A rare glimpse…

As I stepped out the door from my apartment building after lunch yesterday to walk back to work, my heart skipped a beat when I spotted what I thought was a large butterfly fluttering by. I gave chase immediately, at least with my eyes, and I was thrilled to see it land on a brick wall nearby. Upon closer inspection, however, it wasn’t a butterfly after all, but a large brown moth.

I took a quick picture with my phone anyway, and then I ran back inside to get my camera. At first, it doesn’t look like much, except for its size, but that’s what it wants you to think.

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After it let me take a couple of shots, it moved, and before it got comfortable again, it gave us a glimpse of what it usually keeps under wraps: those amazing underwings.

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Thus, it’s an underwing moth, one of several dozen species, which I narrowed down to either the rosy (Catocala electa), the red (Catocala nupta), or the French red (Catocala elocata), and it’s probably the red. In any case, it reminded me of the Hermia underwing (Catocala hermia), which we saw in Estabrook back on August 29, 2020, and who opted not to let me get a picture of those amazing underwings.

Well, since we’re here, let me show you another grey heron from the previous weekend, when the clouds were dark and leaky, but in a more-compact pose than we usually see.

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Here’s one more look at one of those goldfinches, but while it was on break from murdering the gone-by thistle blossoms.

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And here are a couple more buzzard pictures, maybe one of the same birds I already showed you on Sunday, but in a different spot and this time talking quite insistently to another buzzard just out of sight.

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There seems to be a lot of that going on, this time of year, and I suspect much of it has to do with freshly fledged chicks learning that shouting “feed me” doesn’t work anymore.

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Finally, here’s one more parakeet picture showing a little of why they can be so hard to spot.

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Shy ones…

Here are a few more sights from this past weekend, and these critters all tend to keep themselves better hidden than others I see.

I stumbled upon another ring-necked pheasant hen tucked into the tall grass and holding perfectly still, unlike her boldly-colored counterpart who I often see strutting across open fields.

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Here’s another noisy-as-heck but super-hard-to-spot rose-ringed parakeet making a rare appearance.

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Here’s another moor hen and her good-sized chicks sticking close to the reeds at the edge of the water.

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Finally, here’s a butterfly we’ve glimpsed before but not in South Holland until now.

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See that little white “smile” on the ventral (out-) side of its wing in the first picture? Well, that’s the “comma” after which the comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) is named. I read further that “the angular notches on the edges of the forewings are characteristic of the genus Polygonia, which is why species in the genus are commonly referred to as anglewing butterflies.”

In any case, they sure are shy little stinkers, and I’ve only seen them in Estabrook Park twice before, first on June 25, 2020, and then again on July 14, 2021, and both times they stayed deep in some bush and at awkward angles.

I guess I have to admit, though, that spotting the ones who would rather not be spotted is half the fun.

Coots, young and old…

As promised, here’s a short story from Saturday that got bumped from my earlier reports, first by the fledging storks, and then by the fox. These are two very fresh coot chicks, maybe just a day or two old, judging by their size and their bright red hairdo, and probably a second brood for the summer. Well, today’s their day.

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As I mentioned earlier this summer, when I first saw the spectacle, studies suggest that coot chicks have bright red head feathers “to get more food out of the parents.”

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Anyway, when I arrived at the bridge under which the parents had assembled their floating nest, it must have been nearing nap time because the two chicks and one parent headed right towards it, even though it was also towards me, and it certainly provided no more protection or cover than they already had. I very much doubt that they just didn’t see me, but instead, they just didn’t care.

Anyway, here’s a good chance to compare the size of the tiny chicks to the size of their parents clownishly-large and colorfully-striped feet. (Remind you of anybody, Deb and Sue?)

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As the chicks made their way up the nest to some spot which seemed no dryer or more secure than any other, the parent had some preening to attend to first.

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Everyone’s getting close now, and one chick seems to have had just about enough of all the scratching with that thing.

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There we are, just one more scratch, and then everyone settles down.

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I don’t have that last picture, for some inexplicable reason, but I can leave you with this shot from earlier that morning of another parent feeding a slightly older chick, who has lost most of its red feathers.

