June in Zeeland, 53'N

Subject: June in Zeeland, 53'N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 11:51:12 +0200

                                BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED FROM. I. KRABBENDIJKE

Last week, in the Whitsunday weekend, Riet and I had the opportunity to
revisit our roots, as once more we were offered to use her brother Danker's
house, while he was on holidays. This house is in the viillage of
Krabbendijke, SW in the Netherlands in the province of Zeeland (ca 53"N),
the village where we both grew up. This time we had the pleasure of the
company of Riet's son Iman, by now an excellent birder and also
through-the-telescope-photographer, while in the weekend proper also his
partner Maya joined us. The weather was as we elder people think it 'used
to be when we were young': warm and summery every day, with occasional
fierce thunderstorms.
I think I have described Danker's house and garden before. It lies a bit
outside the village proper, and only a stonethrow from the farm where Riet
grew up. The house has a largish garden, with many conifers in the
periphery, and several small ponds (all covered with nets, as Danker does
not want his fish eaten by herons), and he has also put out a multiplicity
of nestboxes, so that all in all the garden is very bird-friendly. Also, it
abuts on a large apple orchard in the back, surrounded by shade trees
(poplars mostly), where i.a. a Green Woodpecker has its territory; also
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are around..
In the garden proper the most conspicuous bird (a role very uncommon for
this quiet species) is the pair of Spotted Flycatchers that is raising
three young in a flower pot, and that incessantly shows off their
entomological skills; they have several lookout points close to the
windows. Otherwise, as so many places in the Netherlands, doves are
prominent (both feral pigeons , Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves), and
Greenfinches, Great Tits, Eur. Blackbirds and Winter Wrens ubiquitous. But
clearly the star turn orally this time, in spite of the merrily shouting
Song Thrushes, was the Icterine Warbler, who day and night rejoiced us with
his glorious jumble of joyful summer sounds (" I must get everything out
today, and I'll start organizing it tomorrow", seems to be his motto). The
extra pleasure in listening to the Spotvogel (=litterally Mockingbird, as
this species aptly is called in Dutch) is that you never know what comes
next: besides its own rich repertoire, the Spotvogel is also one of the
great imitators, and this one had specialized in the nearby Oystercatchers
and Lapwings, which he could imitate with the precision of a Lyrebird. What
a bird to have in your garden! (In general the Icterine Warbler seems to be
more common in Zeeland than e.g. here around Utrecht, i.e. Riet's Odijk).
Iman got wonderful pictures of this normally rather hard to see songster.

Otherwise Krabbendijke is a typical Zeeuws village, agricultural on heavy
Zeeuws marine clayground, on a rather narrow isthmus between two
'sea-arms', Wester- and Oosterschelde. The fields are mainly sugar beets,
potatoes, wheat, barley, unfortunately increasingly also corn (maize, that
is harvested before it is ripe and used for cattle fodder), with in between
apple orchards and grazed fields. A quite 'straight' type of landscape,
saved from boredom by the fantastic light and colours of Zeeland, and by
the many dikes, that create relief: this area was poldered in and won from
the sea in small allotments. A nearby large parcel of flax metamorphosed
every morning into a shimmering miracle of ethereal pale blue, and every
afternoon changed back into just another normal green field.
Birdwise it is hardly fantastic: characteristic are Lapwings and
Oystercatchers in the fields, always many gulls , because of the closeness
to the shore (mostly Herring Gulls, but also Common Gulls), more than
enough Wood Pigeons, and by now all too few Skylarks (While we entirely
dipped out on Yellowhammers, in my youth one of the characteristic voices
of this area). Typical now are the Meadow Pipits and Starlings of the
fields, the Reed Warblers, and occasional Reed Buntings, of the small
reed-filled ditches, the Yellow Wagtails of the beet and potato fields, and
the many Pheasants and few Partridges. Cuckoos are common, and call
incessantly. Swallows are fortunately also still quite numerous overhead,
mostly Barn Swallows , but also House Martins, while thunder storms were
often heralded by the sudden appearance of large numbers of Swifts. There
are also Hares galore, and here and there a Kestrel hovers over a dike
slope, or a Marsh Harrier glides over the fields.
A few places, i.a. on the Monnikendijk close to where we stayed, the old
hedgerows of various trees and bushes, often Crataegus and Sambucus, the
latter still in full flower, are still present, and these areas are full of
bird song: Blackbirds of course, Chiffchaffs in numbers, Winter Wrens and
Dunnocks, but also still better songsters. Here we can enjoy the pure notes
of the Blackcap, the unending stream of conversation of the Garden Warbler,
the mimetic fantasies of the Icterine Warbler, and the complicated song
strophes of that other master of mimicry, the Marsh Warbler, all underlaid
by the dreamy murmurings of the Turtle Dove. The short, somewhat abrupt
statements of the Common Whitethroat usually emanate from more isolated
clumps of bushes, and in a large garden in the village we also discovered
the rattle of the Lesser Whitethroat.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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