Hennie van Heerden's Wildlife Diary

June 11, 2010

Iceland! Arrival at Reykjavik

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 8:58 pm

It was só good to set foot on Icelandic soil again! We’ve waited two years for it and the first glimpse of that gorgeous country brought all the good memories right back. We couldn’t wait to get the rental car and start going. But first we had to get all the gear into the car. An experience in itself. I think we both brought all we had on photographical equipment and in our case.. that’s a lot! But this time Michel won with his huuuuuge 600mm Nikon! 🙂

Immediately after we left Reykjavik we stopped at the first harbour in sight to shoot the many seabirds. Michel has this fetish about seagulls …  🙂
 I got a feeling that we wouldn’t reach Vik before midnight, an estimation that certainly proved right 🙂
When Michel was shooting away with his seagull I happened to look out of the car on my side. And oh surprise! A Snipe was trying to resemble a clump of grass by ducking himself totally motionless! I was so proud! Normally it’s always Michel who finds the harder to spot birds so I was really happy with this find! And pretty soon I felt the familiar feeling of a Nikon lens, pressed against my cheek 🙂 (they should do something to the countless little grippoints on that zoomring! They make my cheeks look like I had a severe attack of acne!)

When we continued our way to Vik, we immediately felt that same familiarity we experienced two years ago. Normally Michel isn’t such a talker (as opposed to me) but when we are on a photo-trip like this, we are never short of subjects. Well granted, 90% is about photography, but it’s great fun. When we reached the vast plains just outside of Reykjavik I saw a blur from the corner of my eye. I shouted “stop” as I was sure I saw a rather big bird flying over the fields. I described what I thought I saw to Michel and, highly experienced birder he is, immediately said Owl. (on our previous trip we saw 97 different species of birds, of which he determined 95 immediately; 2 he wasn’t completely sure but proved right afterwards. The man sure knows his birds!).
We were so excited when we saw the bird again and this time clearly saw that it indeed was a Short-Eared Owl; a species that was so high on our list on the last trip, but couldn’t find. And now here it was, on our very first day in Iceland! According to Michel, the Owls follow the food supply, which means that a good mice year will mean lots of owls. A fantastic sighting. Unfortunately no good shots as it was still too far, but our hopes were up for the rest of the trip!

The sun was already low in the sky when we continued. In june the sun hardly ever goes down completely and the light in the evening (you can photograph until around 11PM!, which is exactly the time the landscape to the left was made) is magnificent. Very soft. The two Redshanks we found in a vast lupine field bathed in that soft, warm light. That took us another hour 🙂 You can imagine that we arrived way too late at the hostel we were booked for the night and we had to find our way to our beds in pitch darkness. Something that wasn’t made easy by the many pieces of luggage that were scattered all over the room.

June 10, 2010


Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:34 pm

Can a day start any more beautiful than being woken up by birdsong? The reeds next to where we had moored the Tembo for the night was swarming with reed warblers who treated us to a concert at 7AM. Wonderful start of the day!

The rest of the day we will be steering the Tembo towards Muiden, a beautiful town which manages to remain totally authentic, although it’s located practically around the corner of Amsterdam.

Tomorrow, Michel will pick me up there for Schiphol airport, where another adventure will start: Our trip to Iceland!! Michel and I have been to this gorgeous country 2 years ago together. Although we initially would go with a party of 4, who didn’t know each other at all (I had only seen Michel maybe twice before), the other two backed out at the very last moment, leaving just Michel and I. Of course we had doubts at first, if we should go or not, after all, it is quite a gamble to go on a 9-day trip to a far away country with someone you don’t even know. The only thing we did know was that we shared the same passion for nature photography. That turned out to be enough to have a totally awesome trip! So, this year we decided to repeat that trip. I am só looking forward to it!!

