Swans and botanical garden flowers


Mute swan, 18 February 2017

On 18 February 2017, we went to the botanical garden. Before arriving there, we passed a canal with this young mute swan swimming.

Mute swans, 18 February 2017

There were two more mute swans: another youngster and an adult.

Mute swan youngster, 18 February 2017

On the canal bank, feral pigeons.

When we arrived at the botanical garden, there were of course not yet as many flowers as later in the year, it officially still being winter. Yet, already purple crocus.

Winter aconites, 18 February 2017

And quite some winter aconites were already present.

Wintersweet, 18 February 2017

And so were these wintersweet flowers.

Snowdrops, 18 February 2017

And, of course, snowdrops, as one might expect at this time of the year.

Snowdrops on 18 February 2017

A great tit calls. Blackbirds. Ring-necked parakeets.

On the other side of the canal, grazing coots and moorhens.

A blue tit drinking from the botanical garden stream.

Snowmen, parakeets and blackbirds


Snow on plants, 12 February 2017

Today, a snowy day, we went to the botanical garden. Much snow on our way, eg, on these plants.

Snowman, 12 February 2017

When we had nearly arrived at the botanical garden, this snowman. His nose was a carrot, like traditionally with snowmen. However, his eyes were untraditional: Coca-Cola bottle caps.

Yesterday, on a park bench, we had seen another snowman (with a snowchild next to him); with Amstel beer bottle caps as eyes. Snowmen’s eyes used to be coal. However, now there is no longer coal in most homes.

After this photo, the battery of the cell phone was empty. So, no more photos today.

A pity, as in the botanical garden there was lots of beautiful snow on branches. Green ring-necked parakeets on snowy white branches. Blackbirds in the snow, and more.

At the astronomical observatory, someone tried to make a snow telescope. However, that turned out to be not easy.

Short-toed treecreepers in residential area


Short-toed treecreeper, 10 February 2017

Today, there were two short-toed treecreepers on a not very big tree in a residential area in Hilversum town in the Netherlands. One of them is on this photo.

Tits, woodpecker and chaffinch at photo hide


Marsh tit, 23 January 2017

During our stay on 23 January 2017 in the bird photography hide, at least two marsh tits showed up.

Marsh tit on 23 January 2017

They also went to the pool to drink the little water on the ice.

Marsh tit on 23 January

There were great tits as well. And this blue tit.

Blue tit, 23 January 2017

This male great spotted woodpecker was present as well.

Great spotted woodpecker male, 23 January 2017

So was this male chaffinch.

Chaffinch male, 23 January 2017

Some fifty meter behind the pool, a buzzard landed on a big tree. It stayed there for a long time, sometimes preening. Finally, the buzzard flew down to the forest floor. We could not see whether it had caught a vole or other prey.

Nuthatches, blackbirds, robins at the photo hide


Nuthatch, 23 January 2017

On 23 January 2017, three of us were back at the bird photography hide; where we saw, among other birds, this nuthatch.

Nuthatch on 23 January 2017

On my way there in the morning, I saw a magpie landing on its nest in a tree opposite the church. A few seconds later, its partner joined it.

Circumstances were much different from June last year at the hide. Still some snow on the ground. In the morning, temperature below zero. Later, it rose to a few degrees above zero.

This meant that the pond in front of the hide, where many birds came to drink last year, was frozen now. As temperature rose, a little water formed on the ice; attracting a male blackbird and other drinking birds.

Blackbird male, 23 January 2017

Blackbird female, 23 January 2017

There were female blackbirds as well.

In the frozen pond we now of course did not see any amphibians like in June. We did see mammals: bank voles like in June.

It was a cloudy day, but it did not rain.

Like last year, there were robins again.

Robin, 23 January 2017

Stay tuned, as there will be more on this blog about the birds on that winter day!

Palestine lesser kestrel conservation


This is a lesser kestrel video from Quintanar de la Serena, Extremadura, Spain.

From BirdLife:

Lesser Kestrel shot for preservation

By Djamila Le Pair, 19 Jan 2017

Armed with telescopic lenses, 24 West Bank photographers took to the Jerusalem wilderness for a two day photoshoot, zooming in on Palestine’s Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni. Sponsored by the Middle Eastern HIMA Fund, these passionate paparazzi snapped over a thousand pictures, framing the small falcon for future generations to admire.

This photogenic initiative was part of a creative conservation package put together by Imad Atrash, Executive Director of the Palestine Wildlife Society (PWLS, BirdLife Partner) and his team. An artisan and agriculture event, breeding surveys and educational and conservation awareness activities were among a spectrum of initiatives that made up the initial kestrel conservation kit.

Serendipity triggered the photoshoot. This snappy idea was the brainchild of two men who, independently of each other, searched for novel ways to further their cause. While Atrash was contemplating ways to draw attention to the plight of the Lesser Kestrel. Firas Jarrar, Chairman of the group of Palestinian Assembly for Photography and Exploration (PAPE), was exploring ways to enrich the portfolio of the group’s members. Nature photography, he concluded, was still an underdeveloped skillset of many of its members and it was time to boost this expertise.

