From your antipodes

Subject: From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998 12:20:20 +0100


In Tromsø the days are gradually getting lighter, and periods of cold
weather are interspersed with outbreaks of Atlantic air, with mild days and
slippery streets (I just heard this morning that there was a crisis in the
orthopedic department in our hospital: far too many broken bones after
falls on icy streets). there are about 3 ft of snow on the ground, a bit
less than average for this time of the year still; but at Christmas we did
not have any snow at all, so this is more like normal winters.
But bird-wise the same 15-20 species of birds are in evidence as since
December, and there is nothing new to tell. My garden is still blessed with
a flock of Bullfinches, the Great Tits sing in the mornings, and the
Magpies are more and more quietly warbling for themselves, an often
surprisingly pleasant subsong.but it will be at least another month before
we`ll see the first harbingers of spring, the Starlings, Snow Buntings and
Common Gulls.

A week`s visit to Holland, where the winter has been so mild as to be
practically absent, and where the gardens are already a riot of snowdrops
and crocuses, showed a completely different picture, however. In Riet`s
garden (The small village garden that I described to you last Easter) there
is a lot of activity and bird-song already. New this winter is the constant
presence of a small flock of Siskins, that diligently feeds on the peanuts,
and to my surprise even keeps off the usual Great and Blue tits and, still
more surprisingly, the always so bullying Greenfinches; also within the
flock there is a clear pecking order, with one of the males always dominant
(Maybe not accidentally, the one with the blackest cap).
This year, in contrast to last year, when there had been a real winter in
Holland, there are also Winter Wrens everywhere, and their exuberant song
contrasts nicely with the more mechanical jingle of the Dunnocks. The
Chaffinches also are "in full song", although in their case the term is a
bit misleading, as the song often still is of a somewhat abbreviated type.
                Further songsters are the Starlings, the tits, the European 
Robin, and
the thrushes (Mistle Thrushes all week, Song Thrushes the last days , and
Blackbirds as yet in Odijk hardly at all, although they had started singing
in Zeeland in the extreme SW of the country). The Collared Doves of course
are very active: they start nesting extremely early often. Also the Wood
Pigeons have just started up, and in the parklike areas around Odijk I also
heard the ooo....oooo....oooo of the Stock Doves. No Chiffchaffs as yet.
                My year list, stable at 20 species since 10 January, jumped up 
to 87 in
this week, "without really trying". Fifteen degrees latitude really make a
difference that way!

                        A WALK AT TIENHOVEN  (23-02-1998)

The small village of Tienhoven is situated north of Utrecht, in an
arche-typically Dutch area of shallow lakes (caused by peat-digging
centuries ago) and low-lying polders with grassland separated by broad
ditches. Between the lakes narrow strips of land (where the peat dried) are
left, so you often walk with water at both sides, and strips of alder and
willow coppice and broad reed-borders along the path.
Later in spring this becomes a very good area for warblers, but none of
those had come back as yet, and the dominant bird-song this windy sunny
mild day was that of Chaffinches, Robins, and tits, with surprisingly often
also the "compressed spiral" of the Short-toed Treecreeper.

In the water along the path pairs of Mallards (often in the strange colour
combinations of "farmers ducks") and aggressive coots clearly had spring in
their minds, while the beautiful and surprisingly tame Great Crested Grebes
freely demonstrated their eel-smooth diving technique, but not as yet their
impressive displays. In more open waters flocks of diving ducks, mostly
Pochards and Tufted Ducks, were lazing, mostly keeping to the lee of the
shore-strips. Mute Swans were present, but less common than in the polders.

Further on the path left the lakeside and went on through low-lying
grassland  with broad ditches, a duck decoy and a number of smallish pools,
dug by nature conservation in an effort to restore some of the "trilveen",
the quaking mire that used to be such an important and plant-rich part of
these areas.

