zondag 21 juni 2009

A wish that remains a wish... Badgers (Meles meles)

For years I wanted to see a Badger (Meles meles). Problem is, I live in the west part of the Netherlands and Badgers don't live there. Badgers look like they've been invented by Walt Disney, with their black and white stripes upon their head and their clumsy way of walking. Probably they are one of the most beautiful animals that one can come across in the Netherlands and who wouldn't like to see one? Well, I don't! Since I've found out, they don't exist at all! It's a plot! "Oh didn't you see the badger yet? Well, if you walk down this road, for about 5 miles and then you take the sandy road into the forest for about a mile, there's a big oak tree, with three arms. Walk for 200 meters to the east and you'll find a large sett (= a badger's den). There you wait until dusk. And then you'll see the badger" You walk down the road and all the people in the village are laughing their heads off...

I was one of these fools that still believed in the Badger and went to an area where it was believed to exist. Theo - the man that would guide me- knew a place. He showed me some pictures he took a few days before. Everything seemed good... Too good, I should have known... what a scam... ;-)

Yes, we didn't see badgers. But we did see some good stuff. The setting was fantastic.

A beautiful oak forest, without undergrowth and small but nicely shaped tree trunks. We waited until dusk and then the forest turned into magic. I got Clannad songs in my head of a Robin Hood television series I saw in my youth (by the way, the very best Robin Hood serie ever!). I saw something moving through the trees. At first I couldn't see what it was, but then it appeared to be a Roedeer with her calf. Beautiful, they moved through the forest and Theo and I could follow them with our binoculars without them noticing us. The next animal that appeared was a black male Roe deer, which came really close. Although I've seen hundreds of roedeers in my life, I hadn't seen them in this setting. I fantasized where the badger would appear, how it would walk and what it would do. But nothing happened....

I had a fever and and was thinking of the five miles I had to walk back. It wasn't a happy thought. But then we flushed a large animal, it appeared to be a large Wild Boar (Sus scrofa). The adrenaline and a little fear got me going. Especially when we stood between three tiny piglets. Very nice animals, but I was also thinking of it's mother, which was probably not that nice... We walked on. But then we heard the piglets again.. "oink oink oink.." Unbelievable but they were following us. When we walked a little harder, we were able to lose them. On the way back we crossed our path with some Red Deers, some young foxes and a few Nightjars. But the Badgers weren't our friends that night...

And it could have been so nice... (sorry for that music folks...)
(if they existed off course..)

The rest of the weekend we spent on some other local specialties, like the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), the Adder (Vipera berus) our only poisonous snake in the Netherlands and some other stuff. Even without the Badgers this weekend was good!!!

zondag 11 januari 2009

Dusky Thrush (Turdus eunomus) in Belgium

Yesterday we (Frank van Duivenvoorde, Luuk Punt en me) left for Belgium. A couple of days ago, a Dusky Thrush was reported in Erezée in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes. The bird stayed, and beautiful pictures arrived also in the Netherlands. When Luuk called me if I wanted to join, I didn't hesitate: The Dusky Thrush was a lifer, views were apparently really good and the Ardennes is a very nice area. So I cancelled my other appointments (sorry for that, my friends!) and went to bed, to catch some hours of sleep. We left at 5.20 a.m. for a long drive to Erezée. A major part of it, we had to drive in the dark, temperatures were way below zero. It was years ago, since we had these arctic circumstances in this part of Europe. Especially when we entered the snow covered parts of Belgium, the temperature dropped. Our record was -16 °C. There was one luck however, there were no clouds and no wind. When we saw the sun rise, it was actually a quite pleasant day.

When we arrived in Erezée, there were already about 20 - 30 people present. Different languages were spoken, French, Dutch, German and English: We weren't the only twitchers that wanted to see this species. Many of our Dutch birdwatcher friends had also left for Erezée. Ridiculous if you think of it... without knowing of each other we met in a small place in the Dutch Ardennes. A place that probably no-one had heard of before... but there we stood, waiting for a lost bird to arrive in -15 °C.

It had chosen a small orchard with appletrees. One old tree had still a lot of apples on its branches. And about 15 Blackbirds, one Fieldfare, a few Starlings and one Mistle Thrush were feasting on these apples. Especially on the ones that were fallen below the tree.

Then all of a sudden the Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus arrived. We had magnificent views on this beautiful bird, that originates from central Siberia and eastwards. Dusky thrushes are rare vagrants in Europe. Apparently it was the fifth record for Belgium, but the first since 1956!

The combination of very fine plumage elements made this a very nice bird. The wing pattern, the double breastband, the diamondshaped markings on the sides, it's supercilium, all fantastic! All these different tones of brown colours, wow! The crowd stayed calm, the bird showed off, the snow,... a small vacation in Belgium. All in all it was a fantastic twitch.

We drove through the Ardennes in the direction of the Dutch Province of Limburg. Near Herstal we saw the reported Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides. Inland Iceland gulls are rare and we had some short but good views. After a few minutes the bird flew off together with a couple of thousand Black Headed Gulls. We are quite used to large amounts of gulls, but this was really enormous.

The rest of the day we spent birding and enjoying the nice scenery in the Dutch Province of Limburg. We dipped out on the Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo on the Pietersberg near Maastricht. But had some magnificent hours at the Hamster nature reserve near Sibbe. This is a large agricultural reserve. Made for the last Dutch wild Hamsters Cricetus cricetus, but many other animals can benefit from this protected area as well. We saw hundreds of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Common Wood pigeons, Jackdaws and Rooks and in betweens these groups we found about 15 Corn Buntings Miliaria calandra. A speciality from this area, they have become really rare in the rest of the Netherlands. A few Northern harriers and splendid views of a hunting Merlin.

All locations and pictures of the birds can be found through http://waarneming.nl/ and http://waarnemingen.be/

A last picture from our very nice day. The scenery from a typical "Holle weg" (= hollow road) in Sibbe in Limburg. Frank and Luuk ahead of me walking towards the car.

vrijdag 2 januari 2009

New Year

A selection from the birds, we (Bird ringing station Meijendel, near Wassenaar) caught in 2008. All the birds were measured, aged and sexed if possible and were then released with a ring with a unique number. We ring in the dunes of the nature area called Meijendel. This area is owned and preserved by the Duinwaterbedrijf Zuid Holland (DZH). On our ringing station we try to get an impression of the species and numbers that use the dunes the year round. This includes local breeding birds, after breeding dispersion, and autumn migration. We had a fantastic year, that broke all the records. For our total list please take a look at Trektellen.nl

If you wondered which species are on this picture, or already figured out, but want some confirmation, from left to right: Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana), Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) and
Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor).

I wish you all a good 2009!!