This was my summary of the trip of two years ago:
9 days Iceland in a nutshell:
– 9 days of raging wind
– 4 days of rain – and with rain I mean rain!
– Average temp: about 12 degrees C
– 5 ‘warm’ meals in 9 days (3x hamburger, 1 club sandwich, 1 ‘real’ meal with   vegetables), rest cookies, tuc’s and (increasingly dry) cheese sandwiches
– NO wine (AAGH!)
– All of my clothes stiff with mud, birdshit, sheep droppings from ‘tigering’ after birdies. Gave a convincing impression of the Michelin man in my extremely becoming plastic green rain-trousers (one size fits all) for 4 days in a row (MG, if you dare to post shots of that, I’ll have to kill you….)
– My hair tangled (COMPLETELY) with dead musquitos (Myvatn is the Icelandic word for musquito lake… well, they are right!) The repellant has melted my raincoat. Michel suggested my hairdo would make a great Tern nest.
– 9 days not a trace of make-up and we won’t talk about nails
– Black, blue, green, yellow bruises, scratches and little wounds caused by the course gravel all over!
– Some really weird hosts! (I will not go into detail here, but we had great fun fantasizing about their respective fetishes.. 🙂 All of them though, after breaking through the initial ice, welcoming and hospitable.
– Staggering against the wind on 200m high cliffs, no safety fence, to shoot puffins
– First day totally drowned by an unexpected floodwave on an otherwise calm basalt beach, complete with camera and brandnew wide-angle lens (they still work unlike the 60mm macro I dropped on the second day). Running like mad on flooded boots to save the telephoto lenses that I left further down the beach. Waited half an hour for Michel, who had climbed 150m up a cliff to shoot Fulmars, soaking wet in raging wind with 10 degrees, really feeling sorry for myself.
– Finding out that 2 little lambs, that ran into the car on a loose gravel road in the West Fjords, with an 100m. abyss on the right, and a 100m rising cliff on the left, would fit underneath a car (bonk bonk behebeheeeee) can come out the other side, totally unharmed.
– Climbing up a basalt-sand dune, with 10kg of rugsack and 5 kg of camera/lens, 2 kg of tripod/head, some 30m mtrs high and with every step, sliding back about the same length; I though I would die on the spot! (I really should stop smoking!) with Michel waiting fresh and fruity on top. But I made it!
– Also first day: the 100-400mm totally fogged up from the inside. After half a day it dried up..
– On average 3,5 hours of sleep per night: came back at 11.30 – 12.00 PM, then ‘souper’ (Ha!), emptying memory cards, charging batteries etc.. Up at 4.30 every morning.
– 600 km. through the inland in dense fog, mountains, icefields, tree skeletons, no more than 5 m of view. high mountain gravel roads, (no crash barriers) All of a sudden we understood where the Icelandic Troll sagas came from.
– Brushing your teeth in the morning, still weary from lack of sleep, opening the tap, to be overwhelmed by a H2S cloud (rotten eggs) that sends last nights culinary delights right up to where it had gone in.


How can I explain the rugged, pure beauty of this country. The glaciers, the mountains, the geysers, the sulfur wells, the ice lakes, the fields covered in blue lupines and/or yellow dandelions, the enormous cliffs, the plentiful birds, the unbelievable blue of the skies, crispy fresh like Iceberg salad, followed by raging dark storm clouds. The overwhelming power of nature, so incredibly expressed in Iceland. It is totally overpowering, humbling. Makes you want to soak in every second, repeating the images in your head like a calming mantra.

June 9, 2010


Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:20 pm

Today we had to steer the Tembo back towards Sneek, in the north of Holland. As this takes two days, we only could go out for the last glimpse of the Biesbosch, very early in the morning. It’s hard to say goodbye to this wonderful area but I’m quite sure we’ll be back.

June 8, 2010

A quiet day.

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:09 pm

It’s almost always when you near the end of a trip, you don’t see that much wildlife anymore. Be it here, in the Biesbosch or in some remote nature area. Also today, I couldn’t find that many animals. It’s as if your mind is already preparing for leaving. Still, the Biesbosch offers so much beauty, that even on an off-day like this, there’s plenty to see for those who want to see.

June 7, 2010

Exploring the Biesbosch further

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 10:38 am

About two decades ago, the Beaver was almost extinct in Holland. Luckily some people recognized the value of this native little Bob-the-Builder and set up a rescue programme. The Biesbosch was the designated area to do this with its vast network of rivers, creeks and swamps. And with success! The population is increasing rapidly and they are spreading again all over the country. There apparently even is one that built its lodge under the famous Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam! 🙂

Almost in every creek in the Biesbosch you can have an encounter with one or more Beavers, as long as you keep their habits in mind. It is rare to see one during broad daylight, but when you go out when the sun is about to set, you’re almost sure to see one. On this trip we had found several lodges and it was just a matter of moaring the boat in the neighborhood of the lodge, and just wait. On particularly funny sighting was this Beaver who seemed to be waiving at us. :-). Its little cousin, the Nutria is also a rather often seen inhabitant of the Biesbosch. Much smaller than the Beaver, they are constantly busy redecorating their lodge with fresh leaves and reeds. Really amazing to see these Nutria cross the rivers dragging along huge reeds and branches, almost 10x as long as their own body.

