Serinus serinus)

Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus)

Buntings and New World Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Common Reed Bunting [schoeniclus] (Emberiza schoeniclus schoeniclus)

Longspurs and Snow buntings (Calcariidae)

Snow Bunting [nivalis] (Plectrophenax nivalis nivalis)


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