Schoutenwaard, Lower Rhine valley, The Netherlands, mid June 2013

20 June 2013 -  

Unseasonal heavy rain in central Europe has sent strong pulses of floodwater along the Danube and Rhine. The timing, in early June, was disastrous for ground and riverbank nesting birds. The water is still high as I walk along the bank, and two Great Egrets are hunched at rest on the lagoon. Two adult Spoonbills are feeding actively nearby, heads down, striding this way and that through the shallows and sweeping their bills from side to side through the water.

The Sand Martin colony has gone. Up to a metre of the river bank, possibly weakened by their burrows, has slumped into the river, leaving the ruins of a few of the former nesting holes still visible. A few birds are flitting and swooping around the colony, the most I see at one time being six, a sorry remnant of the 70 pairs here last year. One of them enters a burrow and flicks dry, clayey material out of the entrance. I cannot see how it is working, but the method seems effective. Sand Martins usually have two, sometimes even three broods in a summer and it looks as if at least some of the birds will be starting again and making renewed nesting attempts.

The coarse grasses have been heavily grazed by cows and on my return to the road, a Clouded Yellow butterfly lands on a clover flower and feeds. Its brilliant warm, orangey yellow upperwings bring an immediate flush of Mediterranean warmth to the scene, and when closed, the deceptive spots on the underwings resemble greenish, wide-open eyes. Two small, gentian-blue butterflies are also active – so active that I cannot get a good enough view to identify the species. Probably Common Blues.

As I cycle home along the dijk, the water table in the floodplain is still high and small numbers of Lapwings, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and a pair of Curlews are feeding in the shallows. They seem unlikely to get another chance to nest before next spring.

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