from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 23 Aug 1998 14:11:26 +0200


Tromsø, where I live, is situated in northern Norway, at ca 69*50´N. It is
beautifully situated on an island in a fjord, surrounded by quite high
hills, and connected to the mainland by a bridge and a tunnel, and to the
outlying large island Kvaløya by another long bridge.

This summer I have been abroad for ca a month, and as happens so often,
that period has been the best summer in Tromsø for many years (While I
sampled rain and lightning in Holland and Germany). Still, I enjoyed three
weeks of continuous sunshine before I left, and 2 weeks of fair weather
after I returned, so I must not grumble.

It somehow feels a bit like autumn (fall, if you prefer) already, in spite
of the unseasonably high temperatures of high fifties and low sixties. I
think that much can be blamed on our "Tromsø palms". This "palm" is in
reality some exotic species of Hogwood Heracleum, imported into Tromsø some
150 years ago, and now dominant many places in and around town. It is a
large plant, growing very quickly to a height of 3-4m, and with many large
white umbels, visited mostly by flies. It smells quite strongly, and a lot
of people are also allergic to it. So, our "Tromsø palm" is definitely a
mixed blessing, but still we are proud of the plants somehow, although we
work hard to prevent them from taking over our gardens.
This Tromsø palm has the strange habit that the leaves (and those are truly
gigantic leaves) turn yellow and shrivel individually, and this process is
already in full swing. Consequently, there is a lot of yellow along
road-verges and in vacant lots, usually chock-a-clock with Tromsø palms.

Otherwise summer is clearly almost at its end anyway also in my birch
forest patch, Folkeparken. The tall forbs (Hochstauden) that dominate the
underground in the more humid places, have largely finished flowering: a
few flowers are left here and there in the tall Blue Sow-Thistle Cicerbita
alpina, while the Meadow-Sweet Filipendula ulmaria has virtually stopped
flowering this last week. Also all the many large Cranebills Geranium
sylvaticum are rapidly fading, while a few Valerian Valeriana officinalis
and the interestingly named Melancholy Thistle Cirsium heterophyllum (or
helenoides) still hold out, and in the lower part of the wood there are
also still quite many flowering Angelica sylvestris, that according to my
dictionary you call Jack-jump-about (Why is that?).

In the drier areas the last Harebells Campanula rotundifolia and
Golden-Rods Solidago virgaurea signify the end of summer, while humid
ditches still show the last "innocent starts" of the Grass of Parnassus
Parnassia palustris and the "money-grass" of the Norwegians, the yellow
rattle Rhinanthus minor. In the clearings the Fireweed Epilobium still
glows, but not for long anymore.

Birdwise this is a time of little activity, unless you find migration
hotspots. in the Folkeparken it is quiet when I walk to work, apart from
the dry trill of the many redpolls, that clearly have had a good year.
Great and Willow Tits are also always present, but virtually all the
thrushes have left the area (on a search for places with more berries, no
doubt), and the Greenfinches that were so dominant earlier this summer,
have all mysteriously disappeared! Young Willow Warblers Phylloscopus
trochilus are often in my garden, and I have also seen Pied Flycatchers
Ficedula hypoleuca there.

On the shore most of the shorebirds have left their territories and
gathered in larger flocks at certain favourable areas.In low-lying meadows,
as e.g. on Tisnes, flocks of Ruffs Philomachus pugnax are everywhere, and
on sandy shores mixed flocks of Dunlins Calidris alpina, Little Stints
Calidris minuta and Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula need to be checked
up for rarer transients, until now without too much success---although I
have found the odd Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea.
The gulls are still on the territories, but the Arctic terns have
disappeared already. The ducks are in eclipse, and their numbers have been
swelled by small flocks of Common Mergansers--- a very important moulting
area for all NW European mergansers is in the Tana-mouth, in Finnmark.

On Prestvannet, the freshwater pond on top of our island, there were last
weekend no less than 8 Red-throated Loons Gavia stellata. These birds seem
to get tamer by the year, so I could easily watch a parent close by diving
and catching Sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus, and feeding then to one
of its two youngsters---peculiarly, the other young seemed to be fast
asleep all the time I watched, ca 30 minutes.

Today I drove out to the outer coast, to the island of Hillesøy. But the
weather was drizzly, with very low-hanging clouds, so that the ravens
croaked mysteriously from the mist, but were seldom seen. Hillesøy has a
lot of shell sand, and otherwise a thick layer of peat overlying the
granitic bedrock; because of the chalk, the flora is quite rich. Now it is
autumn also here: the only flowers still present in any numbers are the
heather Calluna vulgaris and the Eyebrights Euphrasia, with along the path
also many blue Field Gentians Gentianella amarella. The Black Bearberry has
turned already a wonderful dark red, contrasting with the redder red of the
Cloudberry leaves and the dwarf Cornel Cornus suecica, and the vivd yellow
of many of the dwarf willows.

  The most conspicuous birds were a large flock of Greylag Geese Anser
anser; judging from their droppings they too feast on berries here,
probably mainly Crowberry Empetrum. I expect the same to be the reason that
Curlews and Whimbrels Numenius arquata and phaeopus, still linger here. In
the rough grassland there were large numbers of Meadow Pipits Anthus
pratensis, and also a few Twites Carduelis flavirostris, while I noticed at
least one Skylark Alauda arvensis, a species that seems to decrease in our
area too. One roof was completely covered by hundreds of Starlings, on my
return they were festooned along the many telephone wires. The Rock Pipits
were still on territory, in corners where a lot of algae accumulate

I have given today`s excursion list this time in the order in which I found
the birds. I drove out to the coast, so several of the common Tromsø birds
are missing (Willow Warbler, tits); somehow I also succeeded in not seeing
a Lapwing or a White-tailed sea Eagle today.

Birds seen on a 5 hours excursion to Hillesøy and Tisnes 23 August:
Hooded Crow             Corvus corone cornix
Common Gull             Larus canus
White Wagtail           Motacilla alba
Starling                Sturnus vulgaris
Eider                   Somateria mollissima
Great Black-b. Gull     Larus marinus
Herring Gull            L. argentatus
Cormorant               Phalacrocorax c. carbo
Ruff                    Philomachus pugnax
Fieldfare               Turdus pilaris
Black-billed Magpie     Pica pica
Red-breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator
Mallard         Anas platyrhynchus
Redpoll         Acanthis flammea
Common Merganser        Mergus merganser
Meadow Pipit            Anthus pratensis
Oystercatcher           Haematopus ostralegus
Raven                   Corvus corax
Greylag Goose           Anser anser
Twite                   Acanthis flavirostris
Skylark         Alauda arvensis
Curlew                  Numenius arquata
Ringed Plover           Charadrius hiaticula
Whimbrel                Numenius phaeopus
Rock Pipit              Anthus petrosus
Wheatear                Oenanthe oenanthe
Dunlin                  Calidris alpina
Little Stint            C. minuta
Parasitic Jaeger        Stercorarius parasiticus
Redshank                Tringa totanus
Common Sandpiper        Actitis hypoleuca
Spotted Redshank        Tringa erythropus
Grey Heron              Ardea cinerea

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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