Inline distance skating and bird-watching during the Waterland-East tour

by Wijnand Heitmans


The Waterland-East tour is of particular interest because of the large number of bird species that can be spotted during a skating tour so close to the city of Amsterdam. Below I have listed about 100 birds that you can recognize without any optical instruments, such as binocs or telescope. The smaller birds, especially those of the reedbeds, may be identified by their song. Of course, if you are not such a well-trained bird-watcher you have to consult your bird guide (e.g. Petersons, Bruun's, Lars Jonsson). A small and handy pocket guide with plasticized softcover to take with you is The Hamlyn Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe (by Bertel Bruun, Hakan Delin and Lars Svensson, 1987). To learn bird songs the CD-ROM "Birds of Europe" by ETI is heartily recommended (I have no commercial relations with ETI). Other useful links are UK Birdguides and and Bird Online.

When you start the tour in Durgerdam you see the IJmeer (IJ Lake) on your right hand (direction south-west). The IJmeer is a shallow fresh water basin and part of the IJ, the natural port of Amsterdam. Because the IJ is connected via the Noordzee canal to the North Sea it is often a little brackish. Marine fishes and all kind invertebrates may migrate up to the IJmeer. The IJmeer is used as foraging site by many nesting water birds during Spring/Summer season as well as overwintering site by winter guests. Large numbers of birds nest in the nearby oldest Dutch national park the Naardermeer and in the Pen Island (Peneiland) reedbeds of the Diemerzeedike.

If you skate on the cycle-path on top of the IJsselmeer-dike the Markermeer is on your right and the Waterlandpolder is on your left. You look over the Waterlandpolder. Skating on the dike gives you a beautiful view of the birds in the water and near the shoreline, while other birds fly over the dike between the polder and the lake. In high Summer swallows may follow the cyclists and skaters on the dike. They fly just behind you or parallel with you, hoping to catch the swarming insects (e.g. lekking midges) around your head.

If you have passed the village Uitdam (7 km) and the small harbour you skate along some shrubs (willows and alders) and reed land. Other protected reedbeds are on your right hand on the shores of the Gouwzee; the third basin of the tour after the T-crossing (N518), direction Monnickendam. Here you can see birds of prey such as harriers and buzzards. Recently, the northern goshawk has returned; they breed in Pen Island near the Diemerzeedike. The common kestrel uses lampposts as lookouts. If you're very lucky you may seen the rare peregrine from a small breeding population in nearby Flevoland (polder). Although rare, ospreys and hobbies seem to be present (but not seen by me). Message for night skaters: the little owl and the tawny owl are the most common owls.

A large number of common, rare or shy birds occur in the reedbeds and bushes of the Markermeer and the Gouwzee, such as pipits, tits and warblers, finches, sparrows and buntings. However, I added only a few species to the list, because most of them are too cryptic to be spotted by skaters. If you're good at song identification you will certainly hear many other species. One of the most striking, but not commonly spotted is the bluethroat. The bearded tit usually breeds in Flevoland, but may be sometimes observed here.

The most beautiful panoramic view over the Markermeer is near the lighthouse of the former island of Marken (see tour description). It's an excellent place to observe migratory birds, but in Winter and early Spring it can be very cold here. So, this is not a really good place for a sweaty skater. For a nice view over the Gouwzee go back to the picturesque village of Marken (Kerkbuurt). If you don't like the crowded terraces on the boulevard go to the dike near Kerkbuurt; this is a nice place to stare at the Gouwzee (especially at summer's nightfall it's a place for lovers and dreamers).

The meadow birds can best be spotted in Waterland while skating from Zuiderwoude to Ransdorp, but they also occur in the meadows of Marken Island all the way up to the lighthouse (crowded on Sundays). Meadow birds can be best divided into breeding and migratory species. Some breeding species may be common for several months from early Spring until late-Summer. The black-tailed godwit is very abundant. The birds are hardly afraid of skaters and can be approached up to 4-5 meters as long as you're moving. Other common breeding birds are the grey heron, the oystercatcher, the northern lapwing, the ruff, the curlew, the common snipe, common redshank and the sky lark. Migratory birds such as the whimbrel, the common snipe, the common greenshank, the common sandpiper, the green sandpiper and the spotted redshank may locally be abundant for shorter times. They are often rather shy. Eurasian spoonbills are also shy. Waterland is one of the most nearby foraging sites of this species that breeds in the Naardermeer. If they choose not to go far from their nest they prey upon small fishes, especially sticklebacks, in the ditches of the polders near Amsterdam. The white stork was once extinct in The Netherlands, but has come back via successful breeding programs. Nowadays non-migrating offspring from these breedings may sometimes be seen again in the meadows hunting frogs and moles.

