From your antipodes

Subject: From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 01 Oct 1998 10:36:03 +0100

                        AUTUMN DAYS IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY
        This year we have been blessed with good weather a lot of the time in
Tromsø, N.Norway. (This is a blessing, and like so many blessings, not all
that comon). Last winter was easy, the summer was beautiful, with sun 24
hrs a day for weeks on end, and now most of the autumn has been calm, crisp
and often sunny, so that the fall colours are more glorious even than
normally, and ca half of the birch leaves are still on the trees, while the
rest lies as a glorious carpet strewn underfoot.
Autumn is a very busy time for me, so I have had little opportunity to go
birding, and my local patch of birchwood is pretty quiet now, although
small flocks of thrushes still rove around. The Starlings are also still
there, but increasingly prefer the sea shore and the outer coast.most of
the sound-decor is provided by the magpies and by the two resident tit
species, Great and Willow tits.

The last days have given night-frost and the lawns and footpaths, except
those parts in the direct sunlight are rimed over almost all day, while
small puddles are frozen over. The lakes still are open, but many of the
Mallards nevertheless are already to be found in the intertidal, where
otherwise the large gulls and the Hooded Crows now dominate the scene, with
the Eiders fringing the shore, diving for i.a. Iceland Scallops Chlamys
On the outer coast, where the Black Bearberry Arctostaphylus alpina is the
clear winner in the annual competition for the most glorious autumn red,
this weekend I did no longer see the flocks of Greylag Geese Anser anser,
nor the Whimbrels and Arctic Skuas, all gone for the year, probably. The
Ravens remain all year round, and the Sea Eagles are more conspicuous in
the winter season.

The active birders find interesting migrants in the area (Last week a
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica), while the general public phones in and
tells about incredible-looking birds ("I first thought it was a Golden
Pheasant", somebody started out with), that turn out to be the yearly young
Hoopoes Upupa epops that somehow completely mix up their migration routes
and wind up on the outer coast here, where they probably all perish when
the winter sets in for full.

Some of you may recall that last autumn we got a most unexpected visit from
a huge Leathery Turtle Dermochelys coriacea. This time, ca in the same
season and again on an island some 100 km's north of here, a Swordfish
Xiphias gladius ran ashore, no less than 2.7m long! It is the first one in
ca 20 years, but a good representative, as was the Leathery Turtle, of the
many Atlantic animals that arrive in our waters with the mild North
Atlantic Current, and may get in trouble in the autumn, when the water
starts cooling.

Last week we were out all week on our research vessel Johan Ruud, to the
fjords north of here, up just past the North Cape. We were only 4
scientists on a vessel working 24 hrs a day, so there was practically no
time for bird-watching. Also, the weather was more archetypically autumnal,
with a lot of wind, rain and sleet, while we watched the snow creep down
the hillsides day for day (Last Sunday we had the first snowfall here on
the island, but most of it fortunately has disappeared again on the lower
parts of Tromsøya).

On the first day of the trip while we steamed north, the weather was pretty
spectacular: broken skies, heavy rain-squalls and force 9 winds (little
storm, in Norwegian parlance), with much stronger gusts in between;
fortunately the wind came obliquely from behind, allowing us a certain
measure of stability. The fierce wind gusts in the narrower fjords (Easily
up to 40 m/sec.) were easily located, as they churned up huge swirling
columns of water sweeping over the surface (The fjord is smoking, said the
sailors). As always, they did not seem to phase the seabirds at all; these
birds are wonderfully adapted as flying machines!

In the inner fjords, as around Tromsø, large gulls (L. marinus and L.
argentatus), eiders Somateria mollissima) and Cormorants Phalacrocorax
carbo dominate, and we even saw the last Arctic terns Sterna paradisaea of
the season. In the open fjords and coastal sea dominance shifted towards
Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla and Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis (Only seen in
the fjords in this type of weather), with a single Gannet Sula bassana, and
here and there small flocks of Puffins Fratercula arctica. I saw no skuas
or jaegers at all.

Now our days are rapidly shortening, and I see the flocks of Hooded Crows
pass my house, on their way to their common sleeping area, in rapidly
deepening twilight around 6 30 pm. Every day is ca 8 minutes shorter than
the day before, and within two months the sun will have disappeared below
the horizon. So chances of observing the northern lights will improve day
by day now!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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