Belgium blast - 25th - 27th May 2012

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT


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Friday 25th May

With some very useful information from the Belgium's I met in Poland I organised a weekend away for some mammal watching with two targets in particular, both I had seen before but not photographed. It all started badly as I set off a little later than I expected only to find the M25 closed, I would miss the ferry and on arrival this was confirmed as it was about to depart, I was told I could go on the next one. I queued up to find them loading the last few lorries for the original ferry and was waived on - nice a bit of luck. I don't usually travel during the day to avoid this but I had to be in Belgium in the evening so had to suffer it. The crossing was uneventful a few gannets and fulmars of note bird wise but two common dolphins made up for the pain. Crossing Belgium was equally as painful with heavy traffic, roadwork's, accidents and delays a plenty. I finally made it to my destination, and I met Frank and his wife who welcomed me into their rather palatial home. I was shown to my suite and then had a tour of the grounds to see the sheep, Rhea's, and emu's amongst other livestock. We then settled down to a constant flow of beer and snacks in the conservatory while we waited. It was not long before my target a stone marten arrived at the feeding station, I was not ready with the camera and it was soon off. But not to worry as it soon returned and five individuals visited during the 4 hours or so we watched, including a mother with kit. An amazing experience as one even came within a couple of feet from me.

Saturday 26th May

A lovely al fresco breakfast was had followed by a tour of the house and garage complete with its array of aircraft memorabilia including two aircraft jet engines, and the front end of a MIG aircraft, astonishing it was a real house of treasures and I particularly like the hand grenade collection. I bid my hosts a farewell and headed east into Germany. The trip was uneventful and I reached my destination of Kassel mid-afternoon. Here is a large population of Racoons introduced in the 1930 and now widespread in large parts of Germany, the Castle surroundings in Kassel are one of the best places to see this species. I spent a few hours wandering around looking for bins to stake out later and found some likely looking ones near the cafe. I birded the park for a few hours which was very successful with 4 woodpecker species, black redstart to name a few and photographing the very abundant bank voles. One of the ponds contained alpine and smooth newts which was unexpected. Nothing really came of the bins even after the cafe closed so I wandered round that area of the park a little. I saw a lady walking the trails a few times and eventually she spoke to me, I explained I was not a psychopathic stalker but was searching for racoons. She was a local and had seen them in the past but I was in the wrong part of the park, I was given directions as was off quickly as darkness was now approaching fast. I reached the right area and it was not long before in the gloom I found a racoon watching me from an area of long grass. I fired up the camera but the flash batteries were flat and the spares were in the car, the on-board flash would be powerful enough, but there was not enough light to focus on so the mobile phone was put into use, by this time the racoon had had enough and wandered off with a single blurry record shot for my efforts. 10 mins later I had another this time I got out apples and monkey nuts from the bag and this worked a treat and soon the racoon was in range of the mobile phone light and I started to get some shots, then a second racoon arrived and they were soon very close giving excellent views, I left them plenty of monkey nuts and I headed back to the car and then into town for food and fuel. I stayed in Kassel hoping to search again at dawn for them.

Sunday 27th May

It was raining at dawn but had stopped by the time I arrived in the park, but I could not find any more racoons, my suspicions were correct they had indeed visited every bin the contents strewn about the place. My efforts did not go unrewarded as I found a fox, mandarin duck and a hybrid duck, but as the joggers started to arrive I left and headed back west into the Netherlands to search for Pallas squirrels. But no luck today, on my last visit the trees were not in leaf so the task was now that much harder, I had a nice wander round the reserve and saw some nice birds and butterflies before the heat became too oppressive and I gave up in search of cold drinks as the temperature hit 30° C. Continuing my slow route home it was a slight detour to see the chipmunks in Brussels and several were seen very easily without too much effort. It was much too hot to do anything else so I took it easy visited several commonwealth war cemeteries on my way home before finishing in Ypres for ice cream and more cold drinks before taking the ferry home after a great couple of days.

Bank Vole
Bank Vole © Mark Hows.

Stone Marten
Stone Marten © Mark Hows.