Lower Rhine valley, Amerongen, The Netherlands, May 2012

28 May 2012 -  

The heavy shade of beeches relieves the heat. High squeaks above suggest a nest, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker swooping onto a trunk reveals its location. She thrusts a beakful of insect larvae into the hole and is gone in seconds.

The plantation gives way to fields of hay with generous hedges and deep, wide drainage ditches. Common Blue, Large Red and Blue-tailed Damselflies and Broad bodied Chaser Dragonflies cruise over the shallows and settle on the rushes. The Hedges are alive with the rich, strong cadences of Marsh and Garden Warblers, joined by the less varied, more hesitant notes of Blackcaps from the treetops. They stay concealed but nearly drown out the thin, wheezy song of a Yellowhammer, prominent on the wires.

Over the river dijk, the floodplain is a sea of yellow hawkweeds with a supporting cast of Yellow Rattle, Ragged Robin, Ox-eye Daisy, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon and Field Scabious. A Cockchafer beetle blunders along a hedge like a dowdy, downbeat hummingbird and the children catch another.  Close-up, these maybugs are amazing: like large, over-decorated chocolate sweets, dull black with shiny, grooved, russet wing cases and unlikely–looking yellow antlers.

Approaching the town the floodplain is grazed by cows, the wonderful flower meadows giving way to coarse, cropped grasses, buttercups and cow pats. A fine selection of waterbirds graces the shallows of a small lake. A drake Garganey and two Shovelers outshine the rustic Mallards. Three wader species, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Lapwing are probably nesting, and on an artificial island, four Avocets are sitting tight on nests in a mini-colony with two Common Terns. Two Wood Sandpipers and a Spotted Redshank – migrant waders en route to breeding grounds in the Taiga – tiptoe through the shallows, feeding hungrily, and three Spoonbills doze in knee-deep water, heads turned back and bills buried under their wings.

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