Schoutenwaard, Lower Rhine valley, The Netherlands, late March 2012

23 March 2012 -  

A bright morning dawns with a keen east wind. A pair of Oystercatchers is feeding on freshwater mussels on the riverside beach. Two more are trying their luck in the floodplain. They peep noisily, the separate peeps rising to a crescendo of bickering, delivered through characteristically open and downward-pointing bills. Greylag Geese are already on eggs, their nests seemingly vulnerable on the ground in the fields, the females sitting tight and males standing guard. A Raven floats overhead. They are rare visitors to the river from the heaths of the Veluwe in the heart of the country. It rolls onto its back, seemingly for the pleasure of it, in imitation of the ritual display flights enjoyed earlier in the year. It has been incredibly dry this year and the floodplain fields are hard, the water table deep below the surface. A few Lapwings, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits stay on the flooded inlet of the river, unable to feed in the fields. They are joined by four Avocets, which feed busily in the shallows, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers which stand motionless on the water’s edge. The Chiffchaffs arrived in the middle of the month and the poplars and willows are alive with their song. I flush another early summer visitor, a male Wheatear, from the ground. The “white arse” of his name flashes as he flips up onto a pollarded willow, bobbing in my direction upon landing.

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