Finally, I have listed all kinds of common and less common smaller birds which are not associated with particular landscape elements or special habitats. They can be spotted in the villages or on a terrace, near the farms, in trees and shrubs and on the road. If you take a rest in one of the more quiet villages, e.g. Zuiderwoude or Ransdorp, you may see many of them. Be there at the right time and look in the gardens, stay near the church and feel happy in the graveyard.


Bird List

Near the shorelines or in the water

Dodaars Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Kluut Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Geoorde Fuut Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Aalscholver Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Knobbelzwaan Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Rietgans Bean Goose Anser fabalis
Kolgans White-fronted Goose Anser bifrons
Grauwe gans Greylag Goose Anser anser
Indische gans Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus
Bergeend Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Wilde eend Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Slobeend Northern Shoveler Anas discors
Tafeleend Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Kuifeend Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Kokmeeuw Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Zilvermeeuw Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Grote mantelmeeuw Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Kleine Mantelmeeuw Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Stormmeeuw Common Gull Larus canus
Visdiefje Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Dwergstern (rare) Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Zwarte stern Black Tern Sterna niger
Waterral (rare) Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Meerkoet Common Coot Fulica atra
Waterhoen Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Especially in Autumn, Winter and early Spring:
Kleine zwaan Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus
Toppereend Greater Scaup Aythya marila
Brilduiker Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Nonnetje Smew Mergus albellus
Grote Zaagbek Goosander Mergus merganser

Especially in mid-Winter season:
Wilde zwaan Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
Krakeend Gadwall Anas strepera
Smient Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Dwergmeeuw Little Gull Larus minutus

Swallows and swifts near the farms,
along the dike and high in the air

Boerenzwaluw Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Huiszwaluw House Martin Delichon urbica
Oeverzwaluw Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Gierzwaluw Common Swift Apus apus

Reed lands and shrubs of the Gouwzee and
the Markermeer

Roerdomp (rare!) Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Blauwborst (uncommon) Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Bosrietzanger Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Rietzanger Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Kleine Karekiet Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Baardman (uncommon) Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus
Rietgors Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

Birds of prey and owls

Bruine kiekendief Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Blauwe Kiekendief Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
Buizerd Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Sperwer Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Havik Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Torenvalk Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Boomvalk (uncommon) Hobby Falco subbuteo
Slechtvalk (very rare) Peregrine Falco peregrinus
Visarend (rare) Osprey Pandion haliaetus

At night (dawn or dusk):
Kerkuil (if you're lucky) Barn Owl Tyto alba
Ransuil Long-eared Owl Asio otus
Steenuil Little Owl Athene noctua
Bosuil Tawny Owl Strix aluco

Meadows (breeding and migrating)
and along the ditches in Waterland:

Blauwe reiger Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Ooievaar (by incidence) White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Lepelaar Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Scholekster (breeding) Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Kluut (breeding) Avocet Burhinus oedicnemus
Kievit (breeding) Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Grutto (breeding) Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Kemphaan (breeding) Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Wulp (breeding) Curlew Numenius arquata
Regenwulp(migrating) Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Watersnip(migrating) Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Groenpootruiter(migrat.) Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Oeverloper (migrating) Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos
Witgatje(migrating) Green Sandpiper Tringa chropus
Zwarte Ruiter(migrating) Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Tureluur (breeding) Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Veldleeuwerik (breeding) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis

Common and less common smaller birds to be spotted
in the villages or on a terrace, near the farms, in
trees and shrubs and on the road:

Fazant Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Rotsduif or Stadsduif Rock Dove Columba livia
Houtduif Wood pigeon Columba palumbus
Holenduif Stock Dove Columba oenas
Turkse tortel Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Grote Bonte specht Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Roodborst Robin Erithacus rubecula
Merel Blackbird Turdus merula
Zanglijster Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Grote lijster Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Koperwiek (in Winter) Redwing Turdus iliacus
Nachtegaal Rufous Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Gekraagde Roodstaart Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Spotvogel Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina
Braamsluiper Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Grasmus Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Tuinfluiter Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Zwartkop Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Fluiter Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix
Tjiftjaf Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Fitis Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Grauwe vliegenvanger Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Koolmees Great Tit Parus major
Pimpelmees Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Winterkoninkje Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Witte kwikstaart White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Gele kwikstaart Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Ekster Magpie Pica pica
Vlaamse gaai Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Kauw Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Zwarte kraai Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Spreeuw Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Huismus House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Ringmus Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Vink Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Groenling Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Kneu Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Goudvink Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Reptile look-out

In early Spring the ringed grass snake (ringslang, Natrix natrix) may be seen sunbathing on the basalt blocks in the dike or swimming in the water. Both sexes of this non-venomous species often have a bright highly contrasting yellow band or two spots just behind the head. The snake is a typical faunal element of the wetland area preying on worms, small fishes and amphibians, whereas itself is eaten by the marsh harrier. Length of the adult female up to 1.25 m or even longer and the male much smaller 75 to 90 cm.

