from your antipodes (summer)

Subject: from your antipodes (summer)
From: (Wim Vader)
Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 20:10:02 +0200

                        SUN AND SUMMER IN TROMSOE
        After all the mailings about snow records and winter storms, I am
happy to be able to report this time that this summer has been very nice
hitherto, with lots of sun (remember it shines 24 hrs a day!), little rain
and also little wind. Temperatures may not be really very high (maybe 20*C
today), but they sure feel much higher, and the majority of the people I met
during my hill-walk today were in bathing suits or even less; courageous, as
with the warm weather the insects also come out in force-- the pesky flies
are only an irritation, but the large horse-flies (Tabanidae), though quite
indolent, have a severe bite.
        Around the house the vegetation is still somewhat late, I imagine:
the pink Geranium that dominates the undergrowth in the birch forest, is in
full flower at sea level, but not yet quite where I walk daily, at ca 100 m
a.s.l. Instead the yellow violets Viola biflora, the "ball-flowers" Trollius
europaeus, and the buttercups still colour the forest yellow, although in
the drier parts Trientalis and Cornus suecica make for a lot of white.
Birdwise it is now the time of the young birds; for weeks the scene was
absolutely dominated by the frantic protest of the Fieldfares Turdus
pilaris, but now the young apparently have become independent, and the
parents are somewhat quieter (in as far as a Fieldfare ever can be quiet).
The Redwings Turdus iliacus find time for some song strophes, especially in
the evenings, and the last 2 weeks late walks have had as a special treat
the "silvery" cadences of the European Robin Erithacus rubecula, one of our
best songsters, in spite of the fact that the birds always sound as if their
throats are on the narrow side, so that they have to squeeze out the notes.
This is usually too far north for Robins, but last week I heard three in a
fierce song contest---this was a drizzly and darkish night, and I have the
impression (based on absolutely insufficient data) that the birds sing
better then than on days as today when the sun blazes sown from a blue sky
all night.
        The Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla clearly have their young
fledged this last week, as their alarm is heard all day. Still, with the
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus the Brambling is also the most
frequent songster in my patch of birch forest during the day; its sleepy and
somewhat bored-sounding rasp is easily overheard, though. It is quite
similar to the rasp of the greenfinches Carduelis chloris, but those sound
rather petulant than sleepy. As has been the case several (but not all)
years before, the Redpolls Acanthis flammea have only now populated our
birch forest in force; earlier this year there were hardly any at all. I do
not know where these birds have their first broods. The quietly elegant
Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula are very inconspicuous during their nesting
season; I see them now and then early in the morning on the path, presumably
taking grit. In my garden I had this year (I think, as I never search for
nests--too many cats around) both Bramblings and Willow Warblers, and in any
case a pair of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca in my bird box; their
young are also just fledging, and the neighbour`s cat is aware of that.
        On the shore too young birds are everywhere. The Eider Somateria
mollissima and Mallard Anas platyrhynchos ducklings are already too large to
risk being taking by the large gulls, but the Redshanks Tringa totanus don`t
feel safe at all, and scold from the light masts along the road (Sadly, the
Curlew Numenius arquata that we used to see there every year is absent this
summer, although there are many and also Whimbrels N.phaeopus elsewhere on
the island) In town Common Gulls Larus canus and Oystercatchers Haematopus
ostralegus have nested in many gardens and also on flat roofs, and many a
tourist has got a scare, after being suddenly divebombed while walking
innocently along the street. The Willow Ptarmigans Lagopus lagopus also have
chicks; their numbers fluctuate enormously from year to year, and as this
species is the most important hunting object locally---autumn and winter--
their fate is eagerly followed. A Woodcock Scolopax rusticola was still
roding actively yesterday "on the backside of the island".
        Today I walked on the hills "above" Tromsoe on the mainland. There
is a higher hill, Tromsdalstinden at 1263m, which is the object for the more
sporty people--and many people walk the hills here, young and old--, but it
is a steep climb and I tell myself there are fewer birds up there. So I
usually take the cable-car up to 380m, and walk up the lower hills,
600-750m. These hills are chalky and at this time of year it is as if you
walk through one large rock garden. Once more the yellow violets Viola
biflora are much to the fore, but many places also the white of the
"reindeer-rose" Dryas octopetala and the pink patches of Silene carpet the
landscape, while in other places where the snow has just melted, the elegant
tiny lanterns of the "moss-heather" Cassiope hypnoides delight the people
who see them at all.These hill walks are mostly a botanical feast, but this
is not the right chat-list for that.
         Birds there are not too many.The common passerine species are the
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis and the Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe;
this time a year both usually are busily feeding young. A pair of Ravens is
usually overhead, and with luck, you may frighten up some Ptarmigans Lagopus
mutus, but there are almost too many walkers, so the Ptarmigans usually
retreat to out of the way places on days like this. Three species of plovers
nest in these mountains: the first one meets is usually the plaintive
complaint of the European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, a constant
companion of the hill walker and a bird that everybody knows. Equally
plaintive, but more interrogative, are the sounds of the Ringed plover
Charadrius hiaticula, as much at home here as on the sea shores. I met
several pairs, and they showed all kinds of distracting behaviour, so
probably had young nearby. The third local plover species gave me a lot of
trouble today, as I could absolutely not remember its English name:
"morinelplevier" in Dutch, "boltit" in Norwegian, "fjällpipare" in Swedish;
it took an hour and three hills before the name Dotterel Charadrius
morinellus suddenly popped into my head, and shortly after I also saw the
first three birds. The Dotterels nest on the drier plateau, and the problem
with them is that they are absurdly tame and very little demonstrative, so
they are very easily overlooked, and some years I don`t find them at all.But
today was my Dotterel day; after this first trio--a beautiful female with
two males (The Dotterel is one of those birds with reversed sex roles) I
stumbled several times over a group of 10 birds, also very tame, and making
a wonderful soft tinkling sound just before and when they finally flew up.
        Last week I have been at sea, dredging for amphipods with my
students. One evening, with a clear midnight-sun, we allowed ourselves an
hour or so off a bird island, in this case Bleiksøya off Andoeya. From a
distance the island looked like a beehive, with large numbers of Kittiwakes
Rissa tridactyla and Puffins Fratercula arctica in the air around the
colony. Some White-tailed Sea Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla hunt regularly in
the area, so that the seabird activity is even larger than normal. Small
groups of gannets Morus bassanus passed our ship, on their way to their own
colony a bit further south, and a few times Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis
circled us: Bleiksoeya is one of the very few localities in Norway where
this species is known to nest. On skerries groups of Shags Phalacrocorax
aristotelis were drying their wings, and of course the ubiquitous larger
gulls L. marinus and L. argentatus and Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea were
also present, as were Eiders and Oystercatchers.
        When the weather is as we have had it this summer, it suddenly
becomes quite clear again, why I am still living at 70*N after 24 years.
There are few places that can compete! If you don`t believe me, come and see
for yourselves!
>From Monday 14.July I`ll be away ca 3 weeks though, on a trip to the White
Sea and Russian Karelia, dedicated to amphipods rather than birds My
Birdchat will be on NoMail; so please send any reactions to this directly to
me (too). Happy birding!!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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