Mistle thrushes, shelducks, nuthatch

Esscheplaat river, 9 April 2017

After we had crossed the water on the ‘kingfisher ferry’ on 9 April 2017, we were in the Esscheplaat part of the nature reserve Oeverlanden Hollands Diep in the Netherlands. The Esscheplaat used to be a place where willow wood was harvested for building dikes, making baskets etc. Now, it is a beautiful riverine forest.

Esscheplaat, on 9 April 2017

Esscheplaat water, 9 April 2017

Sometimes, the Esscheplaat reminded one of a temperate version of the Amazon rainforest.

Esscheplaat willows, 9 April 2017

Some willow trees, with their twisted forms, still showed the willow growing and logging past of this area.

Much Himalayan balsam in the undergrowth.

Ground-ivy, 9 April 2017

And ground-ivy.

Mushrooms, 9 April 2017

And mushrooms.

We hear a great spotted woodpecker.

As we continue, we hear several mistle thrushes singing.

Every now and then, we hear a wren. One of the 120 Esscheplaat wren couples.

Along the water, marsh marigold flowers. The Caltha palustris subsp. araneosa form, adapted to willow growing and logging environments.

A great cormorant sits on a pole in the water.

Shelducks, 9 April 2017

Four shelducks fly overhead. Two males (bigger, with red knobs above their bills) and two females.

A jay flies past.

Green woodpecker sound. Blackbird sound.

A short-toed treecreper creeps up a tree. We are near the hut ‘Koosje’, where willow wood harvesters used to stay during the winter months decades ago.

A small juvenile common frog.

Finally, on the Esscheplaat in the morning, a nuthatch on the top of a tree.

And a male and a female buzzard circle around each other in the air.

A green sandpiper on a mudflat.

A black-tailed godwit calls.

A Cetti’s warbler sings.

A big flock of sand martins fly above the water. Apparently, they are just back from Africa. They prepare their nesting tunnels on the sandy bank for the new breeding season.

Sand martin on sign, 9 March 2017

The sand martin is also depicted on the information sign of this nature reserve (this is a cellphone photo).

In the afternoon, in the part of the nature reserve near Strijensas village, a male marsh harrier flying. A bit later, a female.

On mudflats, herring gulls and oystercatchers.

Teal swimming.

Also, a much rarer male garganey.

Northern lapwings.

Quite some shoveler ducks.

Gadwall ducks.

Three beautiful yellow wagtails. They come quite close. Unfortunately, no camera at hand.

A greenshank.

Common gulls.

Finally, whimbrels.


Dutch schools should teach about LGBTQ equality, parliament decides

This video from the Netherlands is called Canal Parade ~ Gay Pride Amsterdam 2015.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Parliament: punish schools that do not teach about LGBTQ equality

Today, 17:17

Parliament wants the government to punish schools that do not teach their student awareness about equal rights for LGBTQ people. The entire House of Representatives, with the exception of VVD,

Main pro ‘free enterprise’ Big Business party


Fundamentalist Protestant homophobic party

and FVD,

Small far right misogynistic party, inspired by British far rightist Roger Scruton

supported a motion to that effect by Socialist Party MP Van Dijk.

He wants schools that consistently refuse to bring sexual diversity to the attention of students to get financial penalties or administrative action taken. Van Dijk thinks the information contributes to the fight against discrimination.


According to the Inspectorate of Education education about homosexuality is not given on 20 percent of all primary and secondary schools, while this is mandatory since 2012.

Parliament also wants lessons on acceptance of gay people to be required in secondary vocational schools. About forty percent of these schools do not do that now.

Easter bonfire postponed because of great tit nest

This 11 April 2017 Dutch video from Dronten town in Flevoland province is about plans for an Easter bonfire, which were postponed because a great tit started nesting there.

Translated from Omroep Flevoland TV in the Netherlands:

Easter bonfire canceled due to bird’s nest in woodpile

Dronten April 11, 2017

It should become an annual tradition, the Easter fire at the Roggebotstaete estate in Dronten. But a little bird threw a spanner in the works. A great tit built a nest in the woodpile.

Lennard Duijvestijn has to laugh, but is secretly also disappointed a little: “We have made a large woodpile six meters high and wanted to invite everyone; then along comes this bird.”.

At Roggebotstaete estate nature is a high priority. “That the great tit precisely chose this stake among all the trees to nest is also very funny,” says Duivesteijn. He lets the bird nest quietly. “We just postpone the Easter fire, and when all eggs will have hatched and the young birds will have fledged then we we will set it on fire.”

Incidentally, the great tit is not the only bird seeking refuge at the woodpile. Employees also saw a wagtail fly in and back again.

Reed bunting, kingfisher and great crested grebe

Oeverlanden Hollands Diep, 9 April 2017

On 9 April 2017, we went to nature reserve Oeverlanden Hollands Diep in the Netherlands. Though across the Hollands Diep estuary is the Moerdijk chemical industry, it is a beautiful area.

Oeverlanden Hollands Diep, on 9 April 2017

As we arrived at the entrance, barn swallows flying. The first ones I saw this year; probably just back from Africa.

In a lake swam mallards.

Mute swan, 9 April 2017

And mute swans.

And grey lag geese. And coots.

And tufted ducks.

Great crested grebe, 9 April 2017

And this great crested grebe.

Two grey herons flying. So does a Canada goose.

