from your antipodes (N.Norway)

Subject: from your antipodes (N.Norway)
From: (Wim Vader)
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 1997 14:54:35 +0200
                        FINALLY FULL SPRING AT 70*N

Since chatting to you last time, I have been away from my home town of
Tromsoe, N.Norway, for a most inspiring month in Poland, i.a. in the
wonderful wetlands of the Biebrza valley. When I left home 17 May, there was
still 1.5m of snow on the grounds; when I returned 15 June; I was just in
time to see the last snow in  my garden disappear, the trees are green, and
the birds are in full nesting activity. Since then we have had 10 days of
beautiful sunny (24 hrs a day!) spring weather, with temps of 17-19*C (but
feeling warmer), until a change a few days ago, leaving us with the
unfortunately all too common "summer-weather" of the last days: grayish,
chilly and 6-9*C. Still, although the vegetation is still visibly late (The
dominant Geranium in Folkeparken, my daily walk to work, is not yet in
flower, and the picture is still dominated by "first-spring flowers" as the
dainty small violets Viola biflora, the white Oxalis, and the every year
increasing patches of --not really indigenous, but already 100 yrs
present--Anemone nemorosa. The luxuriant "egg-yolks" of the Trollius are
just opening.
Th absolutely most conspicuous birds on my daily walk are the Fieldfares
Turdus pilaris. They have mostly already given up the chaotic jumble of
mostly unmusical tones that goes for song in this species, and fly round
with beaks full of food and sounding extremely indignant to all passers-by.
The other local thrush, on the other hand, the redwing Turdus iliacus, is
still singing regularly. This year the song-phrases are more varied than
ever before and I wonder whether the late deep snow may have compelled some
birds to nest outside their own area: the redwings are to a high degree
"dialect-singers", and the ones from the island of Tromsoeya are easily
recognized by their special ascending "wirri-wirri-wirri" songs. But this
spring at least 1 of 4 Redwings sings "with a different beak". There are
probably as many Redwings as Fieldfares, but the impression one gets is of
Fieldfares everywhere and a few Redwings; one is bold, the other careful.
The dominant songster in my forest is the Willow warbler Phylloscopus
trochilus; its beautiful, but a trifle melancholy song strophes are almost
never out of earshot. Folkeparken is more and more treated like "just
another park" by the communal park authorities, who clear out far too much
brushwood, and this leads inexorably to gradually diminished bird diversity.
There are no longer reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, Bluethroats Luscinia
svecica,or Willow Ptarmigans Lagopus lagopus here (elsewhere around Tromsoe
these are common birds still), the Song thrushes Turdus philomelos have quit
the pine plantation, and this year I also missed the Woodcock Scolopax
rusticola, that always had its roding route straight over my garden. I heard
only one garden Warbler Sylvia borin this spring, while one day I also,
somewhat unexpectedly, had the great pleasure to listen to the silvery
cadences of a European Robin , for which this usually is just too far north.
Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, Dunnocks Prunella modularis and Great
Tits Parus major have mostly stopped singing--in fact there are recently
fledged young tits everywhere-, and the Redpolls Acanthis flammea have been
strangely missing until now (They may come in for their second brood, as has
happenend several years before). The Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula are
there, but do not deign to do such exuberant things as loud singing or
alarming, so one sees them only now and then. In the gardens the Pied
Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca have young in the ubiquitous nest boxes (They
usually succeed in ousting the Great Tits, when the flycatchers return in
mid May), and here at the museum we have our own pair of White Wagtails
Motacilla alba, as so many places in Tromsoe. Another very common garden
bird is the Common Gull Larus canus, which here absolutely lives up to its
name, and here and there even nests in small gardens or on verandas; they
clamour all day, and are therefore not universally popular, especially with
the tourists who already have sleeping trouble because it does not get dark.
The coming Sunday I`ll have an excursion for the general public to
Prestvannet, the little lake on top of our island, and a favourite goal for
Sunday walks for people. There are any number of Common Gulls and mallards
Anas platyrhynchos to feed, and the fewer Tufted ducks Aythya fuligula that
nest there, have become completely adapted to this regime and beg as eagerly
as the other ducks. The other dominant nesting bird on the lake, the Arctic
tern Sterna paradisaea, gets most of its food from the sea around, although
they also now and then catch some sticklebacks from Prestvannet itself. The
last years we have had one nesting pair of Red-throated Loons Gavia stellata
also, and they seem to feed mostly on the Sticklebacks and Crucian Carp of
the lake itself. In this late year, the loons had to wait for weeks in the
coastal waters around the island for the ice to "go" on the lake; somebody
watched them land there for the first time as soon as the first rift
appeared in the ice, and last week there were even 7 loons there, some
probably destined for higher lying breeding lakes. On the shore the very
common Eiders Somateria mollissima females already swim around with young,
while the males gather in large loafing groups, prior to moulting. The
Oystercatchers and large gulls have young, and the Ruffs have almost stopped
their tournaments for the spring, so spring is rapidly changing into summer.
This far north the seasons (except winter!)pass very rapidly and are often
somewhat telescoped.
In the hills the spring will still be early and the ringed Plovers
Charadrius hiaticula, Dotterels Eudromias morinellus and Golden Plovers
Pluvialis apricaria still sit on eggs; but I have not been there as yet
since my return from Poland.The Horned grebe Podiceps auritus on its little
pond along the road is sitting tight very close to the road in its thin reed
cover, overlooked by virtually everybody. The Parasitic Jaegers Stercorarius
parasiticus of the nearby marshes, on the other hand, are hard to overlook;
now they perform beautiful and pitiful broken-wing displays, when one gets
close to the nests; later, when the young are hatched, they get quite
aggressive and chase many tourists from the marshes.
As usual, these are only some impressions of the course of the season
"around my home", with no pretences at all of completeness or "scientivity".
I hope they are still a light relief from the ongoing burning ABA-debates
(Yes, I`m also a member). Happy birding!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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