 As the day progressed, the light got a sort of crisp clarity that you only see every now and then. Wonderful to see the horses that live freely in the polders (reclaimed land) play around. Their coats shiny and manes flying. A picture of health! When the sun was setting the light still was fantastic and the couple of Grebes we found, allowed us quite near where they were preparing for the night, floating around, dozing off. But all of a sudden Madame Grebe woke up and gave hubby an ear full! Not that he seemed concerned about this as he persistently pretended to be asleep while she was raving on. Seemed familiar somehow 🙂

June 6, 2010

A surprise around every corner

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 10:01 am

The morning started again like a fairy tale. The sun turned everything golden and on Dennis’ last morning in the Biesbosch we got treated to again, wonderful sceneries. The Coots seemed to be floating around in liquid gold.  

 In the morning the tide is low. Oystercatchers fourage on the banks of drying mud in the morning sun. Wonderful to watch. Funny thing was that this oystercatcher apparently preferred mussels! 🙂

A big advantage of the motorboat was that the range is much bigger than the electro-motor, so we could explore creeks that I normally don’t dare, as I don’t know if the battery will last that long and they are too shallow to ancher the Tembo in.

So, this time, we discovered a treasure trove of new creeks and rivers. At one point we were entering a creek when all of a sudden we saw a roe deer, at the same time he saw us. He was standing up to his belly in the water, munching away at the leaves of an apparently delicious shrub. We he saw us approaching, he splashed through the water to the other side, swimming the last part. A fantastic sighting and I think quite unique for the Biesbosch area.

The afternoon we followed a couple of Tufted Ducks around; They let you come quite close but invariably they lifted off, only to land again maybe 50m onwards. Of course this repeated a couple of times as the boat approached, until they finally got wise, lifted off again, circled the air and finally landed behind us. It sure gave me a chance for pretty pictures!


June 5, 2010

Another day in Paradise

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:54 pm

Again a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky.

The Oystercatchers were really busy courting and we made it a sport to kill the boat’s motor long before we reached the mudflats they were fouraging on, letting the boat float gently closer. A trick that really worked well and often enough we ended up on the same mudflat without disturbing them.

In may the abundant willows in the Biesbosch start to shed their fluffy seeds and the surface of the water is covered with millions of white dots. A beautiful sight to see all the waterbirds swim amidst that.

June 4, 2010

Kodak moments at the Biesbosch

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:27 pm

The Biesbosch has so many photo opportunities that it’s a hard decision where to point your camera at first or last. 




June 3, 2010

A golden day

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:23 pm

The day started truly wonderful. The early sunlight painted beautiful patterns on the smooth surface of the water. Grebes, Herons were showered golden. A fantastic start of the day.

As the sun climbed higher, the golden glow faded and the waters of the Biesbosch waited calmly, willow fluffs floating on its surface, for the day to come.

June 2, 2010

Shipwrecked at the Biesbosch

Filed under: June — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:13 pm

After dropping off Hans I went back in the little motor-boat over the river Amer. Jeez! That’s a scary thing to do! It’s only a few miles from the village back into the biesbosch but the huge freight-boats cause enormous rolling waves and more than once I thought I would capsize with my flimsy little boat. But I made it! In the afternoon I had to do the same trip again to pick up Dennis, who would keep me company for the next days. In between those two trips I kept myself busy with the male and female (Common) Redstarts that paid me a visit.
After picking up Dennis we were eager to get out there so we took the little rubber boat and got going. After about a mile we saw a Beaver swimming and we gently tried to follow it. But all of a sudden the electro motor went dead. The batteries were full so there was something else. Long story short; it didn’t come back to life, so we had to row all the way back to the Tembo. Pfuw… I’ve felt those muscles for days after!!

But what to do? The Tembo tightly tied to the shore and the electro motor dead and 3 days to go before Hans came back. So we took the rented little boat with the normal motor and made the best out of it. Not ideal but at least we could move around again. And after a while we got pretty handy in stopping and starting that thing with as little noise as possible. Found a couple of Terns that were very accommodating and while the sun set, we found a beautiful creek where a family of Beavers had their nest.

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