Asphalt cadavers

Except for birds, a number of (rare or/and nocturnal) mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes (e.g. eel=paling) can regularly be found dead and flat on the road as victims of car accidents. Many animals migrate and cross dangerous roads at night without a notion of speed traffic. If you're skating on the IJsselmeerdike or Uitdammerdike look downstairs on the road. Especially in the morning you will have a chance to see any object of interest. Amphibians (toads), shrews and rodents are often too small to be recognized, but a dead grass snake or a large eel, rabbits and hares and of coarse, a hedgehog are all possibilities. Live hedgehogs may be seen at dusk or in Autumn by day, be careful not to hit them with your skates as they immediately stop walking and roll up. A dead pinemarten (boommarter) forms a rare, but very special attraction. The pinemarten is a nocturnal animal, that's why it is seldom seen alive. The species is not particularly associated with a wetland fauna, but the males are known to migrate for long distances and may become an asphalt victim in this way. Buzzards and kites (not observed in Waterland so far) are known to be keen on finding and eating asphalt cadavers.

Once otters were common in The Netherlands, but now they are probably completely wiped-out through a combination of water pollution, habitat loss and destruction of small-scaled landscape elements, e.g. culverts under dikes. Otters are well known victims of car accidents particularly because they are unable to estimate the speed of cars. Probably the last Dutch otter was killed on a road in 1987 (province of Drenthe). So, the chance to see any otter, dead or alive, is close to zero. A few years ago people started a rehabilitation progam aimed to reintroduce the otter in a number of protected wetland reserves.


I thank the bird experts Jan Sevenster (also a skater) and Hans Slabbekoorn and co-skater Just van den Broecke for comments and discussion.



A Nasty Plan

The city-council of Amsterdam approved a nasty plan to build 18.000 houses and apartments on six artificial islands in the IJmeer (IJ Lake). This new suburban will be called IJburg. The plan will be realized in only 10 years (between 2000 and 2010). Nature will be seriously threatened and ecologists predict the disappearance of many bird species and holocausts of the grass snake populations and amphibians including some rare mammals (shrews) and other important underwater life flora and fauna. Why?

The coming suburban housing complex will take up 800 hectares or 1200 soccer pitches of the open water of the IJmeer. The municipal officers say this is only 6% percent of the total surface of the lake, but the supporting infrastructure will take another part of the land of the Diemerzeedike up to the important Pen island where several bird species nest. So, environmentalists and motivated citizens argue that the housing complex will take up to 20% of the lake instead of 6% as indicated by the propaganda machine of the Amsterdam municipality. If every apartment has 3 residents, on average, I calculate that about 54.000 people will live in this concrete desert and use the IJmeer and its surroundings as recreation area.

Another fact is that the people who are going to live in IJburg will be motivated by the water sport facilities. So, it is expected that one day 2000 to 4000 yachts, sailing boats, surfboards, speedboats etc. will be on the water. It is the end of the last quiet place so close to the city of Amsterdam. The effect will be that migrating and thus shy water and reed land birds coming from the northern tundra's or African shorelines will be driven away from their foraging sites and will be banned to other uncertain resorts. Other migrating and shy species such as grass snakes, toads and salamanders will be prevented in their attempts to contact other local subpopulations in closely connected areas. They will become extinct in a short time. I do not known what will happen to the underwater life and smaller mammals, such as rare shrews, or the arthropods because their species and numbers have not been sufficiently monitored. The IJmeer is part of a fine and subtle web of wetland ecosystems including Naardermeer, Ankeveense Plassen, Loosdrechtse and Vinkeveense Plassen up to the Green Hart of Holland (Mid-Holland). So, by building IJburg other wetlands will also suffer with the disadvantageous consequences.

Besides IJburg more threatening future plans exist, such as the reclamation of 90% of the much larger Markermeer into the Markerwaard(a huge polder). Fortunately, the impoldering of the Markermeer will be a national decision= , but its future is not safe because of the shady and shifty roles of both the Ministry of Transport and Public Works and that of Ministry for Housing, Regional Development and the Environment as well as many national concrete-loving representatives with a narrow outlook on nature as we know so well from the Amsterdam city-councillors.


