from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 10:59:44 +0200


        In Tromsö, N.Norway, in the last week the weather has been mild,
grey and
wet, with mostly westerly winds and temperatures in the low fourties. Most
snow has disappeared in the lowlands; today the last snow disappeared from
my garden, leaving a disaster area, and yesterday I could walk for the
first time this year to work without walking on snow or ice at all---very
muddy and spongy, though, many places in Folkeparken.
        The birches are still bare, so the singing thrushes are still quite
conspicuous; but the willows are in bloom, and the Rowans Sorbus aucuparia
are budding. Road verges and many lawns are quickly turning green, but in
the forest there is as yet virtually no new growth at all.

        The Redwings Turdus iliacus have dominated the bird chorus for 2 weeks
already, punctuated by the impatient snarls and disjointed snatches of song
(usually in flight) from the Fieldfares. Every day we hear a few more of
the ever enthousiastic Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, and yesterday
morning finally the first Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus returned
from tropical Africa. Its somewhat melancholy, but very melodious
song-strophe will soon sound everywhere, as this is probably Norway´s most
numerous bird.

        Other singers these mornings are Great and Willow Tits Parus major
and P.
montanus, the vaguely similar rasps of the Greenfinch Chloris chloris and
the Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, the somewhat mechanical, but
pleasing jingle of the Dunnock Prunella modularis, and the metronomic chiff
chaff chiff chaff of the Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita. This last bird
looks almost identical to the Willow Warbler, but sounds completely different.
        Around the museum there is a pair of White Wagtails, near shore
there are
Starlings, and here and there gardens have small colonies of House Sparrows.

        At home I have an unfortunate Hawfinch Coccothraustes
coccothraustes (a
close relative of the Evening Grosbeak, and with a similarly formidable
bill), that some kids rescued from a gang of magpies that used it as a
punchball on a lawn in Nordkjosbotn in the Balsfjord. The poor bird (sent
by bus to Tromsö Museum) turned out to have lost his tail and virtually all
feathers of one wing. But it is otherwise not seriously injured, very
hungry, and already quite fed up with being caged. Hawfinches do not belong
here at all; in Norway they only occur in the extreme SE. For some reason
there has been a small influx in N.Norway one week ago: I know of 5 records
from Troms, and several from Nordland; and the 4th record for Iceland came,
maybe coincidentally, in the very same week. We do not know the background
of this phenomenon.

                                                Yesterday night (18 May) I
out again to our favourite little wetland of Tisnes, some 35 km SW of the
town of Tromsö; it is situated on a low promontory with farmland and wet
meadows jutting out in the fjord, with a dramatic backdrop of steep
mountains on the opposite shore. Tonight it rained so hard that I almost
expected to see Dippers foraging in the road; fortunately at Tisnes it is
anyway an advantage to bird from the car, so as not to spook the birds. I
had been here at Friday night 15 May also, but then not much had happened
since my last report from the area: the Short-eared Owl was still hunting,
and the only novelties were a single Dunlin and the return of the regular
pair of Shovelers, blissfully unaware of the fact that according to the
books they do not occur this far north.

        But tonight things had changed!! For one thing, the Arctic Terns were
back, and dominated the sound decor, as they will continue to do all
summer. Most had apparently just arrived, and still concentrated on the
outermost skerries, flying up en masse every so often in a screaming cloud
low over the fjord--there were hundreds of them. Many were also fishing
over the rapids in the fjord, and these were already harrassed by two
Arctic Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers) Stercorarius parasiticus, themselves just
returned from their long migration.
        On the fjord there were otherwise pairs of Common Eiders
everywhere, still
a few Cormorants on the stakes, and to my great surprise (as I never saw
then just here) a number of displaying Black Guillemots Cepphus grylle.

        On land pairs of Oystercatchers dot the shore (and contribute a lot
to the
sound picture), and a compact flock of ca 75 Dunlins Calidris alpina, in
full summer finery with black belly-patches, were giving flying
demonstrations. At least 10 Ringed Plovers were foraging on the wrack beds,
and some other birders also saw the first Turnstones.

        In the wet meadows the Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus now are
breeding and mostly silent, the Curlews were mating, and the Redshanks
Tringa totanus are in full display and calling constantly.The first 10 or
so Ruffs Philomachus pugnax are back, sporting their many-coloured ruffs,
but the tournaments have not yet really started and both sexes were
peacefully foraging together most of the time. Here and there patience also
uncovered foraging Snipes between the tussocks. The Common Gulls have
occupied their colony, and everywhere one can hear the monotonous series of
special calls that accompanies copulation in this species.

        Tisnes is a miraculously diverse little haven for ducks, and also
the many Mallards were accompanied  not only by the regular pairs of
Shelducks Tadorna tadorna and Shovelers,  ut also by a trio of Pintails
(where the duck led the the two drakes in a marvellous zigzagging flying
demonstration and later returned to the meadows with only one of the
suitors) and several pairs of Teal Anas crecca. As nothing really has
started to grow, the ducks are still quite easy to find, with a bit of

        No owl this time, but many Starlings and Fieldfares in the meadows,
White Wagtails near the farm-houses, and Golden Plovers Pluvialis
apricarius in the drier meadows. Also regularly Willow Grouse Lagopus
lagopus; 1998 is going to be a top year for these birds.
        The first red hordes of Knots Calidris canutus have apparently
arrived in the Balsfjord for their several weeks "fattening staging", I
heard today.
So that spectacle will be my next project, maybe on Ascension Day.
Unfortunately, just now I finally changed to summer tyres, the wind is
veering NW and the weather forecast is for snow!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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