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Here's two good shots that I got of the oyster catcher on Wednesday:



And here's a shot that has the little bird that I think may have been its chick, on the roof of the building. I've circled it, 'cause it's hard to see.

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This evening as I headed to the bike shelter from the office, I heard a very insistent chirping underneath one of the parts of the building where there's no building on the ground floor but there is from the 1st to 4th. I'd heard it before, but could never locate the bird. Even though I've kept an eye out, it's been hard to triangulate on the direction. Today though, I saw it immediately -- and it was a type of bird I'd never seen before, black and white with an orange, slightly curving beak. I whipped out my camera and got a few photos, but I'm not sure how good any of them are, since I couldn't get very close. Looking in my trusty book of Dutch birds, I think it might have been an oystercatcher. And it was clearly intent on something, chirping at a steady and insistent rate. I could heard an answering cry, but from some distance, and my guess was it was a hen that had lost a chick and was trying to find it. As I got my bike I watched it fly from place to place making a triangle, calling from each point. (I was distracted momentarily by a duck with five ducklings in the canal by the bike shelter. So cute! We'd seen them yesterday on the way to lunch, and they're absolutely tiny.) I looked back one last time before heading out, and to my amazement, I think I located the source of the second call. Up on the roof of the building (4 floors up), I saw a clearly unhappy, clearly smaller bird, making roughly the same cry. If I'm right and this really was a hen trying to find its chick, I have no idea how the little one got up onto the roof; surely it couldn't have flown there, and would such a bird have been that dumb as to build its nest on top of the building? And if I am right, I'm not sure the mother will ever find it; it was either running from place to place or flying very low. I doubt think it ever occurred to it to look up. Makes me wonder how good bird's senses of direction are based on hearing alone. I could hear that the second call was coming from above, but maybe it can't?

I'll download the photos I took later tonight and see if any of them turned out. In any case, that's another new bird for me.


Apr. 21st, 2008 11:30 am
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I saw my first ducklings of the season today, little balls of fluff smaller than the size of my fist. A small clutch, just two, but the whole family (mom, dad, and babies) were all together. It still amazes me how quickly the little ducklings learn to equate humans with food. I crouched down by the side of the canal and they all made a beeline for me and the little ones got as much of my sandwich crusts as the adults. So cute!

And I should have other bird-related news to post very soon, I'm just waiting for the a-okay. :)
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We've been trying to get out running every other day, but because of assorted factors it's ended up being more like once or twice a week. Still, I'm noticing a big improvement in how easy it is, especially today where it was really quite nice and warm out. (Unfortunately, it was verging on being warmer than Joel likes to run in, why can't the overlap of our temperature preferences be more than 1-2 degrees??) My goal is to be able to run twice around the Oosterpark without stopping. Today I made almost made it twice around only stopping four times per circuit (twice at either end for water). So, we're getting there.

We took our cool down walk along the canal. I just love living along a canal, especially in summer. We saw a mother with nine ducklings, old enough that their permanent feathers are coming in but young enough that they still have stubby little wings. They were just nestled in the grass sunning themselves - until they realized we'd stopped to look at them! Then they all sprang up and raced towards us. Humans + stopping = food, in most circumstances.

Further down we saw a coot's nest in a boat with four of the littlest little cootlings, they had to be about the size of a peach. It will be a few weeks before they'll be big enough to make it over the edge of the boat and into the water, that's for sure! But there's some rain water collected in a little shelf at the back of the boat, their own private swimming pool.

Even further down we saw another nest in a boat, with even tinier little cootlings, so small they couldn't even step over the twigs that made up their nest. I'm going to take my camera out later tonight and see if I can get pictures of all of these.
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This morning on our way to the office we saw a coot with her cootlings on a little patch of green between the sidewalk and the canal that the office is on. I had a heel of bread in my bag, and I took it out thinking to give it to them. I wasn't sure at first whether to walk forward a bit or to try to toss it to them, because I wasn't sure which would disturb/scare them less, and while I was decided the coot decided for me -- she saw me standing there with a piece of bread in my hand and made a bee-line for me! She probably would've taken it straight from my hand if I'd tried -- but I just tossed it on the ground in front of me instead.

Then, as we were taking our cool down walk after running this evening, we walked along the edge of the canal outside our place. A lot of boats tie up there, and a lot of people bumper their boats against their docks with tires. Tires are favorite places for coot nests. In one, there was a coot standing on the tire looking very intently inside of it and making the strangest clucking sounds. Suddenly, a moment later, a cootling about the size of a clementine popped into the water! That is by far the smallest cootling I've ever seen, and I have to wonder if the reason the mother was clucking so strangely was because her eggs were hatching.

