Poland, Biebrza National Park, spring 2022

Business as usual in Spring 2022. For the umpteenth, now countless times, traveled to the above area during this time of year. Not on my own this time, but in the company of daughter and sister.
Despite the fact that the winter was again as we have known it in Europe for the last decade, too warm and with a mainly westerly wind direction, I always hope that the conditions will be back to normal. That is, a situation where the entire delta is flooded. This is due to the precipitation in the source area of the rivers Narew and Biebrza. This is mostly the case during much of the winter and then the area is home to large numbers of geese, swans and ducks. However, in the last seven to ten years this water is gone before the end of April and with it, the conditions that previously caused an explosion of bird life. The Ruffs that normally arrive around this time, are now moving on two weeks earlier.
But, not taking a chance is always wrong, and so I brought my floating hide again. Fortunately, I know one location where there is always water enough. Unfortunately, this piece is slowly overgrowing, partly because it remains too wet during the summer to mow. And when spring is also very cold and the other birds arrive later then “normal”, there are not so many opportunities left. The few mornings I spent in the water yielded almost nothing. A pair of Red-necked Grebe that was about to nest was actually the only real opportunity. Because disruption then constitutes a clear risk, extremely careful action is required.
The cold spring in turn meant that there were no leaves on the trees yet and the herbal vegetation had yet to get going. The well-known search for caterpillars was therefore again a challenge this time. A month later, the situation within this group is completely different, but my school-going daughter ánd work prevent me from going then. Bring on the pension I would say. From the stories of my Polish friend Jan I pretty much conclude that every bush is then loaded with many species. This does not seem to be an exaggeration as I always get a bunch of photos to see, taken with his smartphone. In between there is always a large batch of species that I have not seen before. There’s something to look forward one might say. The beauty of that time is also that the numbers of butterflies are large. Not to mention the end of June when species such as Emperor butterflies populate the area.
In short, to be continued!

Poland, Biebrza National Park, summer 2021

Setting up a website is one thing, posting news regularly is another. And the latter is sometimes the case. Although sufficient material has become available, I have neglected the latter.
This is the impetus for catching up. A series of at least four items to be current again.
This series is the footage of yet another visit to the Biebrza swamps in northeastern Poland. The period is August 2021. Also this time the focus was mainly on finding caterpillars and butterflies. And if there is enough of that, there is little time left for some other subjects.
Visiting the same area regularly does not mean that you will only encounter the same species. One year is not the next turns out every time. Species of which you have not found a single specimen for years, suddenly appears everywhere. It may well be possible to explain what underlies this, but I do not have that information available for the time being. I don’t think it is due to a change in the landscape, because hardly anything happens with it. Weather conditions may play a role, but as with many other animals, species occasionally have a year in which they occur in significantly larger numbers. For some species, this is also referred to as a “mast year”. With a next news item I will try to find out this info.
For some of the caterpillars, breeding to a butterfly only provides complete certainty about the species. For example, the caterpillar of the Pine Carpet, Pennithera firmata, was about to pupate. A search for comparable recordings of this stage turned up nothing. Fortunately, about two weeks later the butterfly emerged from the pupa and the species was known. With the “gathering” of caterpillars is also an important factor on which plant you find the species. Often the host plant is also directly the food plant. The species mentioned earlier is a good example of this. The caterpillar was therefore not photographed on the correct plant. During the “tapping” of caterpillars, one will have to pay very close attention to where it came from. In other words, check the moment you switch to another tree species or shrub.

