Monday 31 October 2005, Han Luc Holtkamp told his colleague Eric Jan
Alblas about an incredible discovery he made during a bike ride through
the woods the previous day. He described a bird which could only have
been a Northern Hawk-Owl Surnia ulula.
Subsequently, Eric Jan took the morning off to search for the bird. On
his way to the spot he informed Klaas Haas – the operator of the
Dutch Birding birdline – who in his turn asked Peter van Wetter
to assist in the search. Not long after, Eric Jan and Peter relocated
the bird. The pager message, sent by Klaas at 10:27, caused a shock
wave through the birding world.
The owl was seen in a coniferous forest close to World War II transit
camp Westerbork in Drenthe. I had to travel c 200 km to get there. With
Leo Boon hot on my heels, we decided to carpool the last c 120 km.
Despite reassuring pager messages from Bert de Bruin at 11:57 and
Diederik Kok at 12:41 that the bird was still showing, I was as nervous
as a turkey before Christmas. This was a bird I really wanted to see.
Fortunately, it stayed in the area for the rest of the day,
successfully hunting mice right in front of the assembled crowd. I will
never forget that first sight. Wow, what a stunning owl!
It was the first Northern Hawk-Owl to be seen by many birdwatchers in the Netherlands; the nominate subspecies S u ulula
breeds in northern parts of Scandinavia and Russia and moves far south
of its breeding range only sporadically. The observation was accepted
by the CDNA as the third record for the Netherlands; previous ones
dated from 5 October 1920 (a bird collected near Amerongen)
and 2 April 1995 (one seen by two observers at Brunssum) (van
Wetter et al 2006).
Much to the relief of those who could not make it to Hooghalen that
day, another Northern Hawk-Owl turned up at Zwolle in
November 2013, which stayed until c 10 February 2014 (Uit de Weerd et
al 2014, Haas et al 2014, 2015). I went to see it three times: on 25 November
with Ferdy Hieselaar, on 2 December with Jasper Koster and Marten Miske
(after twitching a Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus (Roos
& Ebels 2016)) and on 29 December with Hans Groot, Pim de
Nobel, Pieter Thomas and Ferdy (after twitching a Eurasian Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum).
If I had to name one species with the wow factor, Northern Hawk-Owl
would definitely be it.