Curious bird watchers are heading to the Landje van Geijsel these days, close to Amsterdam. The reason? The godwit has returned from its wintering in the warm south. Always a beautiful moment, but there are also concerns. Because where in the Netherlands can our national bird still breed peacefully?
Anyone who looked at the websiteobservations.nl last week would have already noticed. Bird watchers increasingly reported finding one or usually several godwits there. Black-tailed godwits winter in Africa, although due to global warming they have also been doing so more and more often in the south of Europe in recent years.
Now you have two types of godwits that visit the Netherlands. The Icelandic godwit, the islandica, usually returns to the north the earliest, and then comes here to rest and eat – ‘fatten up’ in bird watchers’ language – before flying on to Iceland again. Our own Dutch godwit, the limosa limosa, usually arrives a little later. It will also first fatten up, preferably in a pool of low water, and then go breed somewhere in our beautiful country.
Anyway, observations.nl. Bird watchers there reported seeing the limosa limosa last week. If they are right, the Dutch godwit would be back in its own country exceptionally early. For a long time, March was a usual month for the godwit to return, but in recent years this has been pushed back to mid-February due to climate change. But now, at the end of January already?
No Google Maps or TomTom
Bernard de Jong, policy officer of the Bird Protection Society and godwit expert, came to the Landje van Geijsel yesterday morning armed with a telescope. This piece of low water near Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, close to the A9 south of Amsterdam, is a favorite place for godwits and other birds to literally and figuratively land. Unlike humans, they do not need Google Maps or TomTom for this, even though they travel thousands of kilometers to get there.
And yes, De Jong spotted them, the godwits. “There are about ninety or a hundred of them,” he points to a large group of birds in a row, well out into the water. But which are they, the Icelandic or the Dutch? “Especially Icelanders, I think. Dutch godwits? It could be. But the problem is: you can’t see it from such a far distance. Especially in winter, when the color of the plumage is still largely the same. Dutch godwits are generally somewhat larger and have a longer beak. But you also have relatively large Icelandic godwits with a long beak. So just say it.”
The reporter’s nefarious plan is therefore going wrong: we will not be able to officially determine the (very early) return of the Dutch godwit this morning. There are transmittered godwits, says De Jong, but they have not yet returned to the Netherlands. Be that as it may: “If there is no Limosa Limosa among them, they will report in the coming days.”
More and more bird watchers are now reporting to the lookout point at Landje van Geijsel. A man says that he is on his way from the west of the country to Salland in the east. “I quickly stopped here, especially for the godwits. I think they are beautiful birds.” As if they had heard it, the group of godwits put on an air show on the water, only to land a little further away.
Places like these are not the biggest concern of the Bird Protection Society, there are enough of them. There are more concerns about places to breed. The godwits have been doing this on meadows for many years, but due to the intensification of agriculture, the number of breeding pairs has fallen from 125,000 to 25,000 since the 1970s.
“Godwits need herb-rich grassland, with enough wet places, and peace and quiet around them,” says De Jong. If there are not enough farmers who have that on offer, well, then it will be difficult. “Some farmers really want to,” says the godwit expert. But it is politics that is lagging behind, he says. “Farmers who want to organize their farms more in balance with nature should also be rewarded. But now compensation for nature management only runs for six years. You have to do that over a much longer period, so that farmers have certainty.”
One thing is certain, De Jong knows. “If you design a meadow in such a way that godwits or other birds can breed there, they will come.” So it is not an effort in vain, he promises, and the black-tailed godwit, who was named our national bird in an election in 2015, will be extremely grateful to the farmer who takes the step. The godwit is home, or at least almost. Now a nice maternity hotel.
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