Poland, Biebrzanski Park Narodowy 2021

In the spring of 2021 I received good news from Poland. For the first time in years, the water level in the Biebrza area was once again old-fashioned high. The height of the water level there is mainly determined by the amount of precipitation, especially that of the previous winter. An excellent opportunity to get started with the floating hide again and to focus attention on the birds.
At the end of April it was time and despite the very cold spring I had good hopes that I would find enough waterfowl. Unfortunately, immediately upon arrival it turned out that the water level had dropped dramatically in two weeks time. The inhabitants of the area had not often seen it flow away so quickly.
The consequence was that all Ruffs, first present in large numbers, had moved on to more suitable places. The numbers of the other waterfowl were also small. Of the many songbirds that abound in the Biebrza swamps, I did not observe many species because their arrival time had been pushed back considerably due to the cold weather. The numbers of Storks were also low and the number of occupied nests was significantly less than in previous years.
Plant life had only just started due to the cold spring. Fields that normally show a sea of ​​flowers, were bare. What that would mean for the numbers off caterpillar was briefly questioned, but it soon became apparent that with the help of a UV lamp, there was enough to be found. An interesting strip under a high-voltage line turned out to have been worked with a forest flail during winter. There is a large amount of Heather on this route, together with a variety of small trees such as Oak,Prunus serotina and Birch. In September the year before I had already found quite a few caterpillar species on this stretch and they should be fully grown by spring. After the work, of course, there was nothing left of it. Still a disappointment because I had the idea that this would give me a number of new varieties. Later, in August 2021, I went back again and I could see that the recovery was going smoothly. More about that in a later article.
I also intended to spend the necessary time with the group of amphibians. The Green toad in particular was high on the wish list. A beautifully colored species that was suspected to occur in the area. And with species such as Garlic Toad (Bufotes viridis) and Red-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina), there is also plenty to do in this area. The Grass Snakes, however, were again nowhere to be seen. Too cold!. The positive side of the latter is that I have not seen any dead vehicles. In particular, the road that runs through the national park can be littered with squashed snakes. Especially now that a new layer of asphalt has been applied, the speed of traffic has increased considerably. Previously, the quality of the road was so bad that people simply took it easy.
All in all and with the necessary ups and downs, this trip turned out to be a success again. But just staying there is already very pleasant.

Butterfly cocoons varia

Butterfly cocoons, not the first thing you would expect on a website. But on the other hand, it is perhaps a conceivable subject given the fact that in recent years I have been busy photographing butterflies and caterpillars. I mainly show here what I am interested in. These are not the most common topics and that could just be one of the reasons why I started working on this.
Since about a year I have also been engaged in breeding caterpillars and butterflies. And the butterfly pupa is the stage between both manifestations. When I also went looking for images of these coccons, it soon became clear that there was very little footage available. And so, one plus one is two!
There is not much variation. A large part of the pupae are similar, with the understanding that there is a clear distinction between those of the common butterflies and moths. The sizes of the cocoons will also contribute little. Of those close to a thousand macro butterflies in our country The Netherlands, the size varies between roughly 9 mm to about 23 mm. With a few exceptions there. That means large group of cocoons has the same length. However, there are differences in shapes of dots, fringe-like appendages or brackets. Furthermore, one coccon is slimmer and another a bit rounder. But with such large numbers, ….. be my guest.
All in all, it’s not a difficult subject. There is little movement and if you have documented three sides of each one you are almost complete.
But the most important aspect is that I’ll like to show the combination of the caterpillar, the cocoon and finally the butterfly itself.

Orange Tip growing up

For some time now I have been breeding butterflies. Now that is a big word, because besides providing fresh food, hygiene and oxygen, the animal does everything itself.
It usually starts with finding caterpillars that I then take with me. Occasionally I started with eggs, but then it is of course important that you know which species you are dealing with. This in connection with the food choice. However, the plant on which the eggs are found is also usually the food plant. If the caterpillar is fully grown after weeks of eating, all that remains is to ensure that there is something available for the caterpillar to pupate on ór in.
Often these are moths, but a species that was high on the list to also grow once is the Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines. Besides the fact that the butterfly is beautiful to see, the cocoon also has a special shape. And it is also attached to a twig in a very special way. First, a kind of anvil is made on the branch where the caterpillar with the retractors rests on. These are the last legs on the back. Then the caterpillar makes two threads and attaches it around his / her “waist”. It is a somewhat plastic description of how the caterpillar manufactures something so that it can hang on the branch, … and that for about ten months!
With this specimen, the entire process ultimately took about thirty nine hours. Quite long for when you are in a vulnerable position!
At the end of the entire period, when the butterfly is about to hatch, the pupa becomes transparent. You can already see whether it will be a male or a female. In the male, the large orange wing spot is already clearly visible.
Fortunately, this caterpillar chose a moment when I was free of work so I was able to eyewitness the pupation process. Hopefully that will get a sequel when the hatching of the butterfly takes place, but I’m not counting on that.

