'A privilege to live here'

Coen van Raaij (in memoriam)

Coen van Raaij from Boxmeer, who died in January 2021, was a true Maasheggen fan, visiting the area almost daily and taking many hundreds of photos, many of which he shared via social media.
In early 2020, Coen was portrayed in the series 'Proud of ... the Maasheggen'. As a tribute and to pass on his inspiring view on nature to others, it was decided to leave the interview with Coen on our website.

Born behind the dike, near the former hospital, even as a child he walked daily in the Maasheggen area. And he still does to this day. Preferably on his bicycle, with a pair of binoculars so he can observe birds. "In the summer, the alarm clock is set at 3 a.m. so I can be at Maasheggen before sunrise to hear the first sounds of birds."

Coen van Raaij (68) from Boxmeer is a Maasheggen fan. "I advise everyone to go and look and listen especially in May. The meadows are yellow with buttercups then and the smell of blooming hawthorn hedges is unique." Sometimes he meets hikers walking the Pieterpad early on. They too are enthusiastic about the uniqueness of the Maasheggengebied, and Coen likes to invite them to come back in other seasons.
His enthusiasm for the Maasheggen has not always been so great. Coen remembers the land consolidation in 1971. "Really terrible what happened then," he says. "Ditches were filled in and paths were straightened and paved. Farmers before that time, in the summer, would go by bicycle to their dairy cattle in the meadows between the hedges with a milk spout on the back. With the subdivision, hedges were uprooted, cows remained in stalls and only young cattle walked outside. Fortunately, landowners received subsidies to maintain the hedges. That was the salvation of Maasheggen. The way the hedges look now, they are at their best. I hope that in the future nothing will disturb this fragile nature."

Bird lover par excellence

His first bird guidebook Coen bought from the money he received when he made his Solemn Communion as a 12-year-old. Now he owns more than 300 books on birds. These days the local bookstore even tips him off when new bird books are added to the collection.
As a child, he once took an egg from a blackbird nest to school and received a pat on the back from the master. Now he knows better. "Of nature you have to stay away, don't disturb anything so it can go its way." Coen learned the bird sounds with cassette tapes from Nico de Haan. Now he uses about 10 apps on his cell phone to recognize and record birds. He is happy with this modern way of recording because time and place are automatically recorded.

In the Vortumse Bergjes, near the Schutkooi, the top three are the winter wren (29 territories), the black headed warbler (26 territories) and the chiffchaff (22 territories). In the Groeningse Bergjes, just down the road, there is the same top-3, although he also sees and hears many robins here. 'In recent years, the red-backed shrike has also been occurring here. A beautiful bird. Just look it up." He has even spotted the first wren. The shrike is known to catch mice, impale them on barbed wire and then eat them only when they are dead.

The most beautiful spot

Of the 365 days in a year, Coen can be found in the Maasheggen area at least 300 of them. Nothing is nicer, Coen says, than walking through the greasy clay. The area looks barren and dead in winter, in spring he feels happiest at sunrise. 'The singing birds and the smells are an amazing experience. It is a privilege to live here." The Maasheggen and everything that lives and lives there makes him intensely happy. The area around Groeningen is his favorite. Especially the beautiful meadows with pollarded willows with its vistas. And, of course, the birds there.

The photo accompanying this article was taken by John Hoffman.

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