It's weird how drawn out the nesting season is here. There's a family of mallards in the canal by the office that have their real feathers in already and are about three-quarters grown. And then there's still a few nests out front of our place that don't even appear to have eggs yet. I suppose because it's not cold enough here to require migration there isn't such a hurry to get the nice in right away.
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...can be viewed here:

There's moderately detailed commentary in the pictures, including ones relating to last week's trip to Udine, in Italy. I still intend to write up more about that trip here, but just haven't felt moved to do so.
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Since the beginning of last summer Joel and I have been trying to get into the habit of running regularly. Last summer we didn't do too badly, even when it was so hot and humid and we were packing to move and were so busy. We'd just wait until 10:30 in the evening after it'd been dark awhile and hopefully a breeze had come up and go running then. But then we moved, and we were busy, and jet-lagged, and had evening classes, and then it got dark, and then it got cold, and then we were way out of the habit. Then spring came, and it suddenly got nice in March and April, but we still were busy and had evening classes, and so we ran two or three times, and then it became May and it rained all of May. We made moderate success starting up again in July, but then we had the conference in Nijmegen, which disrupted things, and then it started raining July 29, and it rained for two weeks. So finally on Thursday we put our foots down, and mandated that we WILL go running every other day, no matter what, come hell or high water, through snow or rain, heat or gloom of night...oh, wait...we're running, not delivering mail.

So far, so good, actually. We ran Thursday, we ran Saturday, and when around 7pm tonight the skies opened up and it started pouring, we waited it out and in an hour or so when it cleared up, we went running again today. Now that we've made the actual verbal statement that we're not going to let things like the weather become excuses for not going, it's easier to actually get up and do it. I still find it incredibly hard to actually say "Yes, let's go running", because even though I'd really like to get into a good habit of exercising before we have kids, and I know I've put on a pound or two since moving here that I could afford to lose, and I always feel so nice and smug and holier-than-thou when I'm actually running, none of this changes the fact that I find running BORING. Even though we take different routes every time, there's still parts of the immediate neighborhood that we discover we've never been to before, there's lots of neat scenery and buildings, we have a gorgeous park with trees and waterfowl and little wooden bridges, and I go running with someone I enjoy talking with, I still find running horribly, mind-numbingly boring. And that makes it really hard to get motivated.

Tonight though, was something else. We went to the park, which was pretty much completely emptied after the rain, though the waterfowl were still out in force. And not just the waterfowl. We heard the chatter of tree-birds, and it got louder and louder until suddenly we're under 4-5 large trees and it sounds like we're in the jungle section of the zoo. The trees were just littered with incredibly loud birds, and we stopped to see what kind they were. At first I thought they were finches - finches are loud, and in the post-rain-falling-to-twilight light these birds certainly had a streak of yellow or green in them. But they were too big to be finches, and their tails too long, and as we were able to pick more and more of them out of the leaves, they looked like nothing so much as parakeets! Monk parakeets is my guess; I'm not positive of the identification because they were hard to see in the light, and I'm not positive that they had the right head-shape to be parakeets, but they have the right tails, the right cries, and the right coloring, and according to the Wikipedia article these birds can survive in temperate zones. I'm definitely going to try to go back again when it's lighter out and get some pictures if they're still there.
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The street between our apartment building and the canal is a pedestrian/bike street only, and a lot of people come out and toss their old bread to the waterfowl here. I just saw someone doing that, and this is the first time I've seen a swan out on the grass, not two feet away from the man, joining in the fun. The swans, when they're in this area, will often come over for free bread, but they usually stay within the water. It isn't until they're out of the water that you really appreciate just how big they are. That is one huge bird that's walking around outside my window right now. But despite being big, swans have a much nicer temperament than the coots - the swans will share, but the coots won't!
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Ah, wonderful...

I just got to chat on AIM with Amy for the last 3 and a half hours. I wish that we were both online at the same time more often. I really miss being able to talk with her, especially now that she can't email at work any more. Sometimes you really need someone other than your husband to talk about things with, both for advice and for validation, and for the "oh, you too?" response. It's nice to know that I'm not the only wife who sometimes feels like failure as a wife when she's unable to cheer her husband up. It's also nice to know I'm not the only young married woman my age who's beginning to think more and more seriously about kids. It's nice to know you're not the only one.

