Once every three years, Vogelbescherming, NOU and Sovon award the Herman Klomp Prize to an ornithologist who has made a special contribution to Dutch field ornithology. The prize, which consists of a sum of money and a certificate, was originally founded primarily as an encouragement to young researchers, but over the years it has become more of an oeuvre prize for researchers with a longer track record. Because Herman Klomp was also a great advocate of bird protection, publications that contribute to the protection of birds have an additional value for the awarding of this award.
Research on insectivores
The jury, consisting of representatives from Sovon, Vogelbescherming and NOU, has chosen Herman van Oosten as the winner of the Herman Klomp Prize 2022. He researches the ecological interaction between insectivorous songbirds and their food. In this way, he – completely in the spirit of Herman Klomp – gets under the skin of a single species of bird as much as possible. Such as the wheatear, which as a Dutch breeding bird is on the verge of extinction. This focus leads not only to narrowing, but also to expansion, because the ecology of a species cannot be understood in isolation, and comparison with other species provides a lot of insight.
Wheat ear research in signs of protection
Herman van Oosten (1978) has been fascinated by birds since childhood. Herman then studied biology in Wageningen, where he not only learned a lot about birds, but also did research on cicadas in California. After his studies, he worked for a number of years for Stichting Bargerveen, where he was able to specialize in the ecology of coastal dunes. There he met his great love: the wheat, on which he received his doctorate in 2015.
Herman van Oosten studied the breeding behaviour, food, breeding success and population dynamics of wheat in the last strongholds in the mainland dunes and in the Aekingerzand. A species that has long been on the red list of Dutch breeding birds. The research focused on which ecological factors are causing the sharp decline in the number of breeding wheatears in the Netherlands. And how we could protect the wheat. It was a quest that not only concerned ecology, but also made inroads into ecotoxicology, genetics and the migratory behavior of wheatears.
The complicated message for protection was that the wheat encounters different problems in the different breeding areas. Therefore, adaptation in management and protection is essential. Herman wrote not only a beautiful treatise on this, but also a monograph on the species, written in his own style.
Herman van Oosten is an enthusiastic researcher who likes to transfer his knowledge to a wider audience. His publications therefore appear not only in English-language non-fiction, but also in Dutch-language magazines. In addition to his research on wheatears, Herman also studies other bird species from sandy soils, such as meadow pipits and stonechats, which provide interesting ecological comparison material. But also nightingale and bluethroat, which often breed near wheat in the dunes. Herman also recently dived on the whinchat, which has also been decimated in numbers, again to understand through good ecological research why it is doing so badly these days. And how we can protect whinchat with better management. Herman does that today with his sole proprietorship Oenanthe Ecologie.
Example for ornithologists
The jury considers Herman van Oosten’s enthusiastic, in-depth research as a good example for other ornithologists to find their own way in research into the ecology of birds in the Netherlands. Herman shows that – if you pledge your heart to a particular species, and by looking carefully and persevering for a long time – you can make a valuable contribution to the knowledge and protection of birds.
Text: Sovon Bird Research Netherlands and Bird Protection Netherlands
Photos: Albert de Jong (main photo: Herman van Oosten in action in the Kennemer Dunes); Mark Koelewijn