from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 1998 11:29:50 +0200


Finally summer has come to northern Norway, and the last two weeks day
after day has been calm, sunny (with sun day and night!!), and quite warm.
The actual temperatures never come much higher than 20*C (low seventies),
but with the sun and the absence of much wind it felt much warmer. The
insects also clearly thrive in this weather, and the many mosquitoes and
"no see-ums" get increasingly often company from large buzzing horseflies.
Still, by our standards Tromsø has few insects, and they are nor really a
serious problem, as they can be many places in the inland and on the
Finnmark coast("Here the mosquitoes are so powerful, they not only bite,
they kick you" an old man once told me on the Finnmark coast).
        It is now almost impossible to imagine that one month ago we still had a
partial snow-cover here even in the lowlands. Now the hay is already being
mown some places, and the haylands are a riot of dandelions and some places
of Globe Flower Trollius europaeus. The bogs are white with the flowers of
Cloudberries Rubus chamaemorus and various species of Cotton-grass
Eriophorum, with fields of light pink Marsh Andromeda Andromeda polifolia,
and on the road verges the Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris and "Bacon and
eggs" Lotus corniculatus have come in flower.
In the birch forest the first wave of spring flowers has been replaced by
the white of Chickweed Wintergreen Trientalis europaea and Dwarf Cornel
Cornus suecica, with the pink of the cranesbills increasingly coming in
during the last week. On chalky hills beautiful carpets of white Mountain
Avens Dryas octopetala and yellow Cinquefoil species Potentilla cover the
The Rowans Sorbus aucuparia and Bird-Cherries Prunus padus are also in
flower, one of the signs of full summer; another is that the hundreds of
different greens of spring have "melted together" to one shade of summery
green, with only the many and large ferns a different, more yellowish colour.
                I have several guests from abroad in the last weeks, and we have
therefore made many short sight-seeing trips in the surroundings of Tromsø,
while Riet and I also had the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular beauty
and variety of the Vesterålen Islands for 4 days. I won´t bore you with
long lists of birds seen (I guess ca 80 species all in all), but rather
give a few snapshots, starting out as usual with Folkeparken.

My daily walk through the remnant birch forest between my house and Tromsø
Museum has not much changed bird-wise during the last weeks, and in the
mornings there is still considerable bird-song, although now increasingly
mixed with alarm-calls, as more and more young fledge. Some species have
almost stopped singing, and I have e.g. not heard a Robin Erithacus
rubecula for weeks here, while also the Dunnocks Prunella modularis have
largely fallen silent, and the Bullfinches, as usual in summer, have become
well-nigh invisible.
 Special this year is a small influx of Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, most
welcome as they are vigorous and melodious singers. There have been up to
three at the same time in Folkeparken, and I also heard them along the
Jægervatnet foot-path, that I described last time and that we revisited
this Sunday (In these ten days the number of flowers in the meadows and
forest had exploded, so that green meadows now had turned completely
yellow. The Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus was still there). As many places
in Troms these last weeks, also in Folkeparken the number of Redpolls
Acanthis flammea has increased enormously, and their dry rattles are
In the Vesterålen large flocks of Greylag Geese Anser anser had gathered
many places on low grassy shores, strangely enough without a single young.
One place, at Stave, three Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, a species that
ought to be in the Arctic by now, kept them company.
We visited the noisy and spectacular kittiwake-colonies of Nykvåg, where
the birds nest in the middle of the village and therefore can be watched
closely very easily. Every now and then a young White-tailed Sea Eagle
Haliaaetus albicilla sailed past the colonies, no doubt attracted by the
many half-grown young on the ledges. And every time he caused panic among
the gulls, who swooped silently from the ledges, and returned in a
pandemonium of "kittiwekk-kittiwekk" calls and the most impressive  soft
descending  "ooooooohhh"-wails that ones hears especially at such
occasions. This young eagle never succeeded in catching a single gull,
while we watched. But an adult sea-eagle, with a gleaming white tail,
sailed in a few times and quite matter-of-factly picked  a young kittiwake
every time, like we pick tins from the ledges at the supermarket.
A clear example that it is not all that easy to be a competent sea eagle;
one has to learn a lot of techniques. No wonder we get in dead and moribund
starving young sea eagles at the museum every winter! Also the fishing
techniques, with the seemingly nonchalant last-second backwards sweep of
the talons in the water, depends so much on precision, that it will take
much trial and error to learn.

Walking along the shore one meets increasingly often young newly fledged
birds, especially of the larger gulls and the Oystercatchers, as well as of
the eider ducks. I have the impression, however (based on a dangerously
small sample) that the eiders have not had a very good breeding season this
year. As yet there are few broods on the shore and those are mostly small.
The terns and many of the Common Gulls are still brooding eggs, while as
mentioned the kittiwakes already have quite large young. In town there are
recently fledged Magpies everywhere, as well as thrushes and other small
birds, and I get lots of telephones of desperate people who have noticed
"sick magpies that can not fly" or who have rescued young thrushes and
discovered that they are constantly clamoring to be fed day and night.

On the Ullsfjord there were now small numbers of Puffins Fratercula arctica
near the ferry, and at our lunch-spot at Styrmannsstø, with a wonderful
view over the wide fjord, small parties of Common Mergansers Mergus
merganser dawdled and kittiwakes sailed by, while the ubiquitous
Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus alarmed wherever we walked---I think
most of the shore-line here is covered by a string of
oystercatcher-territories. A gleamingly white adult Glaucous Gull looked
much out of place in the warm summer weather; for me they invoke Svalbard
and Arctic climates.

So you see I was right all the time: summer comes eventually, also at 70*N.
Happy birding!!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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