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A fun thing about coots here, at least for me, is that they are nearly ubiquitous, similar to mallards, Canada geese, or even robins back home. If there is some standing water, and there’s at least one bird in it, as in the canals all through town and the countryside, you can pretty safely bet that it’s a coot. And not to knock ducks or geese, but an additional nice feature of coots is that they pretty much ignore people, stick to the water, and simply go about their business. They do make noise, as necessary, but I never hear them calling before dawn, so even a cranky old coot like John Gurda would approve.

Not outfoxed for a change…

It was another perfect morning in South Holland, and spurred by seeing all the storks yesterday, I headed first to my old stomping grounds on the east side of the Delftse Schie, where we watched the second stork nest for several weeks, in which I now read is called the Ackerdijkse Plassen, “one of the most important bird areas in the Netherlands.”

I had just barely entered the countryside on the south side of Delft when I spotted these two characters murdering a bunch of thistle blossoms that have gone to seed, just like their North American namesakes.

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A bit further along, I glanced at the tree-line where I have seen a buzzard hangout a few times, and look who I spotted. I had begun to suspect that there might be two of them.

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Here’s one deciding that it has warmed up enough in the bright morning sun to go get some breakfast.

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Welp, by the time I reached the stork nest, it was empty, and it seems that both chicks must have already fledged. Oh well. I hope you got your fill of storks yesterday.

I continued on to the shallow ponds where I had photographed wading birds, such as ruffs, godwits, redshanks, and sandpipers, but the ponds were all dried up, and sheep were grazing on the fresh sprouts emerging from the mud.

So, then I headed back over to the west side, where I saw the curlews just yesterday, and here’s another picture, to refresh your memory, but I didn’t see any today.

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Before I even crossed the Delftse Schie, however, this stunner stopped me in my tracks.

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In case you don’t remember, that’s a Painted Lady, same as the one we saw back in July, but not nearly as roughed up.

Anyway, onto the main event. Oh sure, I saw a bunch of other pretty creatures, but I’ll save them for later in the week. Instead, let me show you what I saw today as I trapesed through the partial forest where I saw the long-tailed tit, the map butterfly, and the willow warbler back in July. The area looks like abandoned farmland that still has crisscrossing canals, although they are almost filled in, and strips of low brush that they mow once a year to keep trees from taking over completely.

Well, the herons love it, and now that it’s been mowed, I spotted one fishing on just about every little canal I walked by. At one point, I could see four herons all from the same spot, once I looked far enough down the canal. At the very next canal, I could see two with my naked eye, so I took a look with my binoculars to see if there were any more, and look who I found. See that little dark spot on the grass in the sun, far behind the blurry heron in the foreground?

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No? Here’s a close-up that might help.

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Here it is again, in profile this time.

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Hot diggity dog, I’m pretty sure those “upright triangular ears”, narrow muzzle, and that “long tail” held low all mean that that’s a fox, most likely a red fox, just like the one I spotted at the entrance to Estabrook Park last December. The tail isn’t as fluffy as I would expect, but its “paws are black” and its “chin, lower lips, throat and front of the chest are white,” so everything else matches. Plus, it was all by its lonesome, and I haven’t met any domestic dogs left on their own here yet, so I have a hope that’s not what it was.

That’s only the fourth wild mammal species I’ve spotted here so far, and only the second I’ve managed to photograph, after the hares. It’s always good to see a predator, so I sure am happy for the opportunity. I hope I get another.

The Dog Days of Summer are Here

We had a picture perfect-morning in South Holland today. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the winds were calm, and the air was cool. The temps started in the 50s at sunrise, and we’re not forecast to reach the 70s all day.

I headed out to the new area Anne had told me about, where I saw the egret last weekend, and I was not disappointed. I haven’t seen much in the way of shore birds there, so it was an extra surprise to spot a bunch of our first Eurasian curlews (Numenius arquata) out in the fields with the cows, sheep, geese, oyster catchers, and lapwings. How’s that for a beak, eh?

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Another fun sight was the first stork nest I found and showed you back at the beginning of June. Well, they’ve been busy while we were away, and today there were three large birds on it when I first rolled up.

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Then one flew off, a parent in search of more victuals, I presumed, leaving these two, which I figured were the nearly-grown chicks.

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And then a second bird took off and made a couple of passes before landing right in front of me.

