from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: (Wim Vader)
Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 11:04:56 +0200
        Since almost two years I "look in" at Birbing-Aus, but do not
contribute much, as my Aussie days are already 4 years past, andour birdlife
here in Tromsoe, Northern Norway, has few similarities to yours. Maybe for
once it might be interesting to read how great the differences really are,
and I therefore have decided to post a copy of a mail I sent to BirdChat the
other day. Tell me if I am completely out of line. Let me also take the
opportunity to say how much I like the chance to follow your news and
discussions from the opposite side of the globe. Happy birding!


  Three days ago, according to the old almanac, summer started officially,
but it is not so easy to realize when you look outside. Today we set a new
absolute snow record for the third day in a row, and snow depth stands
(lies?) at 230 cm this morning, while it is snowing outside. As my car is
still snowed in, my action radius is quite small, and I can not e.g. drive
to the coast, 60 km out, where signs of spring no doubt will be much easier
to see.
Late March-early April is usually the time that Tromsø is full of Snow
Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis, a reliable and most cheery sign of spring;
these birds seem impervious to bad weather and always sound devil-may-care
cheery, something we need by now (Yes , I know this is intolerable
anthropomorphism; still, it`s the way it looks to us). This year the
buntings were late and there are only few in town--too much snow even for
them. Last spring I had 50-60 in my garden, this year none as yet, although
I have dug out my feeders (cracked, of course, but one still serviceable)
and also scatter sunflower seeds on the snow, just as last year. Instead, a
merry band of 15-20 Greenfinches Carduelis chloris, together with 2 pairs of
Great Tits Parus major and one pair of Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula are the
house guests. The Bullfinches regularly resort to bouts of courtship
feeding, flying up into the tree to feed each other the sunflower seeds they
just have picked up side by side on the snow--definitely a sign of spring.
Returning to the Snow Buntings, the reason that they are such a conspicuous
sight in our area for some weeks, is that these are Greenland snow buntings,
that use our region as a staging area to fatten themselves in 2-3 weeks
before embarking on the amazing trans-ocean flight non-stop to Greenland!
Our own Snow-buntings that nest in the hills around here, winter in W.Europe
and usually return later and fly directly into the hills. These Greenland
buntings winter apparently somewhere on the Russian steppes.
In the forest around the museum there is no real change, only still more
snow.I have the impression that the willow buds may be just a tiny bit
thicker and juicier, but that may well just be wishful thinking--the birches
definitely look just the same as all winter. On the shore all Oystercatchers
Haematopus ostralegus and Common Gulls Larus canus are back and paired, and
there are also some Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and Curlews Numenius arquata
(The Whimbrel N.phaeopus also nests on the island, but comes later).The
gulls now and then fly inland and circle over their territories, but there
is too much snow even for them, and they soon return to the shore.
The first Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs have been noted; they are usually
unpaired males, overshooting on migration.Our usual Fringilla is the
Brambling F. montifringilla, but that has not returned as yet; nor have I
heard any Chaffinches Phylloscopus collybita. All birds are extremely late
this year, and this is very wise, as the food situation for insect and
ground feeders must be pretty dismal. Often they repair to the shore, and
even flocks of Snow buntings are sitting in straggly lines on the short
stretch between the high-water line and the high snow banks. Also the
returned Starlings are mostly shore birds these days.
A colleague  (with a car) has noted the first Teal Anas crecca and Horned
Grebes Podiceps auritus, and the Collared Doves Streptopelia decaocto in
town have started singing. The days are getting longer and longer, the sun
gets warmer (but air temperatures are still below freezing, although not
much) and spring will soon be on its way, we hope (With a lot of flooding,
no doubt). I`ll keep you posted, if you still want to hear of these quaint
areas where spring comes in summer.
(Some basic information)
Tromsoe is the biggest place in northern Norway, with ca 55 000 people. Itis
beautifully situated on an island "on the sill of a fjord, the Balsfjord"
surrounded by hills of 800-1200 m. Because of the warm N.Atlantic current,
our sea does not freeze over (Although some fjords in which large rivers
flow ot, do), and most bird life in winter is confined to the fjords and
sounds: thousands of Eiders Somateria mollissima, hundreds of King Eiders S.
spectabilis, Oldsquaws Clangula hyemalis, Common Scoters Melanitta nigra,
and herring and Black-backed gulls larus argentatus and L.marinus, as well
as Purple sandpipers Calidris maritima on the shore, the only shorebird to
winter so far north.White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla I see commonly
in winter from my office window at Tromsoe museum, and a young Gyrfalcon
Falco rusticola often chases the feral pigeon flock in town (As so many
things here, the nothernmost in the world). On land Hooded crows Corvus
corone cornix, Magpies Pica pica, great and Willow tits Parus major and P.
montanus dominate; outside the town there are also Willow Grouse and
Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus and L.mutus. In the small birch forest (with fir
plantations) around the museum Sparrow hawks and usually a Goshawk or two
(Accipiter nisus and A. gentilis) winetr; the Sparrow Hawks also nest there,
as do the quietly beautiful Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula.just to give you
an impression.

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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