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Sunday Cycling: A little shopping trip and tea party, with wildlife spotting thrown in

Today, Sidsel and I resumed Sunday Cycling! We were going to have only a practice trip, but as usual, our actual trajectory bore only a passing resemblance to our "planned" itinerary.

We went Northwest. We could have gone South to check up on the storks' nests in Taarlo, but our trips to the northern coast tend to be more memorable, so we went to Houwerzijl to go to the Tea Museum and stock up on rare teas. En route, we wound our way to the Reitdiep valley, which is a very nice area to ride through at almost any time of the year.
The weather was ... difficult. Because of a light fog which never quite lifted, conditions alternated between chilly and humid as long as the cloud cover remained closed, i.e. throughout our trip to Houwerzijl, and hot and humid when the sun came out during our return trip. I had the additional problem that my winter coat wasn't quite dry after I washed it on Saturday, and the leather jacket I bought for the summer doesn't quite cover my throat and chest, so those bits felt cold throughout the morning.
What did we notice? Well, the sheep were out already but the cows for the most part were not. We'd taken notice of that as a result of both of us having listened to the nature show "Vroege Vogels" in the early morning, in which a forthcoming absense of cattle in the fields was one of the items. Luckily some cattle farmers do put their cows out in the grassy fields where they belong. Another item in the radio show was the local near-extinction of field larks (I need to look up the real species name in my bird guide, which is in the studio). Sidsel noted that when she used to cycle in Denmark in her youth, she could hardly hear herself think for the chatter of the larks. And now they're gone.
Still not endangered in any way are lapwings. We saw them everywhere. I just thought I'd mention it again for any non-northerners who may have got the impression that Frisian farmers hunting for the first lapwing egg in the early spring pose any real threat to the species. They're common as muck! The lapwings, I mean. Not the farmers.
I don't remember how we got to Aduarderzijl because I still can't find it on the map, but if I remember correctly it was there that we spied an unmanned kiosk selling produce. You see those from time to time along the country roads. The wares are sold on the honour system - buyers pay by putting coins in a box, then take out the produce, which isn't guarded or protected in any way. This one had organically-grown onions for the low, low price of 50 cents for two kilos. I bought some, because I can always use more onions.
The tea museum is a converted church which serves and sells tea in a bewildering number of varieties. There's a permanent exhibit on the history of the cultivation of and the trade in tea. It's nice enough if you want to learn some factoids and have a good cuppa as well. I liked my fortifying Drentish tea with ginger and cloves; Sidsel was less impressed with her blend, which I can't recall right now. We both brought home some unusual tea blends although to be honest I suspect that we could have bought them at home if we did a bit of research. During our visit we were overrun by a large company of mostly middle-aged women, and watching them was interesting in its own right: as a group, they behaved exactly like children on a school trip! Everything from the way they milled at the entrance to the way they played with the reconstructed 19th-Century Tea Store in the exhibit made them look like a class of school kids let loose, with a few more wrinkles.
On our return trip, a detour over Zoutkamp, we saw some interesting stuff. Sidsel has some pictures of some of the water works in Zoutkamp; I know that that's the sort of thing that Americans very much want to see, so I'll see if I can get the go ahead to post them. A little while after leaving Zoutkamp we saw a pair of lapwings fighting off a pair of rooks who were probably after the lapwings' eggs. Unlike Frisian farmers, they don't just take one, so the lapwings were doing what they could to chase them away. They didn't seem to like our company either, and one of them took time out from its busy schedule to put up a distractive display, swooping and fussing to prevent us from spotting the nest.
Later on, we noticed several flocks of swans (In the morning, we'd also spotted some funny-looking geese which I need to look up in my bird guide) migrating to their summer palaces. I hadn't realised that swans constantly croaked softly at one another while in flight...
Sidsel spotted a hare in a freshly-ploughed field at around 4 PM, which is rare because hare prefer to come out in the twilight. Soon we spotted three more in the same field.
During the final kilometers of our journey, I saw something odd in a ditch... I thought it was a duck dabbling at first, but couldn't make sense of its shape and movement. Turns out it was a muskrat! Muskrats are pretty common, but this one was on the surface, and neither of us had ever seen that before. The only way I could ever remember noticing a muskrat was as a streak of movement underwater followed by the disappearance of a duckling. This one stayed on the surface almost long enough for Sidsel to get her camera out and take its picture.... almost. Then a minute later Sidsel spotted another one in a ditch on the other side of our path. But that one went under the moment she pointed it out.
So, we got our tea, we got some nice onions, and we got a good look at various beasties. It was a good trip.
The cycling itself was harder than it was at the time we interrupted our regular schedule for the winter, but not too bad. Towards the end, I for one had my rhythm back. We'll get better at it in the next few weeks.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 17, 2005 7:01 PM.

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