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I can’t tell for sure, but the black remaining on its beak leads be to believe it is not quite full grown, perhaps still sorting out the flying stuff, and it sure looked pleased with that landing.

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And that left just one still in the nest, with even more black still on its beak, and perhaps a late bloomer.

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Lastly, storks aren’t the only ones looking almost all grown up. Here’s a bank of young swans from last weekend, when the clouds were leaking a bit.

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And here’s one of their parents looking at me as if to ask, “you’re not really gonna mess with a bank of swans, are you?” “No, ma’am or sir! No way”

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I took my pictures and carefully backed away to photograph another day.

Family Dynamics

I was traveling yesterday, and so I couldn’t get out into the countryside until this morning, when it was cloudy, cool, and sprinkly. Such weather kept the butterflies bedded down, but didn’t seem to bother these birds at all, thankfully. I headed to a new spot that Anne had scouted for me last week, and the initial indicators are promising. Thanks, Honey!

We’ve seen this first bird before, in Estabrook Park a couple of times, but this is the first time I’ve seen a great egret in Europe. Technically, they are different subspecies, with Ardea alba egretta residing in the Americas, and Ardea alba alba over here in Eurasia. As the Pedia of Wik so stylishly puts it, however, they “differ but little.

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This next bird had me all excited because I didn’t recognize it at all, and I thought maybe I was seeing my first rail or crake, but the reality might be even more interesting. This little cutie, with three tiny jet-black chicks at its feet, is actually a juvenile moorhen, from the same family as rails, crakes, and gallinules, but probably from the first brood this summer and now helping to care for its siblings from a later brood.

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Below is an adult moorhen, with a bright red and yellow beak, who was in the vicinity, and whom we have seen before, a couple of times. Anyway, I was amazed to learn that “helping-at-the-nest has been studied in a number of avian species,” including our “moorhens (Gallinula chloropus),” but the evidence gathered so far suggests that doing so “does not enhance the reproductive success of breeders.”

Then why do they do it, one might reasonably ask? Well, maybe they do it because they can’t use their phone or go to the mall, and they’re bored out of their little skulls so why not help out around the nest? Weirder things have happened, right?

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Finally, I spotted a pair of terns who appeared to be in the midst of their own family drama. They were perched, which I hardly ever see, but on separate posts, and at least one had a lot to say. Then one swooped down to snag a fish out of the water but didn’t eat it right away nor feed it to the other one. Instead, it flew back and forth a couple of times and returned to the same perch, almost as if to say, “see how easy that was? Now go catch one for yourself!” It sure is a fun time to be watching birds.

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Lastly, in other news, Anne has returned safely to Milwaukee and is going camping with her family at Kohler-Andrea State Park for the week. Maybe she’ll get to see the white pelicans again.

A tit, a tattered map, and a warbler…

Anne and I had a nice leisurely bike ride down to Brielle, just south of the Maas River, and back. So, now I’m trying to identify some of the other creatures I photographed Saturday morning.

First up is the darling long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Its beak barely extends beyond its feathers, and it’s tiny “(only 13–15 cm (5–6 in) in length, including its 7–9 cm (3–3.5 in) tail)”,

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Here’s one with more black on its face.

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This next one led me on quite the wild-goose chase. I initially thought it was a white admiral (Limenitis camilla), and if you follow the link, I think you’ll see why.

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There were a few about, which seems to be how it goes here, and here’s a close-up of another one who appears to be slightly worse for the wear.

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The underside (ventral) is all wrong however, and once I saw that, I also saw that the wing shape isn’t quite right either.

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And that, boys and girls, is because these aren’t white admirals at all, of course. Instead, they are “map” butterflies (Araschnia levana), and that appears to be their complete and only name. The Pedia of Wik helpfully explains some of my difficulty in identifying them with “the map is unusual in that its two annual broods look very different. The summer brood are black with white markings, looking like a miniature version of the white admiral and lacking most of the orange of the pictured spring brood.”

Here’s a close-up of that gorgeous “map”.

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Finally, this little yellow-bellied stinker had been teasing me for a while, and I ended up taking a couple dozen pictures in hopes that just one would turn out. Well, here it is.

