Hennie van Heerden's Wildlife Diary

March 14, 2012

Close.. But not close enough!

A few days ago I left early in the morning but there wasn’t much going on to photograph. When I was about to give up I passed a meadow where 3 hares where playing.. ehm, well it is spring! .. around. I stopped the car and got out for a low level shot. Right at that time they decided that it was time for a rest.. Tsss..

After a while one of them walked off towards a ditch where it disappeared in the reeds. Moments later I heard a big splash! I looked up just in time to see the hare crawl out on the other side, dripping wet. Guess the ditch was just a little too wide. But I figured that when one would try and jump the ditch, more could follow! So I quickly moved to the ditch and just waited.

It took about half an hour (I had forgotten my coat and 7 degrees in just a sweater nearly made me abandon the whole plan) but sure enough another hare approached the ditch and disappeared in the reeds. When it came out on the water side it hid behind some reed stems so it was impossible to get focus.. Aagh! Until it took 3 leaps towards me to find the shortest way to the other side and jumped!!!

And like his mate, also this time, the ditch turned out to be just a little bit too wide. Hilarious!

I put the whole series together in a sort of sequence. Hope you’ll like it as much as I did.

February 13, 2012

A Day at the Dunes

The “Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen”, in short AWD certainly belongs to my favorite Dutch areas for photography. Not only because of the abundant foxes and fallow deer, although I must admit they are the most spectacular inhabitants of this nature reserve, but also because of the magnificent landscapes and the many birds. The AWD has got it all; dunes, forests, water in the form of numerous canals, (AWD provides drinking water for the city of Amsterdam) vast heather and grass fields.

When I entered the reserve last week a thick fog rose from the many canals. The Swans, ducks and geese where hardly visible, but what an atmosphere. Beautiful! Soon the fog blanket evaporated and the area bathed in golden morning light. Can’t help myself but everytime I’m there, I feel happy. The area is so beautiful there is a surprise around every corner, however small sometimes.

It was still very cold, around -10 to -12 C and the AWD was covered in snow. After an hour or so we decided to sit down alongside one of the canals and get some of the tea we brought with us. But as always, when you sit still, nature finds you! The tea was soon forgotten when we discovered dozens of snipes, fouraging on the banks so what other choice did we have than go down in the snow and shoot our heart out! 🙂 Actually, we were so busy crawling up to the Snipes that we hadn’t noticed another visitor who was checking us out from behind a couple of reed stems.. Fox!! And we weren’t at all close to the area where the foxes are known to be approachable. The snow covered bank of the canal made for a perfect setting for this beauty and while the teacup was melting a hole in the snow down we went again on our stomachs. Funny how you don’t feel the cold at such moments at all!

She didn’t stay long but allowed us quite a few shots before she went. When afterwards we turned around to save the meanwhile stonecold tea, we were in for another surprise. Apparently her young was checking on mom what she was up to and meanwhile ‘guarded’ our gear that was, in the haste, scattered all around. Wow.. two foxes in our first hour in the dunes!!

The young fox was quite skittish and didn’t come close which was actually good so I could use the 500mm, a lens I prefer because of the nice blurry backgrounds. Also this one didn’t stay very long but I think I got some wonderful shots, especially with the snowy banks as background.

When the adrenaline of the fox encounters had worn off a bit we got on our way again. Like I said, around every corner there are little surprises. Woodcocks flying off when you practically stand on them (never time enough to capture them!), a Bittern and Whooper Swans flying over, Mergansers, Tufted Ducks, and Kingfishers on the canals.

After another hour we again sat down for the next attempt to get some tea down and yes, you guessed it; another fox paid us a visit 🙂 When some other photographers discovered us, soon she went on her way again but not without our memory cards still buffering!!

Later that day we saw two more foxes but in our hearts we knew that we never would get the setting there like we had had earlier. Sure we shot but the winning photographs of the day were the three earlier foxes! What a glorious day!!

When we slowly made our way back, it’s always quite a hike, we encounter yet one other female fox, an older one. I remember I saw here only once before last year. She completed the score of 6 foxes in one day! Can you imagine that the first couple of times I went to the AWD I couldn’t find even one, despite the 20-odd km I walked, cris-crossing the reserve.

We walked back along the canals with fallow deer as company. A Swan couple swam towards us, like two proud flagships, silently floating by. Can you imagine that I left the reserve with a big smile on my face?!

September 11, 2011

Surprise Party

Yesterday afternoon I was working when I all of a sudden heard a bird calling outside. It sounded all too familiar: Kingfisher! Although we have visiting Kingfishers every now and again it still is a rare guests as we live in a forest area and there are not that many nesting possibilities around. Two years ago, we’ve had a Kingfisher emptying our pond for a week, but since then it still is an exception when I hear or see one.

But this time she had landed on a branch over the pond and started scanning the water for fish. As there are a lot of fish in the pond I knew that it would mean that she was probably going to stay around for a while. The next 10 minutes were frantic. The moment she flew off for a moment I sprinted to the shed, got out my hide, threw it on the terrace that is next to the pond, got a little chair, my tripod, camera. Sprinted off to the neares patch of forest where I knew Hans had been busy cutting off branches. Dragged a huge one to the pond and just hung it just over the water surface. Took a dive in the hide, zipped it up and exhaled again 🙂

It only took a few minutes and there was the familiar sound again. To my great thrill it flew straight at the new branch, right in front of my camera. It took her only a minute before she took a dive into the pond and fished out her first little fish. It was a shame that it was cloudy and already quite late, so the possible shutterspeeds weren’t fast enough to capture her smashing the fish on the branch, but still got some really nice shots.