(change of topic now)
Yesterday was a great day for bird-spotting. On the way out, I saw two moderately large, black-ish birds on the grass next to the bike path, and upon getting a good look, it was like a large sign got imprinted on my brain "RAVEN". These were definitely ravens. There was no doubt about it. I finally understand what is meant by all the heraldic discussions about ravens having a hairy ruff. A few weeks ago there was a large black bird outside our office window and we were debating whether it was a raven or a crow, and I can say now emphatically that it was a crow. Had it been a raven, it would have been obvious. I'd never seen a raven before, but there's no doubt, that's what these two were.

The bike path we took went in part through a park, and over a little streamlet. Biking back, I saw two adult swans and five or six cygnets - they're now the size of their parents, but still that dirty grey color. And then, right as we had almost made it home, I looked into the canal and saw a mother mallard with around *9* little fluffy ducklings - they were swimming so fast I couldn't count them easily, but there were a lot. And they looked incredibly young, too, no more than a week old. I guess when you don't have to worry about migrating, having your ducklings early enough so that they get their flight feathers by fall is less important.
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But first, finally some confirmation. A few weeks ago I saw swimming along a canal a new type of bird. It was the size of a look, with the head/neck of a heron, and it kept diving and remaining under the water for so long that it was hard to get a good look at it. Provisional research through Wikipedia led me, via the process of elimination, to the tentative conclusion that it was a cormorant. I wasn't happy with the conclusion, because all the pictures I could find on the web didn't have similar body colors/markings (the bird I saw looking black/iridescent blue, with no lighter patches.) Over the last few weeks, I've seen it around various places - both in the canal out front of our place, and in the canal on the way to the office. At one a week and a half ago, we saw it standing out on one of the boats, with its wings splayed, and it stood like that for quite some time, which allowed me to get a picture. Still, I wasn't sure. Then today, it was sitting on one of the boat docks right in front of our porch. I got quite a few pictures, came back in, googled again for "cormorant pictures", and pretty much the first hit was nearly identical to one of the shots I'd just taken. So! New bird for me. Pretty exciting.

Yesterday and Tuesday Jyoti was here again, on her way back to the States from Berlin. She'd mentioned when she was here earlier an interest in seeing Spinoza's house. Read more... )

I've always been a big fan of a) finding/seeing ephemera related to people I have some contact with (though I'll admit my contact with Spinoza's work consists in a small portion of my History of Modern Philosophy class as an undergrad of which I remember remarkably little (it was the only philosophy class I took that I didn't like.)) and b) going to places that other people don't go to. (More on that in the next post.) When Joel and I go back to Rijnsburg so that he can see the house, we'll also go to den Haag and see his house where he lived there. I figure we'll make a Spinoza Day out of it.
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I just spent about 45 minutes outside sitting on the edge of the canal in front of our apartment feeding old bread to the ducks, including a mother mallard and five ducklings that had to be only a few days old, they were so small. After awhile I'd collected too many ducks and I could tell the mother was getting a bit anxious, so I moved down a bit, and fed two coots and their three older offspring (not old enough to have the white face plates and real feathers, but old enough so that they're fluffiness was no longer cute.) Even though the cootlings were clearly old enough to eat bread out of the water on their own, the parents would still rush to collect the bread and then feed it to the cootlings themselves.

But after awhile all the other ducks had left where I had been, except the mallard and ducklings, so I sat back there for quite awhile and took tons of pictures. I was sitting on the edge of the canal with my feet on the rock wall sloping down to the water, and the water level was no more than two feet away, and that's where the ducklings were. I've never been so close to so young a wild animal before.

Right now the camera battery is charging, but look for tons and tons of duckling pictures in the future! I think I got some good ones.
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We got up moderately early for a Sunday, Joel made waffles, and then [ profile] ctseawa went out to retrace some of Saturday's route to try to find open book stores (not the easiest of tasks before noon on a Sunday in the Netherlands). He was gone for about two hours in which Joel and I just hung around the computers; Joel was (and is) still sick. After [ profile] ctseawa got back, we made some sandwiches, and then headed out to the Scheepvaart Museum (Maritime Museum), four or five blocks from our house. Read more... )

The museum closed at 5:00, so we headed home, and then since our dinner reservations weren't until 7:15 ([ profile] ctseawa very kindly took us out to eat last night, as a thanks for our hospitality. Our hospitality is so not worth the wonderful meal we had last night! But more about that below), we went over to the Brouwerij 't IJ, the brew-pub right next to the windmill by our place for a pre-dinner beer. The inside of the pub is quite small, and was also quite filled and smoky, so we did what most of the people had done, and took our drinks outside. Their normal outdoor seating was not yet set up, since it's still cool enough out, so people were ranged all over the sidewalks and by the canals. We crossed the street and settled by a canal where we could look down on two coots and their six ugly little cootlings, all fluffy and beady-eyed and red-headed, with stubby little wings and feet even less webbed than adults'. But, man, can they climb! They climbed right up the side of the stone embankment, and I'm sure if we had bread, they would've eaten it. I believe two of the cootlings had probably just hatched only a day or two ago, as they were somewhat smaller than the others, and each stayed near a parent, and didn't do any climbing. Cute, but ugly, little buggers.

