Here’s a great children-friendly country walk. Park or take the bus to Meldert, a small village close to Hoegaarden, which is right on the Flanders-Wallonia border. And then follow the Natuurpunt signs to walk alongside golden cornfields, wooded valleys and over rolling hills. Here’s the map of the walk.
No sooner had I set off though, then I stopped in my tracks. A strange bird call in the woods at the back of the cemetery had held my attention. I know most calls and songs of the common birds, but I had never heard this one before. It was a bit like a yellowhammer, but not quite. So I recorded it and tried to identify it when I got home from the excellent Xeno-Canto site. But no luck. So I sent it to the local nature reserve warden. He went to the same spot the next day and heard the same bird … and couldn’t identify it either. I then posted it on Bird Forum, and although I received some suggestions, no-one was certain. Eventually I received an email from a Natuurpunt specialist who informed me it was a singing water rail!
Now a water rail is a reclusive bird, a bit like a moorhen with a long bill, and although I was familiar with their call, I never even knew they had a song, which is apparently rarely heard. Here’s a picture of one (thanks to Andy Carter) so you know what to look out for, or listen out for.
On the way back though I came across some interesting sights in someone’s garden. The first inkling of something unusual was this cabin boy outside the front gate.
Maybe they were from the ship that brought these exotic birds to Belgium, which were in a field just down the road.
There was then just time to walk around the small Meldertbos, and be surprised by the sudden appearance of Meldert Castle. This imposing (but rather ugly?) building was apparently built in 1845 in neo-gothic style on the remains of a castle that dated back to 1572.