She kept on fishing and in the first hour she caught herself 5 fish before she landed on a tiny little branch just above the water and started to clean her feathers. By that time I thought I heared the call again but dismissed it as imagination as I didn’t see her call. When I looked back at the pictures I took later on, the surprise was complete when it turned out there were two different ones! Talk about a surprise party!! Both juvenile females. I really hope they’ll return but I haven’t seen them again ever since.

July 4, 2011

On safari in Holland

Last week at the National Park ‘De Veluwezoom’ was fantastic. You know, I’ve heard so often that to see ‘real’ wildlife, you have to go to Africa, or Antarctica, or the Galapagos. But close to home, often you can see so much wildlife that it’s dazzling. But maybe we don’t find it exotic enough. For me, seeing a Roe Deer or a Wild Boar is just as exciting as seeing an Impala or a Warthog. Especially when you’ve waited days to get a clean shot of one of them it’s equally rewarding as being on safari in Africa. Well, at least, almost as rewarding.. 🙂

The last couple of days have been awesome. I love, really love, being out there at the crack of dawn, nobody else, no joggers, no moutain bikers and especially no ‘tour-de-france-wannabees’ yet. (I could fill an entire blog page with my experiences with that group!). Totally quiet. The fun is approaching the animals without disturbing them. I’m getting quite good at that. My poor car is not enjoying rolling down a hill, motor off, heading with a speed of 5 miles/hour, but it works!! But to see the sun creep up the hills, setting the flowering heather ablaze with golden light is fantastic.

The Roe Deer don’t get disturbed but just continue fouraging, the Wild Boar let their young frolick around without heading off, the Doe shows her Fawn without totally panicking. I’ve seen Fox on several occasions but wasn’t able to get a clean shot. But I will, I’m sure.

Yesterday, the Roe Deer Foe who, by now, doesn’t seem to get alarmed by my presence anymore, let me approach her, by now only one, fawn pretty close. Imagine that up until this year I’ve only seen a fawn once, although I’ve been surrounded by Roe Deer all my life! All of a sudden I seem to know how to look, and where to look. Where I used to drive on after seeing a Deer Foe on her own, I now stop the car and wait patiently. Because a Doe on her own in June is likely to have hidden her Fawns somewhere. I can’t help it, but each time I see the head go up when she starts to call with soft high pitched sounds, I secretely smile. Patience gets rewarded every time!

There were two absolute highlights last week. First on monday, to see the Honey Buzzard. It’s a very rare bird of prey in Holland and there aren’t that many photographers that have a shot in their collection. I’ve seen one a couple of times before but had never been able to capture it right.
But this day was different. Although I had woken up an hour too late I still went but indeed all of the wildlife already seemed to have gone in hiding. Until I turned the corner, entering a road that’s overlooking a vast heather field. The light was harsh and shone directly in my face when I saw a shape sitting on a portruding branch. Hawk! I thought by the looks of the grey head and the bright yellow eyes. Exciting as I don’t have a good shot of those birds yet. Yes, dozens of in-flight shots when it’s flying over the meadow behind our house to it’s nest in the corner of the forest, but no ground shots. So I switched off the engine and let the car creep forward, rolling silently down the hill. Just when I was about in ‘shooting’-range, it flew off. Even before I could get a clear shot. Disappointed I sat back, until a shadow fell over the heather; it returned!! Be it one little branch further away. I started shooting although it was quite far away. Much to my surprise, it flew up only to land on top of a shrub closer by!! The harsh light I dreaded worked in my advantage as it shone beautifully through the stretched out wings from behind. When it finally took off altogether, I sat back, and ‘chimped’ through the images on my display and I suddenly realized I was looking, not at a Hawk, but at a beautiful male Honey Buzzard! So I waited around to see if it would be coming back but no such luck. Tried several times during the next days, but I’ve never seen it again (yet). Guess oversleeping made it my lucky day as chances are that I normally would have been out of the park already by that time.

Another highlight occured yesterday, which was my birthday. When I drove my usual circle I saw mom Wild Boar high up the hill. I’ve seen her there before (see upper photo) and I know she has little piglets. But the heather there is really high and usually all you get to see of the little piggies are the tops of their backs, shooting through the heather. But still, you never know, so I stopped and just waited. It took the good part of an hour but the little piglets came closer and closer!! When they were about halfway I suddenly remembered that my camera has a film mode, so I started taping some of the frolicks of the babies. I’m not good at filming but have a look at the video at the bottom of this blog entry. I think it gives a good idea of what I felt, watching those little piglets. Wait for the little white one to come racing through the frame! 🙂

While mom was still foraging, the babies came closer and closer until they were right next to the car! What a wonderful sight!! They started digging for food like tiny little shovels and it was realy too cute to watch them! Hard to imagine that one day these cute little babies will have grown into huge impressive Wild Boars 🙂

I don’t think I could have gotten a better birthday present as spending an hour or so with these little cuties!!

     
 
 

 

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