from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: (Wim Vader)
Date: Sun, 11 May 1997 16:06:22 +0200
Once more a wiff of spring from the opposite "corners of the globe". Tell me
if you find this inappropriate to your list and of no interest to Oz!


On my return from Italy last Thursday snow depth was still 188 cm, but
things still had changed a lot. For one thing, the weather was brilliant:
sun, slight easterly breezes, and temp. of 8-10*C (but feeling warmer).
Also, the easterly winds have brought us back a lot of song birds; contrary
to what the books say, most of our song birds arrive froma SE direction
through the large river valleys of northern Sweden. So every little place
that is snow-free--usually along the roads or on south-exposed slopes near
the sea-- is visited by thrushes, mainly Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, but also
Redwings T.iliacus. During my 250 km car trip of yesterday "around the
Balsfjord" I saw just one bird of our third thrush species, the Ring Ouzel
T.torquatus, and some years I don`t see this species at all on migration.
(One might say that the brash Fieldfares march in on their return, the more
cautious Redwings walk in, but the Ring Ouzels sneak in!)
In my garden there is a strip of maybe 1 ft of lawn, uncovered because the
bulldozer digging out my driveway last week made a slight mistake in
guessing exactly where the driveway might be hidden. On this strip 2
crocuses bloom, and this morning 2 Redwings were squabbling about what
little there may be to feed on there. This illustrates a general problem
this year: the ground is over 90% covered by snow, so what are returning
ground-feeding birds to do? The Fieldfares and Redwings concentrate in large
numbers along road verges, constantly exploding away just in front of your
car, but I saw also very considerable numbers converging on the narrow strip
just above high water on the sea shore, that was cleaned from snow by the
recent high spring tides, as well as on beaches with a lot of seaweed washed
ashore (and thus beach fly maggots to be had). A similar, or even worse
quandary besets the gulls (mostly Common Gulls) that should have commenced
nesting by now. Their internal clocks clearly "can`t wait", there are
displaying and mating gulls everywhere--also on my neighbour`s flat roof--,
but the traditional nesting places are mostly still inaccessible because of
the snow cover. This leads to great problems, and many gulls are laying eggs
outside nests, in the intertidal and in other unsuitable localities. I have
not been at the coast as yet; there the larger gulls ought to have almost
hatched young by now, but the problems have been too much snow also there.
In the birch forest around the museum the buds are by now really swelling,
although no leaves are out, nor won`t they for some weeks. The morning
chorus is rapidly filling in, besides the accustomed voices of the Great Tit
and the greenfinches. The redwings are the most melodious of the lot, the
fieldfares contribute a lot of vigour, but little or no melody, and the few
Chiffchaffs provide the steady rhythm. Elsewhere I yesterday also heard the
first Dunnock song, and saw freshly-moulted beautiful Bramblings sharing a
willow-bud meal with a pair of Bullfinches. All the Snow-Buntings have
disappeared--I really hope they have succeeded in collecting enough "fuel"
for the gruelling flight to Greenland, but I am far from sure--, and the
next greenland travellers, the 10 000`s of Knots that also stage in this
area, have apparently not yet arrived.

In the inner part of the Balsfjord many freshwater birds (ducks, grebes,
divers) await the breaking up of the ice on the lakes; to watch these
properly on the wide fjord, one needs hawk-eyes or at least a scope, neither
of which I possess. I drove along the Sagvatnet, where rifts in the ice in
spring always concentrate the water birds nicely, but the ice still reached
supreme there. 
On the wetlands of Tisnes, which I have described earlier, there were just a
few areas where the snow had melted and melt water had provided puddles.
Here all the returning ducks and shorebirds concentrated: many mallards, one
pair of Ppintails, one pair of teals, a Shelduck, Redshanks, a lone Ruff in
sombre black collar, and the many local Lapwings that ought to have laid
weeks ago. A snipe was displaying, and the bronze voice of the Curlew was
heard everywhere, but I did not see any Golden Plovers as yet. White
Wagtails had returned in force (But I saw only 1 Meadow pipit), as had the
Starlings. And on the little sandy knoll near the coast at Tisnes, purple
patches of Saxifraga oppositifolia were the best sign of all: spring really
is returning to Tromsoe!!

Bird species I saw for the first time this year 9-10 May (Remember I have
been abroad 1-8 May)
Graylag Goose                   Anser anser
Pintail                         Anas acuta
Teal                            A.crecca
Shelduck                        Tadorna tadorna
Merlin                          Falco columbarius
Snipe                           Capella gallinago
Redshank                        Tringa totanus
Common Sandpiper                Actitis hypoleucos
Ruff                            Philomachus pugnax
White wagtail                   Motacilla alba
Meadow pipit                    Anthus pratensis
Fieldfare                       Turdus pilaris
Redwing                         T. iliacus
Ring Ouzel                      T. torquatus
Chiffchaff                      Phylloscopus collybita
Brambling                       Fringilla montifringilla
Chaffinch                       F. coelebs (I just missed this one earlier)
Twite                           Carduelis flavirostris
And the Willow Grouse lagopus lagopus of tisnes were displaying very actively!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
                                                9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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