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6 June 2018

Lower purple heron count in Kinderdijk this year

The annual Overwaard purple heron nest count came up with surprising results: the number of breeding couples dropped by some 25 percent, down to 146. Bird expert Richard Slagboom reassures us, explaining that this does not automatically imply the species is in bad shape.

Fluctuations

“There will always be fluctuations”, Richard points out. As a local Nieuw-Lekkerland resident and member of the Alblasserwaard Nature and Bird Watch, he reassures us that there is no cause for concern. “If you want to draw some real conclusions, you’ll have to include results counted over a five-year period at least.”

Into the reeds

And so, early on Saturday morning, we tagged along in the slipstream of the Nature and Bird Watch, heading out into the reedy Overwaard marshes for the annual purple heron count. Perched in the camera boat of the Kinderdijk World Heritage Foundation, we were able to reach places that would be inaccessible under normal circumstances. The bird counters tackled their job on foot, ‘armed’ with sticks to prevent them losing sight of each other among the thick reeds – and to drag each other out of mud should anyone sink away too deeply. Our expedition into the marshes resulted in some great footage.

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These little hatchlings met their first bird counters this morning.

Red Listed

Up until 2017, these birds and their characteristic brown and orange necks were included on the Summer Birds Red List. This year, the count stopped at a total of 146 nests; about twenty-five percent less than last year. Kinderdijk is home to one of the largest purple heron colonies in the Netherlands. Another large group returns to our country every year to settle at Zouweboezem near Lexmond, and they are up for a count later this week.

These results could be affected by bad weather in Africa, affecting migratory birds spending the winter months there.

Slagboom explains that there are no easy answers to the question of what caused this drop in numbers. “One possibility is bad weather in Africa affecting migratory birds that spend the winter months there. We’ve also noticed that quite a few of these birds made it to the country later than usual this year.” Bird counting is an ongoing activity in Kinderdijk, which is part of the European Natura-2000 area. The results will be submitted to the Sovon Bird Studies Netherlands organisation, where they will provide a basis for nature preservation and future policy.

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