Are they Ukrainian separatists who have lost their way? Paparazzi from the national gutter press? No, they are twitchers, and they belong to a rare subspecies of birdwatcher.
It took a while before the penny dropped on Tuesday 20 November, when I saw dozens of men in camouflage gear in front of the student residence on the Marijkeweg. They had their tele lenses trained on a second-floor balcony. Nothing happened for a while, until a bird flew out from the balcony and the entire assembled company rushed after it. Then I knew. They had to be twitchers, the men – yes, mostly men – who jump into their cars as soon as they hear that a rare bird has been spotted in some corner of the country.
This time that corner was the western edge of Wageningen, and the rare bird was a nutcracker. I had seen a nutcracker once – in a moment of quiet luck in the Black Forest – but the twitcher was a new species to me. I knew of its existence but I had never seen one close-up. Until now. There they stood in their full fanatical glory, crowding around a 180-gram speckled rarity and hoping for that one unique photo.
It was incredibly busy and all very jolly. The only thing lacking was a refreshments stall. But it didn’t last long. Because although at the time of writing the nutcracker is still hopping from balcony to balcony, most of the twitchers have moved on. To the next rare sighting.
Vincent Oostvogels (22) is exploring the delicate interface between nature management and food production through his two Master’s programmes, Forest and Nature Conservation and Animal Sciences