Freshwater Ecology 1/4

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More pictures of this day can be seen on my Flickr page.

Monday: Orientation

“On Monday we will meet in Giethoorn. This is reasonably doable by public transport. Then we will travel on to Ossenzijl. This is not reasonably doable by public transport.” Reads the letter from the university I’m doing my last biology course at. With this being a camping trip of a week, the aforementioned information sounds very inconvenient (think of all the luggage) as well as exciting at the same time. Exciting, because we will be in nature, studying it up close. You might know I switched subject from biology to English (after receiving my propedeuse for biology). But after having learned so much at the Ecology of the Salty Waters – week, I had to do this Ecology of the Fresh Waters too. (By ‘had to’ I really mean ‘wanted to’).

Sjors and I (two of the three musketeers; Edwin did this trip last year) met up with our teachers Huub and Wichard at the university in Zwolle. Chaotic Huub and ‘steady-as-a-rock’ Wichard and a couple of other students would travel in the school’s van. You never know what the group is going to be like, but usually it’s fun because you’re mostly with likeminded people. Like last time, there would be a group of about 20 students. Unlike last time, there was a group of younger students with us, who don’t do this course next to day jobs like some of us. Later they told us they had frowned upon hearing us oldies would go along, but it worked out really well. In fact, it was one of the older ones of whom I thought she definitely talked too much this morning.

But Wichard turned the radio on and Queen started singing ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and Sjors and I took a ‘selfie’ to remember the moment. The weather was perfect and the classes started in the car when Wichard told us that rooftops made of reed from this area last for 30 years! When we arrived in Giethoorn, we had lunch and we paid a visit to the farmer’s museum. Then we travelled on to Ossenzijl where we would stay the rest of the week. The accommodation was lovely. There were several bedrooms, with several bunk beds, which all seemed new and fresh. The view from the window on our ‘garden’ – a big field and a lake – helped a lot too. Sjors got his daughter’s bed linen out and I installed my sleeping bag opposite his bed. We also shared the room with the lovely Karen.

Sharinda asked me if I snored too. “No, why?” I replied. She informed me I was sleeping in the snoring room, but since I have a gift of being able to block noise, I was fine with that. While everyone else was installing too, we had some time to hang around and check out the premises. This also included testing the water, or ‘pootje baden’ as we say in Dutch. Next on the agenda was to do this orientation of the environment a bit more seriously and our teachers took us for a walk to show us which creatures and plants are typical for this area. It really seemed as if summer had just started. And besides some of the many plants we had to memorise, we caught (and released!) a brown frog and a funky looking caterpillar which was not on our list.

We also quickly noticed how moist this type of ground was. Bog (veen) is very common for this area and when you just stand on it while someone else walks past you, you really do feel the ground shaking, which was a rather weird experience. We also spotted a few of those water mills. They’re used to keep the ground moist. In this wet environment, it’s not surprising to see a lot of mosquitos too and they would be a bit annoying now and then the rest of this week. We took some of the study materials back to our home for the week, where the first group (the ‘young ones’) cooked a healthy and tasty meal. We had dinner outside and studied some more. Study material crawled over our study materials and we saw the Sun set.

This awakened some sort of bird, which would squeak the bigger part of the night. One of the students had guessed a swallow, but I checked with Wichard and he explained it was a young long-eared owl (ransuil), which was marking his territory. The darkness of the night also meant it was time for one more assignment. We weren’t sure what was happening, but we would get a visit from an expert on moths. We heard he was one of us still, doing the biology course, but he had also discovered a new species. He installed a white sheet and a light right outside the building, to attract these ‘night butterflies’ and we looked them up later. And before we went to bed at a fairly reasonable time, I pointed out Jupiter and Mars. There was much to learn this week.


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