from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 09:56:33 +0200

        Tromsø, N. Norway, still has an almost unprecedented run of mild 
and much of the snow now has disappeared from the sun-exposed areas,
although the ground many places still is frozen and there is ice on all
lakes, and even in the morning on the melt-water puddles. Our "mild
weather" is of course your "very chilly morning": temp. during the day only
just get above 40-45*F, but because of the sun and the lack of wind, it
feels much warmer.
        On Sunday the skies were clear and the morning cold: in the Ramfjord,
where the inner part still is ice-bound, even the outer part had a thin
veneer of fresh sea-ice this morning. But later in the day I saw a lot of
people sunning in a considerable state of undress on their porches; once
more, beggers can`t be choosers. Still, we can not really believe that this
is spring already; most cars still drive with their studded "winter tires",
and the  long sticks that guide the snow-ploughs, are also still in place
along the roads.

        Friday 1 May I visited Tisnes, our local "drive-in" wetland area (YOu 
most by watching from the car) in the evening. Most of the snow had gone
from the wet meadows, but the ponds had still some ice. The Common Gulls
were mating, and the Lapwings showed off their acrobatic display flights.
Two Redshanks Tringa totanus were the first of the year.
        When I walked out to the shore---where the hand-written sign: "No
admission; birds nest" again was put up by the local farmers( 1 May-1
August)---I not only came across the first Golden Plover Pluvialis
apricaria of the year, splendid in his (her?)immaculate sumer dress, but I
also found the Purple Saxifrage in full flower (nothing there as yet last
weekend); for me that is the official start of spring. (The Coltsfoot is
all very nice--and it is everywhere now--, but it is too much restricted to
areas that are disturbed by people, road verges, building places etc etc).

        The price for the most colourful spectacle on Tisnes went nevertheless 
two flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits (19 in all), of which most were already in
their coppery summer-finery. They were resting only at Tisnes; this species
nests further north and east. In the meadows there were now more than 30
Greylag Geese, and yesterday a pair of Wigeons had arrived, the first of
the non-Mallard ducks, the specialty of Tisnes.

        Yesterday I retraced my wheel-tracks of last Sunday, and of course 
found the same birds. Many more thrushes now, though, the Fieldfares often
in the meadows, the Redwings mostly in the coppices. I also heard a single
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos and nearby a Robin Erithacus rubecula, both
birds that are more common inland; the same goes for the Wood Pigeons
Columba palumbus that flew overhead. All these birds are on the edge of
their distribution here, and we have the impression that they slowly
penetrate further north and to the coast (Not the Song Thrush, maybe; I
heard that earlier here on the island, but much less often in recent years).

         The Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, one of our most common song
birds, also gave acte de presence for the first time this spring. Its
rasping  song is quite similar to that of the ubiquitous Greenfinches, but
where the Greenfinches sound irritated, the Brambling sounds mostly just
tired. (I am aware of the fact that such mementos, while very useful for
one self, often "do not travel well", as different people hear different
things in bird sounds.) Some other birders also heard the Dunnock Prunella
modularis, but I still have that one to come.

        Like last Sunday I drove around the Sagvatn, and once more I was too
early; the ice-fishermen still reigned supreme, and judging from the number
of chairs on the ice, they fear no quick snow-melt either. At the bridge,
where the outlet river Sagelva now was open and quite swollen, I watched
four Dippers Cinclus cinclus for a long time; they may well nest under the
road-bridge.These birds used the few large stones in the river as resting
posts, but they foraged not--as I usually see--by jumping from these stones
down into the river, but from a swimming position. The river is fast here
and quite turbulent, and the Dippers, with their white breasts gleaming in
the sun, were unable to keep their position, so that they had to fly back
every now and then in order to stay in their favourite stretch of water.
The bait was apparently small animals, as I never saw them "struggle with
bait", when they surfaced. It was an enchanting spectacle, and I watched
them for a long time.

        Some reminders of the winter that is slowly leaving us, were still
present: a 3-year old Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus close to town, and
three Steller`s Eiders Polysticta stelleri flying past Tisnes. These very
colourful small eiders winter in large numbers in the extreme NE of Norway,
in the Varanger fjord, but near Tromsø they are scarce, and we only see a
few each winter; some stay long into summer some years.

        This Monday morning is drizzly and grey, but the Redwing has returned 
sings in my back-garden (I know this is a local bird: these are
"dialect-singers", and the Tromsø Redwings are most characteristic). Also,
the first reminders of neglected gardening are emerging from the snow in my
garden. Happy  spring birding!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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