Lower Rhine valley, Opheusden, The Netherlands, February 2012

23 February 2012 -  

Rain lashes the lake. The waterbirds are unaffected but become more difficult to see. Five Smews – two drakes and three ducks – are feeding, diving frequently for small fish so that they spend more time below the surface than above. Wigeons whistle brightly, “wheeew”, the whistles increasing in intensity and volume as their alarm increases. Five Great Egrets – a considerable rarity in these parts until recent years – are resting on the summer dijk. They hunch into uncharacteristically compact postures, necks tucked in, ivory-yellow bills pointing horizontally, dark, beady eyes alert. A commotion signals the simultaneous rush on furiously pedalling feet of sixty Coots across the water away from the bank. A female Goshawk cruises low into their midst, grabbing one with a quick swoop and flying to the bank, trailing it casually in one foot. The hawk plucks the Coot, standing on the corpse, tearing at it with her bill, looking intently from side to side between tears, yellow eyes blazing. Then she grabs it again in both feet and flies off through the willows.

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