from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 25 May 1998 12:24:37 +0200

        SUNNY SUNDAY AT 70*N

                                MORNING CHORUS

        Tromsø, N.Norway has remained in a northerly air current all last week, 
the snow that fell 4-5 days ago remained on my lawn till yesterday(24 May),
when the wind veered NE and it became clear, with night frost and 4-5*C
maximum. But the sun now shines 24 hrs a day (and will not set until late
in July!) and even with the low temperatures the snow was largely burnt off
my lawn.

        At 06 00 hrs in the morning I conducted the annual "early birds for 
birds" bird song excursion in Folkeparken, the remnant bird forest (too
much "parkified" in recent years, sadly) around Tromsø Museum. Clear cold
weather, the snow crunchy under your feet, and the many puddles all with a
thin veneer of fresh ice. The birches are still not green, and the bottom
vegetation of plants still virtually absent, so conditions are favourable
for birding, as the birds can not hide too well.

        The morning bird chorus is much less impressive here as it is further
south in Europe, and this is an advantage when you want to point out
particular songs. Of course, as so often before, several birds that were
singing enthousiastically, when I walked to the museum at half past five
never opened their bill after six, and so we missed both the exuberant Song
Thrush (the talking thrush of many folk songs and tales, and one can easily
imagine why), as well as the "mini-bicycle pump" of the Goldcrest, while we
heard only fragments of the Robin and the Chiffchaff. So the few brave
people who had met up were reduced to the common song birds of the area
(minus the Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, the most numerous of all,
that still has not returned in any numbers).

                Foremost are two thrushes and two finches. The Fieldfare is 
hard to miss,
as a colony nests in the park and the birds are highly strung and make
themselves very conspicuous, while the Redwing is also common and lends
itself very well to explain the interesting phenomenon of dialect singing:
a few birds "do not sound like Tromsø Redwings", and propably grew up
                The two finches are the newcomer Greenfinch, now almost most 
common of
all, and the Brambling, of which only part have occupied their territories,
and many still rove around in flocks in the cold weather---I get some 25-30
on my feeders now and then. Both rasp, although in a subtly different way,
and the greenfinches have a lot of other sounds in addition, among them an
almost shorebird-like sounding whistle.
                The Brambling is the northern counterpart of the Chaffinch, but 
also of
the latter we usually have a few overshooting males, and two were singing
this morning, sounding as positive and cheerful as this species always
does. The fourth finch is the Redpoll, and that one is the hardest to
demonstrate to a group, as one usually hears them trilling overhead, and
they almost never pose when you want to show them off. The fifth finch, the
Bullfinch, we did not see or hear at all, quite typical for this bird in
summer; they do nest in the park.

                Easier in that way are the two tits, Great and Willow Tit. They 
too are
always in movement, but they are quite indifferent to people, so can be
watched from a short distance easily enough. The Great Tits demonstrated
their enormous versatility in varying on a simple theme (tee-tu): every
bird has a different type of song (One of the pioneers in Holland wrote,
that of the "thousand-voiced bird chorus" of the poets at least 700 were
Great Tits, and he definitely had a point). The Willow Tits sing much less
frequently, and are much better known for their indignant taeh...taeh
scoldings than for the high evenly spaced eee...eeee....eee of the true
song; many people are even surprised to hear that this sound comes from the
Willow Tits.

                Some people confuse the cheerful ditties of the Pied Flycatcher 
with the
"sawing" of the Great Tit, but the rhythm is different, and the flycatcher
song is also a bit more complex. There are many in Folkeparken, as we have
put up a lot of nest boxes.

                The chorus is rounded off by the high, metallic, and somewhat 
jingle of the Dunnock. The musical quality will improve considerably when
the Willow Warbler returns in strength, and still more if the Garden
Warbler Sylvia borin finds some thicket not yet discovered and cleaned away
by the park people. The best songster of them all, the Bluethroat Luscinia
svecica has sadly given up Folkeparken years ago, nor do we hear the
ebullient Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus  here any more. So the
morning birders may well have gone home with the feeling: "Was that all?" I
may have to change the locality in coming years.

Birds mentioned:
Great Tit                       Parus major
Willow Tit                      P.  montanus
Goldcrest                       Regulus regulus
Chiffchaff                      Phylloscopus collybita
Pied Flycatcher         Ficedula hypoleuca
Fieldfare                       Turdus pilaris
Redwing                 T.  iliacus
Song Thrush                     T.  philomelos
European Robin          Erithacus rubecula
Dunnock                 Prunella modularis
Chaffinch                       Fringilla coelebs
Brambling                       F.  montifringilla
Redpoll                 Acanthis flammea
Greenfinch                      Chloris chloris


Later the same day I profited from the sunny weather to go birding again.
No Knots this time either, but the Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix were bubbling
everywhere high on the hillside, and I discovered a number of Ring Ouzels
Turdus torquatus, with their silvery wings and neat small white "napkins",
among the many hundreds of Fieldfares and Redwings in the meadows. At
Tisnes there were now  4 drake Shovelers and one duck at least, not bad for
a species that "does not occur here". A narrow red snake slithering over
the fjord in the background resolved itself in the field-glass into 50-60
summer-plumaged Red Knots; finally!

The next fjord to the north of the Balsfjord is called the Ullsfjord; it is
a broad and fish-rich "fjord" (It does not have a proper sill) running
north-south for ca 80 km. About two thirds of the way in is the little
village of Jøvik, only accessible along a 45 km dead-end road, and
therefore not all that regularly visited. A small colony of Kittiwakes
Rissa tridactyla used to nest on the local fish oil factory, but that
burned down last year, and I was interested in seeing whether the
Kittiwakes still had returned to this quite atypical inner fjord locality.
Turned out they had, and very interestingly they had, once the few
available window-sills on an empty building were taken, occupied a very
rickety and dangerous (and thus closed) wooden pier, where many nested on
the surface just like the many Common Gulls in the area, but always on the
very edge of the pier, so that they could hang on to "that old cliff
feeling", apparently. Many also had made their nests below the surface of
the pier, on the beams of the structure. Altogether there were 100-150
nests in the colony, many clearly with eggs.

On the way back a Stoat crossed the road right in front of my car , still
in its immaculate white winter dress. Spring is still slow in coming; but
all it needs are a few warm days.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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