Very many starlings, video

This video shows thousands of starlings. At the end of the afternoon, they go to their resting places in bushes in the Netherlands.

Tom van Kerkhoff made this video.

New film Blackface on Dutch Saint Nicholas holiday

This video is the new film Blackface; about the Dutch Saint Nicholas holiday, and the role of the blackface character Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in it, as seen by an African American.

The video says about itself:

30 November 2015

‘Blackface’: Dutch holiday tradition or racism?

You know the story. Every December jolly St. Nicholas visits the children of the land — accompanied by his servant, Black Peter, a goofy, singing, candy-giving Renaissance-clad figure in blackface, giant red lips and a curly wig.

What? That doesn’t ring a bell?

It would if you lived in the Netherlands, where the visit of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet on December 5 — the eve of St. Nicholas’ birthday — is a longstanding tradition. But it’s a tradition that’s been called into question in recent years, including by Roger Ross Williams, the director of the short film “Blackface,” which looks into the character and his past.

“It was shocking to me. The arguments of the Dutch is that it’s a children’s holiday and that it’s a tradition,” says Williams, an African-American whose short film “Music by Prudence” won an Oscar for short subject in 2010. Many don’t see the racist aspects of the character, he adds.

When he announced his documentary, he was insulted online, told to “eat a banana, black monkey” and other epithets. He hasn’t been alone in raising hackles; his film shows one black protester being hauled away from a crowd welcoming Zwarte Piet because, in the protester’s words, “I made them feel so uncomfortable that they had to get the cops.”

The issue of racism is a complex one in the famously liberal Netherlands. (Indeed, its liberalism was a huge attraction for Williams, a gay man who is married to a white Dutchman and now lives in Amsterdam.) The country profited greatly from the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries; one of the roles of the Dutch West India Co. was to transport slaves from Africa to the Americas. The Dutch didn’t ban slavery in its territories until 1863, though it was illegal in the Netherlands.

Dutch blackface tradition debated

Though the story of Zwarte Piet is said to date back hundreds of years, it was popularized in a 19th-century children’s book. The character is Sinterklaas’ Moorish helper, and his arrival from Spain with Sinterklaas — who rides a white horse — has become a yearly celebration, complete with Sinterklaas’ boat pulling into a Dutch harbor and a welcoming parade. Children and adults dress up as Zwarte Piet at parties.

“It’s just tradition. It has nothing to do with racism,” says Ronald Livius, a commodities trader who grew up in the southern Netherlands and now lives in Switzerland. A former Atlanta resident, he says that the Surinamese members of the Atlanta Holland Club who played Zwarte Piet had “absolutely no issue doing so.”

Williams, the filmmaker, dismisses this as “Dutch innocence.”

“They’ll say that Black Pete is not blackface, but you’re literally blacking up your face … and (adding) hoop earrings and an Afro wig,” he says. “It’s pretty obvious to us, but it’s like a whole country in denial.”

There has been some reconsideration of Zwarte Piet. There’s a Facebook page in opposition, and some fans have tried to recast his blackface as chimney soot.

Still, resistance has been strong. A U.N. committee asked the Netherlands to get rid of the character, but the Dutch government “dismissed” its request, The New York Times reported in August.

The right-wing party of Geert Wilders, one of the country’s most popular politicians, proposed a “Black Peter Law” last year that would ensure the character would remain as he is.

And when Emily Raboteau, an American who spent a holiday season in Amsterdam, tried to explain to locals why she had issues with Zwarte Piet, they ignored her.

“You’re being racist,” she said her Dutch neighbors told her. “We love him.”

“I was arguing with a wall,” she wrote in an essay for Virginia Quarterly Review.

For his part, Williams has been asked why he doesn’t focus on race problems in America. He says he has, but that’s not the point — he lives in the Netherlands now.

“This is something that’s upsetting and disturbing to me, and I’m not going to look the other way,” he says. “I can’t look the other way.”

About film maker Roger Ross Williams on 30 November 2015 to Dutch RTL TV (translated):

The US American documentary filmmaker Roger Williams received death threats since he announced he was making a documentary about Zwarte Piet. “I got an e-mail that I would get a bullet in my back and I had better watch out,” he told the RTL Late Night show.

It was the most violent of thousands of hate mails he received. In his documentary ‘Blackface’, broadcast by CNN, Williams takes a clear stand against Zwarte Piet as an outright racist phenomenon.

‘Nerve hit’

The attention he received since then was overwhelming. “I’ve hit a nerve, I believe.”

Williams, who lives in the Netherlands, says he does not understand how many Dutch people just do not see the problem. “People say to me that it is a harmless children’s festival, and then next they say that, being a black monkey, I should keep my mouth shut.”

Dutch house martins in artificial nests

This video is about a house martin nest on a balcony of an apartment building in Poland.

Translated from BirdLife in the Netherlands today:

Between the 1960s and 1980s, the house martin populations in our country decreased by about 70%. From 1990 on there was a slight increase. Despite this attention to their protection needs: for alleged nuisance their nests are too often removed or they are prevented from nesting in many ways. To help house martins with additional nesting opportunities therefore in the Netherlands since 2008 139 house martin ‘dovecotes’ have been made available.

Each year, these cotes are monitored. In 2015 house martins nested in 21 cotes. Thus, the occupation increases slowly, from 2.7% in 2010, 4.5% in 2011, 8.5% in 2012, 9.8% in 2013 and 12.3% in 2014 to 15.1% in 2015. Because once occupied cotes usually during following years remain inhabited and every year a few cotes will get new inhabitants it is expected that the occupancy will continue to increase in coming years.

Swift migration biology

This video is about migration of swifts from the Netherlands to African countries like Mozambique.

Dutch swifts fly 280,000 kilometer a year, more than seven times the circumference of planet earth.

Biologist Raymond Klaassen studies their migration by providing the birds with geo loggers.

He recently won a Dutch prize for ornithology for his research about various bird species.

Rare red-legged partridge in Dutch IJmuiden

This is a red-legged partridge video, recorded in France.

Today still, there is a red-legged partridge in the Dutch town IJmuiden, near the harbour.

One would expect this south European species in countries like Spain, or France; not here.

Harbour porpoises, what do they eat?

This video is called Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena).

Dutch biologist Mardik Leopold recently investigated what harbour porpoises eat. He found out (translated):

To find out, he studied the stomach contents of 829 porpoises that had washed up between 2005 and 2014 on the Dutch coast.

In the stomachs Leopold found some seventy different prey species. Four types of prey are really important: gobies, cod species, sand eels and herring species. The staple food of young porpoises consists mainly of gobies, says Leopold. “As they get older and bigger they need bigger fish such as whiting and fatter fish such as herring, sprat and sandeel.”

Sheep flock in Dutch sand dunes, video

This November 2015 video shows a sheep flock in the sand dunes near the North Sea coast, in South Holland province in the Netherlands; from the air.