autumn walks in Odijk


I am in Holland for two weeks, in Odijk, the village near Utrecht where my LAT partner Riet lives. This village is bordered on 3 sides by the Kromme (=curvy) Rhine, now a relatively minor river through low-lying fields. But it has an exalted history: some two thousand years ago this was the main outlet of the large river Rhine, turning west at Utrecht and debauching in the North Sea near Katwijk; this last bit is now called the Oude Rhine. But around 1100 the river was dammed at Wijk bij Duurstede, and the main course of the Rhine went, as now, straight west from there via Rotterdam. Now the Kromme Rijn is a placid little river, and its boards make for a nice one hours walk around Odijk, about which I have reported earlier, as usual.

Holland has ‘suffered from a very nice and dry summer’, all too nice, hot and dry, and the landscape is only now recovering from the drought. The trees are yellowing, and there are not all that many flowers left blooming. Odijk does not have any special nature areas: the walk goes through some coppices, a woodland which much have been some parkland earlier {It is still full of Vinca and Arum lilies), now wonderfully neglected, but close to a main road, some fields with the famous Dutch cows, and later, on the village side, lawns with large trees. These has been an action to make the banks and the river somewhat more natural, and that has had some success, but also has caused most of the vegetation still to be quite ruderal, with nettles and thistles dominating (The last 2 years we had lots of thistle-broomrape here, but this year they are all gone)

The river is not very deep, but still deep enough to be a haven for diving ducks and the odd Goosander in winter. Now the dominant waterbirds are coots and mallards, the latter coming out of eclipse and mostly in pairs. There are also always a few Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans, and most of the time, but not this week, the nowadays unavoidable Egyptian Geese, that brought up two clutches of goslings earlier this spring and summer. Only a single Moorhen, a species that is definitely decreasing in this area. And as yet no Cormorants; they also come in winer. The other day I also surprised a Kingfisher in the reeds.

As everywhere in Odijk, there are large numbers of Jackdaws here, for me the character bird of the village, that in the evening may roam in flocks of hundreds over the village. Now during the day they are in smaller flocks, in which all the birds are invariably paired: jackdaws pair for life. There are also other corvids: Carrion Crows and Eurasian Magpies. I note not too many smaller birds here now, in part courtesy of my hearing problems: but Wrens are common, a few European Robin play their crystal flute, and there are also always various tits and Chaffinches. Once I heard a Green Woodpecker, and I have earlier also seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker here, as well as Nuthatches. In the village itself Woodpigeons and Collared doves are quite conspicuous and still in full song.

But one thing is sadly very different. In earlier pieces from Odijk I have always called it the village of Jackdaws and European Blackbirds. On a Kromme Rijn walk I normally would see tens of blackbirds everywhere on the lawns and in the gardens. Now there were none on my first walk, and only a single one this morning, while we also now and then see a single one in Riet’s little garden, where there normally were several. There has been a blight among the blackbirds here, originally from Germany; this decimated the numbers here last year. Earlier this year I had the impression that numbers had recovered a lot, but now the population appears to have crashed once more. Very sad, as blackbirds stand for most of the wonderful bird chorus here in spring.

Wim Vader, Tromsoe, Norway

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