June in Zeeland, 53'N (2)

Subject: June in Zeeland, 53'N (2)
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 12:02:17 +0200


During our four days in Krabbendijke we also explored a little further
afield, partly on bicycle, partly in Riet's car. The most bizarre of these
excursions was through the brand new tunnel under the Western Scheldt, and
just a little beyond the Belgian border, where Iman had heard via Internet
that there might be European Bee-eaters, a southern species almost too
exotic and colourful for our latitudes and normally not present there
either. Following the instructions that he had copied from the net, we came
to an old stately home, that now had been transformed into an amusement
park for the masses, and on this free day after Whitsunday the masses were
very well represented indeed. We were directed to 'Parking Lot II', and
there, amidst partying families and horse and carriage rides, there was a
building area (closed off of course), with some sand heaps left over, and
in these unpromising surroundings no less than 5 jewel-like Bee-eaters,
unconcernedly (and unnoticed by 99.9% of the visitors) going about their
business, which was courting and mating on tops of the sand heaps, and
sallying out to catch a score of different large insects, a.o. quite
sizeable dragonflies. Fantastically wonderful and exotic birds, but a
bizarre experience!
We seized this chance to walk in a sizeable (by our standards) forest
nearby. Although sadly overgrown with American Prunus serotinus and by
bracken Pteridium, this was still a very different environment than the
Krabbendijke clay, and here European Robins, Willow Warblers, Jays, Coal
Tits and Goldcrests made clear that this was a real forest on a sand ridge,
an impression re-enforced by the as always wonderful melancholy music of
Woodlarks singing over a clearing. A beautiful walk, only slighty marred by
the fact that we, after stretching out on a nice clearing halfways through,
discovered that our lunch packets were still in Krabbendijke! And this was
maybe the hottest day!

But this was the exception: birding in Zeeland (Sea-land) has usually
elements of sea and salt in it, and it is these elements that make many of
the landscapes here so unforgettable and inspiring. One day we visited the
Yerseke Moer, a very old low-lying meadow complex near Yerseke (the place
where I lived and worked for two years after finishing my studies and
before I moved to Norway). The Moer is 'bad ground' for the farmers, but
their loss is the nature lovers' gain, as now these are mostly wet grazing
fields, with a lot of creeks and pits with brackish water. This gives the
interesting combination that the meadowa are suitable for that so
archetypical Dutch meadow bird the Black-tailed Godwit (otherwise not
common in Zeeland), while the lower-lying areas are ideal for the Shelducks
(very many here), and ever elegant Avocets patrol the creeks. The Godwits
are vociferous in defense of their small young, but the prize for the most
nervous and conspicuous presence nevertheless has to go to the constantly
highly strung Redshanks, that 'scold from every pole' around here. Here
also Skylarks are still common, Common Whitethroats scratch from the
hawthorn bushes and Reed Warblers 'karrekeet' from the ditches, while
Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns, Oystercatchers, and many many
Mallards, with scores of adorable downy young, complete the picture.
Many places we also 'looked over the dikes' , in order to see what there
was to see on the shore. At low water, the actual water is often miles away
(This is 'the Drowned land of Zuid-Beveland', taken back by the sea some
400 years ago), and you only see a shimmer of white far away; on these warm
days even a telescope helps little. When the tides are more favourable, the
white line turns out to exist of large numbers of gulls, always also
Shelducks and Oystercatchers, and here and there Curlews, a single
Whimbrel, or a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits can be watched. When there
are salt marshes (schorren), the Redshanks once more steal the show, and
also here there are many Shelducks, and often a Marsh Harrier quartering
the area (They have become much commoner since my youth 40-50 years ago,
just as the Buzzards (Common Buteo) on land.). We surprised an early (or
summering) Spotted Redshank here; its 'sharp 'tuWEET' unmistakable. In a
small agricultural harbour a flock of largely winter-plumaged Turnstones
nevertheless shows some diplay activities and Ringed Plovers poke in the
A very rich source of birdlife in Zeeland are the many low-lying brackish
areas just behind the dikes, of various origin, called Inlagen on Schouwen,
and 'kupen' on Noord-Beveland where we visited a few. Increasingly, local
birding and nature protection associations have seen the possibilities, and
every year there are new and even nicer bird-hides. In the very well placed
hide N. of Wissenkerke we got very close to the birds and at eye level;
Shovelers are common in all these 'kupen', but here there were also  a few
Gadwalls, a Great Crested Grebe, of course Mute Swans and Greylag Geese,
Coots and Moorhens, while nearby a single Spoonbill spooned the creek.
On the last day we drove a bit north, to some of these largely man-made
nature areas, in which the Dutch excel. As you know, after the disastrous
floodings of 1 febr. 1953, with almost 2000 people killed, the Dutch
government decided upon the grandiose 'Delta-plan', during which the
coast-line should be shortened by damming most of the sea arms, and
consequently large areas changed character from tidal and salt to stable
and brackish (or even fresh), and the vegetation and birdlife changed
accordingly. During all these massive operations many possibilities of
creating new nature reserves occurred, and these have been to a large
extent used by the government, so that the Delta area, although enormously
(and, for us old inhabitants, sorely) changed, still is an area of great
interest for birders, and often also offers a lot of beauty in the way of
landscapes. A good example is the area of the former Krabbenkreek (where I
collected sand amphipods from coarse sandflats 40 years ago, almost hard to
believe when you see the area now), now a beautiful wild area of bushes and
creeks, grazed by Galloway cattle, and again with some very nicely placed
bird hides. A steep sandy creek shore serves as nesting colony for a large
Sand Martin (Band Swallow) colony, where at every hole one to three
half-grown young peeped out and awaited their next meal. Iman (a good
earman as well as eyeman) plucked a Sedge Warbler from among the many Reed
Warblers and Marsh Warblers, and in front of the bird-hide we found first a
few Little Grebes among all the ducks, swans, geese and coots, and later
even discovered a Little Egret foraging in its characteristic energetic
manner far away on the other shore.
A nearby birdhide showed another nice example of the Dutch 'where there is
not enough nature, we can help out' philosophy: here in front of the hide a
new shell island had been created with the help of sand and several
truckloads of cockle shells. And this had now resulted in the presence of a
nice nesting colony of Common Terns (still on eggs), a few Black-headed
Gulls, a pair of Oystercatchers with one young, and last but not least, a
pair of Little Plovers with two adorable very small, but already very fast
running 'downballs on thin sticks'. All just in front of our noses!
The last bird-screen', at an old creek remnant, little complimentarily
called Stinkgat, was once more very well placed and sported a diverse suite
of birds, among which three Garganey became the last new bird of the trip:
nr 98, proof that we had in no way been fanatic in our birding. But we had
had great days, in our favourite part of the world and landscapes, in good
weather and most congenial company. What more can you wish for??

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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