Wildlife spotting

Up at 7! We’re not doing much today, so no rush to leave early. We pack for two nights out – it’s about the same thing as we would take for a week, except the underwear and pill count. We spend ten minutes searching the library for the next book in Arne’s list: he’s reading the whole Feist series again and since we have about 500 books on the shelves, it can be hard to find a specific one – in the end we find it was incorrectly shelved with the miscellaneous fantasy instead of on the Feist shelf. Going over the shelves today does have an unexpected benefit: I finally find the first item of the Study series by Snyder, I’ve been looking for that for years!

I do a quick excursion to the bakery for pistolets and fix our picnic: I made extra chicken yesterday just so we can make chicken salad, looks great. No, I tell a lie, the combination of chicken, spices, mayo and a bit of ketchup actually looks a bit icky, but I know it will taste great and anyway nobody’s going to see it once it’s in the bread roll.

I divvy the remainder of the millionaire short bread into two uneven pieces: one box to take with us and a bigger one for my sister, who’s coming over later to feed the cat and save us from a sugar overdose.

The weather predictions yesterday said rain, wind and storms, but this morning it looks much better and according to the online weather radar, we might even have some dry periods. I briefly doubt about taking sun screen and then forget all about it. We throw the bags in the trunk and set off around 9, driving east from one tiny village to the next before joining the highway.

It’s raining when we park at Bessemer, a hamlet at the south edge of the Hoge Kempen national park and one of the six official entry points. We don’t know this area very well, so we’ll reconnoiter by doing one of the official trails, the one signposted in yellow, which should be about 12 km. It stops raining after a minute or ten and we take off a layer. This is one of the reasons why we usually carry two back packs: Arne has a day pack and has lunch and water, I have the camera bag and we both have enough room to stuff away a few layers if we get too warm. Soon after we enter the woods, Arne spots a deer standing in the underbrush: it was pretty well hidden (see if you can spot it in the woodsy picture below) and it’s just far enough away that it doesn’t immediately feel threatened. It observes us for a minute or two before bounding away. We continue an hour or so, sometimes over boggy land (with frogs), sometimes across more sandy hills. We have our lunch on a bench with a view over open, boggy land. Birds flit back and forth, the chicken salad indeed tastes great (though three pistolets is a bit much) and the sun is shining. I’m regretting not taking that sun screen.. The peace is disturbed only by the occasional thundering in the distance. It sounds like artillery, but we cannot really see on the map if there’s a military site nearby.

The route continues through the forest and we’re mostly alone out here. The dark clouds have disappeared and we have blue skies with fluffy, white clouds. We can hear there’s a lot of wind by the rustling of the leaves in the trees, but we don’t really feel it down at our level. I’m walking with my camera harness and have attached the fixed 200 mm f2.8 zoom lens, so I can quickly snap pictures of any wildlife we encounter. The landscape photographing is delegated to the (medium) sucky cell phone camera, but I have fun with the birds of prey in the sky, the songbirds in the trees and the butterflies on the flowers (there’s lots) and the occasional slug. The colors are beautiful today: the light underneath the trees is dappled and constantly changing.

The final third of the walk is a bit more hilly and we take a breather, finishing the dessert and most of our water. I’m really regretting not taking the sun screen.. at least the bill of my cap – which I took to keep the rain off my face – also serves to keep the sun from my eyes. A few kilometers from the car, Arne proves his worth again and spots another deer. I honestly don’t know how, I can barely see it even when he I stand right in front of him and look along his pointing finger. Again the deer is not alarmed and we’re able to observe it for a good five minutes before it goes away, looking for whatever it is that deer like to find this time of year. Could be it has a calf sleeping nearby, though it’s early in the season and it would be pretty young. To top of the successful wildlife spotting day, Arne sees a squirrel. I had just been saying we had not seen many yet this year – I think we saw more deer than squirrels – and there you go, instant service. It’s climbing a tree surrounded by spring blooms, very pretty.

Back at the car around three, after 12,7 km, 3 hours of walking and 4,5 on the way. Average speed of 4,2 – we are out of shape – and an elevation gain/loss of 95 m. You can see the trail here on Wikiloc. I must admit I felt the occasional twitch in my calves while walking, I’m going to blame that on all the stairways yesterday. We check into the hotel, plenty of time to sort the pictures, take a long shower, write the blog. Still sunny, so we’ll have dinner on the terrace, this’ll be the first time we’re eating out since November!

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