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I had even written it up for you as a “mystery bird”, but as I tried to explain that it looked like a yellow chiffchaff, I came across the willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), whom the folks at ebird describe as “looks very much like a chiffchaff, [but] is often brighter, more yellowish (especially in autumn) with stronger pale eyebrow, pinkish legs,” and with a completely different song. That’s our new bird to a “t”!

I quick post before I bolt…

I got about 5 minutes, so this has to be quick. I headed to a new spot this morning that Anne told me about, and it really paid off. Here’s a pheasant with a pair of his chicks. The hen and a couple other chicks where there too, but this was the nicest grouping.

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Here’s a whole family of Egyptian geese just taking it easy on a tiny pond.

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Here’s a chaffinch enjoying a quiet moment in some morning sun.

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Finally, here’s a wren taking a dust bath as best it can in a country mostly below sea level.

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I have several other pictures, including a new butterfly, but that’s gonna take some time to identify, and Anne’s waiting for me to wrap this up so we can get on the road to Brielle, where she’s planned a little weekend getaway for us.

More beach beauties

Here’s another beach bird from Sunday, a Eurasian linnet (Linaria cannabina). It’s a “small finch of open country, from wild moorland to rough grassland and weedy patches in urban areas.” There were a handful of these little cuties flitting around in the trees atop the dunes, and this one perched against that beautiful blue sky just long enough for me to get this shot.

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Here’s the longest damselfly I’ve ever seen, a willow emerald (Chalcolestes viridis), by the look of its pale wing spots. I read that the ancient Latins called these markings pterostigmata, and they are not just for decoration.

In fact, “the purpose of the pterostigma, being a heavier section of the wing in comparison to nearby sections, is to assist in gliding. Without the pterostigmata, self-exciting vibrations known as flutter would set in on the wing after a certain critical speed, making gliding impossible. Tests show that with the pterostigmata, the critical gliding speed is increased 10–25% on one species of dragonfly.”

Who knew, right? And “yay”, Science. I bet those were fun tests to do. Not painstaking at all.

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Here’s a ring-necked pheasant from the field below were the buzzard hangs out and behind the fence on which the barn swallows perched on Saturday.

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Back at the dunes by the beach on Sunday, here’s another butterfly, which looks like another meadow brown, but I believe all that orange, especially on the inside (dorsal) of the wings, means that it is actually a gatekeeper butterfly (Pyronia tithonus).

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Finally, here’s one more great tit from last weekend.

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In other news, we really are having a heatwave here now. It was in the high 80s yesterday afternoon, and is supposed to get even hotter this afternoon. Many of you may already be thinking “high 80s, really?” But remember that I hardly ever see a fan here, let alone air conditioning. Anne kept my apartment bearably cool yesterday by closing the windows in time, but I’m not sure that will work for day two. Wish us luck!

More Winged Things

Well, Anne and I did ride up to the coast this morning, to Oostduinpark in Scheveningen, and the dunes are huge, perhaps the highest points I’ve seen in the Netherlands so far. It was a beautiful morning with clear skies and calm winds, the bike ride up from Delft was pretty nice, and there are even a few ponds in the dunes, so there was plenty of nature to see.

Right off the bat, we spotted some completely new ducks for me, and they look like canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria). Here’s a male, who was pretty far out on the water and had the sun behind him, so just a perfect setting for a portrait.

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And here’s a female in similar light.

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After the ducks, I was thrilled to spot another speckled wood butterfly, which I first saw just yesterday, but only the ventral (outside) of its wings. Our hero today was willing to show us the pretty dorsal (inside) of its wings.

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In the woods beside the trail, we could hear a wren chirping incessantly, and when we looked closer, we saw at least 4 individuals, perhaps two recent fledglings foraging with one parent, while the other parent warned them about us and/or told us to get lost.

Here’s a youngster, who seemed not quite sure what to do.

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And here’s the chatter box, who seemed to have strong opinions about what we should do. We never stepped off of the path, let alone into the woods, and after I finally got some pictures, we gladly complied.

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The dragonflies were plentiful by the coast, too, and this one appears to be an immature male common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

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Finally, as Anne and I were having a little refreshment at a concession stand before our ride home, this crow stopped by to bid us adieu, and this might be the best portrait a crow has ever allowed me to take.

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I am happy to report that I have even more pictures, and when I eventually identify the critters in them, I’ll post them here for you.