We then headed up to the Waag, the castle from one of my previous entries, where we had dinner. It was fantastic. Read more... ) And I topped the weekend off by this morning falling asleep on the couch in the sun curled up next to Slinky for about an hour. Mmm, warm soft kitty....
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So after I'd tried "Amsterdam ducks", "Netherlands ducks", "Dutch ducks" "Amsterdam waterfowl", "Netherlands waterfowl", "Dutch waterfowl" and "watervogel" in google trying to find info about ducks in Amsterdam, and getting absolutely nothing useful (well, I did find out that there is a breed of dog which is the Dutch Waterfowl dog...), Joel typed in "Amsterdam birds" and the first link he tried had a picture of the canal dwellers we've been referring to as "black ducks". It turns out they're Eurasian coots. I'm surprisingly pleased at finally knowing what they are.

In the last week or two there's been a new pair of birds out on the canal by our house that I'd never seen before - they're diving birds with pointed beaks and snazzy little tufts on their heads. They're mostly black with a little bit of rust and white. I wonder where they'd been living before, and why they suddenly showed up on our canal now - pretty much all of the waterfowl that we see we've seen regularly since last fall (there's no need to migrate when you've got canals which are only allowed to freeze over once every ten years or so), and a lot of the waterfowl don't seem to have too large of a territory...Anyway, I just spent 15 minutes trolling through Wikipedia, and I think they're a type of grebe, but I can't say for sure, and I really must go start the pizza dough if I want to have pizza ready by the time Dr. Who comes on.

Edit: The yeast had almost burbled out of the measuring cup, but the dough is mixed and rising, and about 5 Wikipedia clicks further, I confirmed my hunch - they ARE grebes, Great Crested grebes, at that.


May. 12th, 2006 11:45 am
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I'd been wondering when we'd start seeing ducklings out on the canals - and today seems to be the day. We saw a pair of black ducks (I don't know what they're really called, but they're the most common type of duck here, and they're black, hence we call them black ducks) which had built their nest right on the water on the Muidergracht canal, along with four little ducklings all meeping fiercly in an insistant, high-pitched tone, much like baby mice.

Across the street and over the bridge on the same canal, we saw another black duck with a duckling, and a bit further down was another kind of duck (closer in size and shape to a mallard, but not a mallard - again, I don't know what kind. I'd really love to get a "birds of the canals of Amsterdam" book someday, because there are quite a few that I don't recognize.) with three little ducklings; Joel said he'd seen them a few days ago with five ducklings, so I hope that the other two were just off some place with the dad. Ducks sure learn quickly - these were right by the edge of the water so I tore off some bread from my sandwich and tossed it in. The mom was of course faster than the ducklings and so got most of it, but that didn't stop the little ones from trying. Pretty cute.


Apr. 25th, 2006 10:21 pm
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As we were heading home today past a little park near our office, we saw a stork walking along one of the sidewalks perpendicular to the one we were on. That was the first wow: You see a stork, and all you can think of immediately is "STORK". They look just like they do in Disney movies. There is no way that could be anything but a stork. (On the other hand, I still can't tell herons and cranes apart, despite knowing that one tucks its neck in when it flies and the other doesn't). And they are big. It probably stood higher than my waist.

We started walking towards it, as it was just standing there, and it started clacking its beak. But not at us - no, at the little kitty who was starting to creep up on it (the same little kitty who was so friendly back in Nov.) The cat kept crouching lower to the ground and moving ahead faster, and the crane actually started walking/hopping away from it! I never would've thought that a cat, and a little one at that, could worry a bird as big as a stork.

Then up that sidewalk another couple came walking, and one distracted the kitty so that she turned and started trotting away, and THEN the stork started bounding after the cat, little hops with partially spread wings, and still clacking its beak. I wanted to stay and find out what was going to happen, but even though it was gorgeous out when we left the house this morning, and so we didn't bring our jackets, it had cooled down by the time we headed home, and Joel didn't want to stay there any longer. But, definitely, wow. Both the stork and the kitty chasing the stork and the stork chasing the kitty.


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