If your idea of a wild duck only extends to the mallards floating on the pond in your local park and greedily swallowing your stale bread, then a visit to the Bourgoyen nature reserve in Mariakerke, on the outskirts of Gent, will change your opinion.
Choose a sunny day, start from the information centre at the end of Mahatma Gandhistraat, and walk along the southern edge of the area, with the River Leie on your left. By choosing this path you will have the sun behind you which will give you good views over the fields and lakes. Now you will be able to see truly wild ducks in all their glory! And in vast numbers too.
Train your binoculars over the waterlogged meadows and look for the chestnut head of the wigeon; the huge spade-like bill of the shoveler; the green eye-stripe of the teal; the elegant long tail of the pintail.
Geese too are likely to be present, not merely in their hundreds but thousands. The familiar Canada goose is abundant, but there is also a vast flock of the similar looking barnacle goose. Distinguishing one from the other is fairly simple.
Whereas the Canada goose has a black neck with a white chin strap, the barnacle goose is smaller, and has a black neck with a completely white face.
During the winter months you will also be able to see plenty of waders: redshanks with their spindly bright orange legs; curlews with their curved bills; lapwings showing off their crests; and delightfully named godwits.
In summer, the area is famous for its diversity of wild flowers – with vast swathes of yellow rattle, marsh marigold and meadowsweet – and for its breeding frogs, toads, newts and salamanders.
A 6 km circular walk is well marked with blue signposts. It’s suitable for children but can be very muddy in places after heavy rainfall, so boots are essential.
There are also two interesting visitor centres on the reserve. One on Mahatma Gandhistraat is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; the other is next to the sports hall and is open during weekdays.
For the kids – Do you think that ducks just go “quack”? They don’t! On this walk, listen out for the whistle of the wigeon; the shrill piping of the teal; the turkey-like gobble of the tufted duck; the coughing of the shoveler; the purring of the pochard. And when a flock of a thousand or more barnacle geese flies overhead, the noise is almost deafening and has been likened to a pack of yapping dogs!