And so, one fine Friday afternoon last Spring, Atrash, a keen amateur photographer himself, invited the group to a workshop. Consisting of Palestine West Bank professionals (doctors, engineers, students), the group was taught every birdwatcher’s ABC (how to observe, which bird to look out for, how to distinguish it from others and where to find it) and told how their work would help support the falcon’s recent population growth.

Although positive, the Lesser Kestrel’s recent population climb is humble compared to the species’ previous steep decline. As is the reality for many birds, habitat loss and degradation due to increased agricultural activity, afforestation (the establishment of forest where previously there was none) and urbanisation can cause rapid reduction of numbers. To halt this kestrel’s downfall,close monitoring and management of some of its sites and habitats on an international level have been stepped up. And not in vain: recent years have seen an increase, however slight, of numbers, a trend that has also been observed in Palestine itself.

“With the help of 120 students and an innovative birdwatching app, we observed around 30 pairs, this year,” says Atrash. While still small, the numbers are a huge improvement on the all-time low of a mere four pairs in the region, recorded several decades ago. The good news is relative, though, as this year’s cast totals less than 10% of population numbers pre-dating the 1950s. There is still every reason to monitor this grey and rusty plumaged bird closely. The upward trend must be sustained, an urgency Imad Atrash impressed all too well on the PAPE members in April.

The Judean desert, hostile and seemingly otherworldly to the average human, is the perfect breeding haven for the Lesser Kestrel. Against a backdrop of Mar Saba, a sand-coloured Greek Orthodox sanctuary and one of the oldest monasteries in the world, the high cliffs of this wilderness provide safe and secluded nesting sites. Just a plateau or niche is all the Lesser Kestrel requires – no need for tedious fiddling with twigs and leaves.

Contradictory as it may sound, even this arid Middle Eastern landscape is slowly being lost to agricultural expansion. As welcome as the growing number of newly planted fruit trees may be, their arrival is instantly followed by an intensified use of pesticides, killing off part of the Lesser Kestrel’s own diet as well as that of some of the bird’s other prey. Moreover, prey that feeds on sprayed vegetation will become poisonous to the next species up the foodchain. Whether instantly poisonous or accumulatively, insecticides can drastically alter food supplies and chains, an effect which is seen all over the world.

Meanwhile, underneath the expanding olive orchards, herds of cattle now roam freely and strip the wilderness of its skimpy greens. This, too, is bad news for the Lesser Kestrel, for the modest foliage provides food and shelter for reptiles, rodents and small birds. These animals coincidentally make up the healthy diet the falcon hunts down to feed its offspring. No easy feat, when your three to six chicks have an insatiable appetite.

On top of these threats, Palestine’s Lesser Kestrel has a more direct enemy to ward off: ravens not far from the kestrels’ steep cliffs. “Ravens are very much part of the Lesser Kestrel’s habitat and are its greatest threat”, Atrash explains. “They attack the much smaller falcon, but we are not sure if they are after the falcon’s eggs, are defending their own, or if their battles are merely territorial.”

A controversial landfill site bordering the reserve provides a permanent buffet for these intelligent black omnivores. They presently outnumber the Lesser Kestrel more than tenfold. Ravens have few natural predators, but their eggs are savoured by owls, martens and eagles. “Perhaps they classify the Lesser Kestrel among those”, Atrash ponders. “We are considering ways to limit the ravens’ numbers, for example by replacing their eggs with fake ones, but we haven’t explored all options yet.”

“Interestingly, although the abundance of food has increased their numbers significantly, it appears to make the ravens slightly less aggressive, too. Whatever the reason, we find that the kestrels are increasing their wins in air battle.”

Equipped with Ashad’s briefing and their own state-of-the-art apparatus, the group entered the wilderness, eternalising the already roosting kestrels with their cameras until darkness fell. They zoomed in again the next day at 6am, capturing the elegant bird in action.

“It was excellent,” says Rasheed Livdawe, one of the co-founders of PAPE. “It was my first time photographing birds in the wild and I quickly learned that the early morning hours and late afternoon work best for bird photography in terms of natural light. For two full days I watched and followed this bird. It was difficult, but very spectacular.”

Of the thousand pictures, one hundred were entered for PWLS’s photo competition. Judged on use of shadow, captured movement and animal behaviour, money prizes were awarded to the first three winning photographers. The sharpshooters’ collection forms excellent PR material that will greatly help to promote the Lesser Kestrel’s cause.

PWLS’s conservation project is one to follow, with a documentary currently in production. The West Bank in Palestine is a relatively small place and resources are limited. But proving that targeted cross-border collaboration and the exchange of expertise can trigger low-cost, effective campaigns and mutual enrichment, PWLS is given the struggling kestrel its very best shot.