As we approach the end of the year, it's time for countless top ten lists. Likewise with me. Since my year can be roughly divided into two parts – Belgium and Finland – my photographic top 10 list consists of 2 parts. A Belgian top 10 and a Finnish top 10. Let's start with the Belgian top 10! By the way, the order is chronological, so the first photo doesn't have to be the best. I leave that choice to you!
SNOW ON THE HEADLANDS
The winter of 2021 was – for Belgian standards - a pretty good one. It snowed a few times and we got even one-week straight freezing temperatures. It is nothing compared to the winter I experience now in Finland. But the fact that it was one of the first times I could photograph my beloved Kalmthoutse Heide ( a headland close to my home) under a white blanket of snow made it a special experience. This picture tells it all: the cold wind blew the snow into my face. Both painful and delightful at the same time!
At the beginning of March, two friends and I decided to go on a short weekend hike in the Virion. The Virion is one of the few remaining nature gems of Belgium. The goal of the trip was to find mosses and the Pygmy owl, the smallest owl in Europe. On a foggy (a little too much) morning, we could get some really nice views of the pygmy owl, even mating! The fog was a little too dense for pictures, but it was a special moment to see this rare bird species in Belgium.
We slept the next night next to an old quarry. When the darkness almost won of the light we could hear the mysterious sound of the Eagle-owl, the biggest owl species of Europe!
After some searching, we got amazing views of this owl in the twilight. An ultimate Belgian nature experience! The Chimay blue while we were waiting made it even better!!
GLOW IN THE DARK FOREST ANEMONE
My heart always beats faster when the first flowers bring some colour to the grey forests in spring. The wood anemones pierce the dark forest floor like white lights.
The Vinderhoutse bossen are, by Belgian standards, a pretty old forest complex close to Ghent. For a biology student like me, this forest is an ideal place to forget the studies. Certainly, when it is dusk, you can enjoy a very peaceful silence (if you ignore the sound of the nearby highway). On one of my "escape attempts from university stuff" during the evening I was able to photograph this singing robin. Simple, but no less beautiful. The powerful song of this little bird resounds through the forest every evening.
TROPICAL TOUCH IN GHENT
The science campus of the University of Ghent, better known as “ the Sterre”, rings a bell by many nature lovers and biology students. For the latter not only because we spent lots of time studying on this campus bus also of the numerous summer evening accompanied by a fresh pint. By nature lovers, the Sterre is well known for its calcareous meadow relicts with many rare mushroom and plants species. This bee orchid is a good example, a tropical-looking plant that you can encounter more and more in Flanders and thus also on a busy university campus.
In June, I went cycling in the Gaume with two good friends for a weekend to avoid the exam stress. The Gaume is another natural gem that you still can find in Belgium. Mainly known for butterflies and calk loving plants, but you will also can quite extensive deciduous forests here. These deciduous forests are a good place for the bird's-nest orchid. An orchid with a lack of chlorophyll – hence the brown colour – gets its minerals from fungus. Nature can work fascinating, can't it?
We were lucky to see two of the three occurring snake species in Belgium during the same weekend. The Smooth snake soon crawled away, but the somewhat bigger Grass snake stayed dozing quietly. The ultimate chance to take some more abstract photos with the macro lens! We celebrated the sighting under a lovely evening sun, a fresh pint and delicious pasta!
GLOW IN THE DARK WINTERGREEN
Also, this photo comes from the Gaume weekend. Once again the proof that it was a success! During such weekends, of course, you also have to sleep. While hanging my hammock, my eye fell on the wintergreen that brightened up the forest floor. Thanks to the last rays of sunlight, these graceful plants glowed magically in the dark.
By the way, Sleeping in a hammock is also recommended!
THE “NOT-SO-BORING” MOTH
At the annual nwg camp (the "nature nerds" of the jnm) we encountered a lot of beautiful animals and plants. Difficult to pick one from here. But on the last day, in a beautiful stream valley in the forest of Annlier – a real hidden Belgian natural gem – we came across this small elephant hawk-moth. Despite the many colours, this is not a butterfly but a moth. Since we caught this animal during the day, the moth rested for a while on the bark of a tree after release. A unique opportunity to take some pictures!
On one of my last evenings strolling along the North Sea coast near Cadzand, I started staring at the waves and thinking. Maybe you recognize this.
I started making some wild plans for Finland and was ready to leave full of (high) expectations. It was a double feeling that I had to leave my life in Belgium for one year. But for a biologist and nature (photography) enthusiast, Finland sometimes seems to have the allure of Valhalla. But is that really so? You can see a short first impression in the next blog!