The argument for the IJburg development is purely economically based. The mayor (in Holland not elected, but still appointed) blindly followed his aldermen and their close friends the real estate developers and some housing associations in pushing the IJburg-project to a position with top priority. In their opinion IJburg is THE answer on the housing-problem (human over-population problem) and the local authorities and developers also propagate the project as a measure to reduce unemployment. Nature reserve and conservation organizations, worried citizens and the Green Party (De Groenen; chairman: Roel van Duyn) have repeatedly tackled this opinion. They developed alternative plans and strategies for the housing-problem by showing the possibilities of a more compact way of building within the existing localities in town. Many localities are not optimally used or can be changed by changing the zoning plan. By this operation it is possible to build up to 4000 to 6000 extra houses/apartments in the next 10 years. Moreover, it is also possible to construct 2 or 3 more floors on many new buildings, since most blocks of flats are 3 or 4-storeyed houses.

The Green Party stated that The Netherlands consist of about 90 km2 of asphalt jungle with wasted open space above the road surface. By covering over large parts of the motor highways including the tram ring way of Amsterdam by sophisticated construction technics it is possible to build highly inventive terrace buildings provided with roofgardens or sport grounds/facilities. By only concentrating these buildings around the ring road 60.000 to 80.000 apartments can be realized. It is obvious that we don't need IJburg to solve the housing problem. By choosing the alternative solutions nature and landscapes as well as open space (the blue nature) will be saved and the endless expansion of Amsterdam can be stopped, at least for many years.

Engineer consultancies went through the technical and financial aspects of the ideas to alternative housing plans. They conclude that the project feasibility is encouraging and that the total plan is cost-reducing especially on longer terms. The alternative plans are also good for the unemployed. But there came no break through. By contrast, to my great annoyance the Amsterdam municipality only demonstrates an attitude of arrogance, unwillingness and a lack of interest to the alternative proposals and landscape saving arguments. They first want to realize the expensive IJburg at all costs and then think about alternatives.

As biologist and nature conservationist I don't go in on all kinds of negative financial aspects which often arise by building megalomanic suburbans. Overrunning the budgets and overspending the building subsidies often take place in these sorts of projects. Rent or mortgage of the apartments will be much higher than planned. They often need to be subsidized by a general rent increase or other cunning tax measures, so that it seems that the financial plan was correct after all. Another financial problem is how to support the public transportation. The Amsterdam public transportation has to contented with an extraordinary high financing deficit for many years. I heard that there is no money left to construct proper transportation facilities without a firm state subsidy.

A Fake Referendum or a Dutch Treatment of Democracy

Worried citizens of very diverse backgrounds formed the anti-IJburg Committee in 1995 and applicated for a referendum in August, 1996. Many of these people put all their energy in convincing other citizens to vote contra IJburg and to save nature and the last open environment around Amsterdam. A national referendum does not exist in The Netherlands, but some years ago a municipal/local corrective referendum was introduced in Amsterdam as a new democratic instrument to measure the citizen's opinion about one particular item. In this way politics should come closer to the citizens and intensify the democracy. In Amsterdam an application of a referendum must be supported by 45.000 people (signatures); the result 'was simply' valid when 1/3 (34%) of the enfranchised citizens had voted. The group with more than 50% voters was the winner. However, at the suggestion of Green-Left Party (GroenSlinks, NB a misleading name; this party is left, but NOT green) the critical attendance quorum was changed. Now an electoral threshold of at least 30% (=1155.000 votes) of contra-voters determines the legitimacy of the referendum, otherwise it should become ineffectual, independent of the result. Seven of the eight political parties of the city-council heartily supported this proposal, because their representatives were all pro-IJburg, except for the 'real' Green Party. With this cunning political move the Amsterdam politicians committed a democratic treason against the citizens when they felt threatened by them by loosing referendum.

The referendum on IJburg took place March 19, 1997. The result was >60% contra (130.000) against <40% pro (90.000 votes). So, the anti-IJburgers won, but because of the new threshold rule they lost (25.000 votes too few). The fight for nature conservancy always takes place on a steep incline with the queen of hearts of Alice in Wonderland as referee; she did not only behead all her opponents, but also changed the rules of the game every minute (as argued by Wouter van Dieren, the Dutch member of the Club of Rome). The municipality was happy, the Champaign flooded, three cheers for democracy, the worried citizens and the nature conservation organizations were defeated and the politicians were laughing at them. Hallelujah, start the machines and IJburg will be there in 2010.

Hope you do the Waterland tour before that time!