 

Indigirka Delta and Yakutsk, part 2.


Here part two of my trip to the Indigirka Delta, Siberia, Russia. A journey for which I finally had to bear four years of patience. This series continues to the point that we (we were with a small group) arrived at our base camp with the help of a few very fast boats.
Along the way the tundra turns out to be richly covered with willow bushes, sometimes up to two meters high. A little worried, I ask if the Delta is so overgrown everywhere. That turns out not to be the case and the moment we arrive at the camp, the tundra landscape is as we know it. Unusually large and hardly overgrown. There are plenty of willows here, but only in sheltered places. The advantage of this is that a reasonable number of songbirds also use the delta to breed.
However, the main reason that we are here is the occurrence of Ross’s gull and Yellow-billed Diver, breeding. Both species are relatively easy to see worldwide in only a few places. Of the Ross’ gull, the breeding location of only four percent of the total population is known. At least, I hope I have understood this correctly. Also where the birds stay in the winter has only recently been discovered.
Of the original fifteen pairs at our location, only three have not been predated by the Arctic Fox. The drought has ensured that this hunter can go almost anywhere. For us it has the advantage that walking on the tundra is just a little simpler. Although the latter is a relative term. Our first trip to the breeding location of this beautiful seagull was rushed through nerves. Thus, a number of us on arrival were just about total loss. Adrenaline still remains something special, because the sight of Ross’ gulls on the nest gave us renewed energy. And although nest photography may raise the eyebrows for some, it is virtually the only option for this seagull to see the species in breeding plumage. When the young are born they stay on the nest for a maximum of two days and then go out. From that moment on the parents also seem to have disappear without a trace.
Knowing that very few people on this planet have ever seen a breeding Ross’ gull, I try to take the time to really enjoy it. This also applies to the Yellow-billed Diver. Despite the tiredness we also undertake two long trips to these birds. Walking on the tundra is so difficult because there is no flat surface. For each step you take, you must determine where you put your foot.
Due to the drought, the tundra is remarkably empty. At that time it was simply not suitable for large numbers of waders. A phenomenon that the tundra is known for. The songbirds too, were very disappointing when it came to photography. Most of them had young in the meantime and were therefore remarkably shy for high northern breeding birds. It is clear that the local weather conditions determine what you will find.
All in all, this has become a journey not to be forgotten. The fact that only very few people have ever visited the Indigirka Delta makes it an unprecedented privilege. An exceptional journey.



Indigirka Delta and Yakutsk, Russia.

In June 2019, together with a small international group, I made a trip to the Indigirka Delta in north-east Siberia. It was the first time this trip was organized. The original goal, two years earlier, was the Lena Delta. A delta which is located slightly more to the west. Because this journey was canceled at the last minute, an alternative was sought.
The main purpose of both trips was to see and photograph the Ross’ Gull. A species of bird that can only be found worldwide with reasonable certainty at both mentioned locations. And then only in the breeding season. In any case, the breeding ground of only four percent of the entire world population is known. Still an elusive bird species.
The journey began in Yakutsk, the capital of the eponymous republic of Yakutia. This Siberian capital is about a 6.5-hour flight from Moscow and is completely surrounded by unspoilt nature. On the east side is the mighty Lena river. On site we are accompanied by a few local guides, scientists who naturally have their field of work in the field of nature. In the few days we stayed there we mainly visited the surrounding taiga forests. Pure nature and of course with a range of Siberian bird species. Due to the warm spring weather, the breeding season was already well underway. Many birds now had almost or fully grown youngsters. A big contrast with a year that goes ” normal ”. In the delta itself we understood from the professor that this is a 30-year cycle in which these weather conditions occur.
After a few days we left with a fairly dated propeller plane to our final goal, the Indigirka Delta. You arrive in Chokurdakh, an old place that still flourished in the communist era. The population has since shrunk to 2,000 people (was 5,000). It is always difficult to estimate where such places still ‘earn’ their right to exist. It probably costs a considerable amount of government support each year. The preservation of these settlements certainly has to do with ” presence ”.
That living in these locations will not be easy is a statement. A summer of about four months and a long dark period in the winter. In addition, the temperatures of minus 30 or lower do not invite you to take a nice walk.