Chiffchaff and chaffinch sounds.

In a tree, a greenfinch singing.

White wagtail, 9 April 2017

In another tree, a white wagtail.

Male reed bunting, 9 April 2017

In yet another tree, a male reed bunting.

Oeverlanden plants, 9 April 2017

IJsvogel ferry, 9 April 2017

To get to the Esscheplaat part of the reserve, we need the ferry. The name of the ferry is ‘IJsvogel‘ (kingfisher). A bit later, someone (not me) sees a real kingfisher.

Stay tuned for the sequel of this blog!

Oeverlanden, 9 April 2017

‘Jellyfish, not sponges, oldest animals’

This video says about itself:

23 October 2015

Put the comb jelly in the spotlight and watch it groove. The sea creatures turn into pulsating rainbows of movement under the right lighting, no disco ball needed.

From Vanderbilt University in the USA:

Forget sponges: The earliest animals were marine jellies

April 10, 2017

Summary: One of the longest-running controversies in evolutionary biology has been, ‘What was the oldest branch of the animal family tree?’ Was it the sponges, as had long been thought, or was it the delicate marine predators called comb jellies? A powerful new method has been devised to settle contentious phylogenetic tree-of-life issues like this and it comes down squarely on the side of comb jellies

When cartoonist and marine-biology teacher Steve Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants in 1999, he may have backed the wrong side of one of the longest-running controversies in the field of evolutionary biology.

For the last decade, zoologists have been battling over the question, “What was the oldest branch of the animal family tree?” Was it the sponges, as they had long thought, or was it a distinctly different set of creatures, the delicate marine predators called comb jellies? The answer to this question could have a major impact on scientists’ thinking about how the nervous system, digestive tract and other basic organs in modern animals evolved.

Now, a team of evolutionary biologists from Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have devised a new approach designed specifically to settle contentious phylogenetic tree-of-life issues like this. The new approach comes down squarely on the side of comb jellies.

The method and its application to this and 17 other controversial phylogenetic relationships was published online on Apr. 10 by the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in an article titled “Resolution of contentious relationships in phylogenomic studies can be driven by one or a handful of genes.”

For nearly a century, scientists organized the animal family tree based in large part on their judgement of the relative complexity of various organisms. Because of their comparative simplicity, sponges were considered to be the earliest members of the animal lineage. This paradigm began to shift when the revolution in genomics began providing vast quantities of information about the DNA of an increasing number of species. Evolutionary biologists started to apply this wealth of information to refine and redefine evolutionary relationships, creating a new field called phylogenomics. In most cases, the DNA data helped clarify these relationships. In a number of instances, however, it gave rise to controversies that intensified as more and more data accumulated.

In 2008, one of the early phylogenomic studies fingered the comb jellies (aka ctenophores) as the earliest members of the animal kingdom, rather than sponges. This triggered an ongoing controversy with the latest round being a massive study published last month that marshalled an unprecedented array of genetic data to support the sponges’ position as the first animal offshoot.

“The current method that scientists use in phylogenomic studies is to collect large amounts of genetic data, analyze the data, build a set of relationships and then argue that their conclusions are correct because of various improvements they have made in their analysis,” said Antonis Rokas, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences, who devised the new approach with Vanderbilt postdoctoral scholar Xing-Xing Shen and Assistant Professor Chris Todd Hittinger from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This has worked extremely well in 95 percent of the cases, but it has led to apparently irreconcilable differences in the remaining 5 percent.”

Rokas and his collaborators decided to focus on 18 of these controversial relationships (seven from animals, five from plants and six from fungi) in an attempt to figure out why the studies have produced such strongly contradictory results. To do so, they got down into the weeds, genetically speaking, and began comparing the individual genes of the leading contenders in each relationship.

“In these analyses, we only use genes that are shared across all organisms,” Rokas said. “The trick is to examine the gene sequences from different organisms to figure out who they identify as their closest relatives. When you look at a particular gene in an organism, let’s call it A, we ask if it is most closely related to its counterpart in organism B? Or to its counterpart in organism C? And by how much?”

These analyses typically involve hundreds to thousands of genes. The researchers determined how much support each gene provides to one hypothesis (comb-jellies first) over another (sponges first). They labeled the resulting difference a “phylogenetic signal.” The correct hypothesis is the one that the phylogenetic signals from the most genes consistently favor.

In this fashion, they determined that comb jellies have considerably more genes which support their “first to diverge” status in the animal lineage than do sponges.

Another contentious relationship the researchers addressed was whether crocodiles are more closely related to birds or turtles. They found that 74 percent of the shared genes favor the hypothesis that crocodiles and turtles are sister lineages while birds are close cousins.

In the course of their study, they also discovered that in a number of contentious cases one or two “strongly opinionated genes” among all the genes being analyzed appear to be causing the problem because the statistical methods that evolutionary biologists have been using are highly susceptible to their influence.

In some cases, such as the controversies over the origins of flowering plants and modern birds, they determined that the removal of even a single opinionated gene can flip the results of an analysis from one candidate to another. In cases like this, the researchers were forced to conclude that the available data is either inadequate to support a definitive conclusion or it indicates that the diversification occurred too rapidly to resolve.

“We believe that our approach can help resolve many of these long-standing controversies and raise the game of phylogenetic reconstruction to a new level,” Rokas said.