Here geese were dominating the scene everywhere; pairs and small family
groups of Greylag Geese were walking and flying around, and honking their
familiar barnyard sounds. And every now and then some disturbance flushed
massive groups of White-fronted Geese --at least a few thousands-- and
their higher cackling (the sound I grew up with in Zeeland as a boy, when I
thought that everywhere in the world there must be all those "frost
geese"(vriesganzen) in winter) filled the air. Also in these large and
dense groups one can see family units, but the distance between groups is
so much smaller than with the greylags, that at a distance you get the
impression of one massive flock.
Pairs of Mute Swans  speckle the polder. Every now and then some of them
flew a round and one heard the powerful sighing sound of their wings (Makes
you realize that this is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world);
the pairs already present on the ditches blow themselves up in defence and
look for all the world like old fashioned sailing warships.
The geese are winter visitors here, although some of the Greylags may well
stay to breed. But there were also definite signs of spring . Large flocks
of Northern Lapwings had arrived, and a few had even started their
acrobatic display flights. (No Black-tailed Godwits here as yet, but I saw
a few along the Rhine 2 days later). Also the Starlings were present in
numbers and showed off their prowess in formation-flying.
A greater joy still were smaller, much looser flocks, that turned out to
consist of apparently just-arrived Skylarks; a few even ventured into an
abbreviated form of their wonderful song-flight. Meadow Pipits and White
Wagtails had arrived as well, and a few Reed Buntings even had not yet
finished their moult (or rather abrasion) into full spring plumage and
still showed their black heads half masked by light feather-brims.
In the small pools hundreds of Coots and Mallards dominated the scene, but
there were also a few Teal and a small flock of Smews, the latter winter
guests here.
In the duck decoy the mistle thrushes were singing their wonderful "I don´t
care how cold it is, this is spring"-songs, and the Buzzards were
displaying and settling the boundaries of their territories by aerial
displays. Along the southern-exposed ditches the first golden stars of the
Ficaria verna had burst, so in spite of the chilly winds and the
preponderance of winter birds, there was definitely spring in the air here,
a feeling we still have to wait several months for in northern Norway. But
it`ll come there too, finally!

List of birds seen on the Tienhoven walk:
Great Crested Grebe  --Podiceps cristatus
Grey Heron              -- Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan               -- Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose           -- Anser anser
White-fronted Goose     -- A. albifrons
Cormorant               -- Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis
Mallard         -- Anas platyrhynchos
Eoropean Wigeon -- A. penelope
Teal                    -- A. c. crecca
Goldeneye               -- Bucephala clangula
Tufted Duck             -- Aythya fuligula
Pochard         -- A. ferina
Smew                    -- Mergus albellus
Shelduck                -- Tadorna tadorna
Buzzard         -- Buteo buteo
Sparrow hawk            -- Accipiter nisus
Eur. Kestrel            -- Falco tinnunculus
Wood Pigeon             -- Columba palumbus
(Stock Dove             -- C. oenas)
Collared Dove           -- Streptopelia decaocto
Northern Lapwing        -- Vanellus vanellus
Oystercatcher           -- Haematopus ostralegus
(Black-tailed Godwit    -- Limosa limosa)
Black-headed Gull       -- Larus ridibundus
Pheasant                -- Phasianus colchicus
Great Spotted Woodpecker--Picoides major
Skylark         -- Alauda arvensis
Black-billed Magpie     -- Pica pica
European Jay            -- Garrulus glandarius
Carrion Crow            -- Corvus c. corone
Jackdaw         -- C. monedula
Starling                -- Sturnus vulgaris
Winter Wren             -- Troglodytes troglodytes
Short-toed Treecreeper-- Certhia brachydactyla
Nuthatch                -- Sitta europaea
Great Tit               -- Parus major
Blue Tit                -- P. caeruleus
Willow Tit              -- P. montanus
Long-tailed Tit -- Aegithalos caudatus
European Blackbird      -- Turdus merula
Song Thrush             -- T. philomelos
Mistle Thrush           -- T. viscivorus
European Robin  -- Erithacus rubecula
Meadow Pipit            -- Anthus pratensis
White Wagtail           -- Motacilla alba
Dunnock         -- Prunella modularis
Chaffinch               -- Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch              -- Carduelis chloris
Siskin                  -- C. spinus
House Sparrow           -- Passer domesticus
Eur. Tree Sparrow       -- P. montanus
Reed Bunting            -- Emberiza schoeniclus

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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