From your antipodes

Subject: From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 11 Oct 1998 14:28:26 +0100


Today I profited from an unusually calm and sunny Sunday, and made my usual
2-3 hrs walk along the shores of the sound, and across the island to the
little lake Prestvannet on top of the island. Back via the town centre.

This autumn has been mostly mild, and this last week we had a lot of rain
and temperatures of up to 7-8*C, so that the snow in fact has mostly
disappeared again up to 400 m on the hillsides.
Today was calm and sunny, which means night frost: everything was covered
with rime this morning (the first time this fall I could enjoy all the
sparkling ice-diamonds again), and the roads often deceptively icely (which
cost me a spectacular tumble). Puddles and ditches are ice-covered, but the
air temperature during the day is above freezing, and the sun, although now
pretty low (My shadow even at noon suggests a very tall man!) still has
some power.

In the forest the undergrowth mostly looks shriveled and brown, although
the fireweed still stands boldly upright and sports its seed heads with
wide open pods and the last  silvery plumes still clinging to them. The
majority birches has lost most of their leaves now, but a few still persist
ingolden splendor, so that from a distance there are still "full autumn
 Birds there are few: the ubiquitous magpies and Great tits, and here and
there Willow Tits , and a flock of Redpolls. Greenfinches are still
strangely absent, and the Bullfinch population also seems to have crashed
after last year's high--I did not hear a single one.

In the cultured fields along the coastal road the grass is still basically
green (This is a late and mild autumn), while fallow fields now give the
opportunity to admire the multitudinous forms of grass-plumes, decked in
different shades of ochre. The large sorrel Rumex seed-heads are dark
brown-red exclamation marks, and even the poor cousins of the fireweed, the
small Epilobium species with only few and small flowers, come now to their
right, still standing boldly upright with curled pods and silvery plumed
seeds. Also here there are very few birds, mostly Hooded Crows and Magpies.
Among the houses here and there House Sparrows, on the shore still a few

On the fjord the bird scene looks already quite wintery. The Oldsquaws
(Long-tailed Ducks) and Scoters (Today more Velvet Melanitta fusca than
Common M. nigra, different from midwinter) are back in force, the Eiders
are in their best finery (And I even heard some cooing)--and the first King
Eider was present among them--, and Cormorants are becoming common. Large
gulls abound, but there are only a few Common Gulls left, and the only
shorebirds I saw was a faraway small flock of sandpipers skimming over the
fjord, no doubt Purple Sandpipers. A few Red-throated Mergansers are
present, but they are almost residents here. And more and more Mallards
leave the freshwater and come to the shore.

On the Prestvannet there are almost more families with perambulators, on
their Sunday stroll, than birds. But quite a lot of Mallards wisely stay
here as long as possible in autumn; they are very heavily fed. And now they
have the entire lake for themselves: the Arctic terns are long gone, the
Red-throated loons and the Tufted ducks have migrated southwards, and of
the hundreds of nesting Common gulls there was not a trace. That is to say,
there was a single gull on the lake, but that to my great surprise turned
out to be an adult Ring-billed Gull L. delawarensis, no doubt the same that
was discovered in town earlier this week. It is the first one I ever have
seen in Tromsø, but in southern Norway a few winter almost every year,
often returning year after year to the same localities.

In town, among all the feral pigeons, Hooded Crows, and House Sparrows
being fed in the little park around the Domkirke, the large wooden church
in the centre of town, there was now only a single Common Gull left.
Earlier this week I still saw five. But that's the way it goes in autumn;
most of our birds disappear, and avoid the dark and cold winter by moving

Last year I made a similar walk about a fortnight later, and I have copied
that report here to show 1) How much the circumstances may change from year
to year, and 2) how little this in fact means for the birdlife here in
winter.last year we had quite early snow, which then again disappeared
before Christmas, while winter 96-97 was snowy througout and culminated in
our new snow-record of 2.43m in late April. Plus ça change, plus c'est la
même chose!
Once more, let me know if you now are quite sated with Tromsø seasons and
the few Tromsø birds!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

>This morning I decided to make a leisurely walk across the island of
Tromsoeya, where my hown town of Tromsoe, N-Norway, is situated. The island
has sort of a tear-drop shape, and is surrounded by sounds on both sides.
The island itself is not very high (maybe 100m), but the surrounding hills
both on the mainland and the outlying island of Kvaloeya are 600-1200 m. We
still have ca 7 hrs of daylight, but that decreases by 15 minutes every
day, and the sun will be gone by 20 November.

>Today the sun shone as I left home, and the snow was full of thousands of
small diamonds. We have ca 2 feet of snow, mostly quite wet, so that even
the now mostly bare trees have a lot of snow plastered to the branches, and
nature is mostly a black-and-white picture; but what a glorious one!

>Most of my route is through suburbia. Tromsoe is a town with mainly wooden
houses, painted in many different, often quite gay, colours, which greatly
improves the outlook of an otherwise quite humdrum town. On my side of the
island most houses have large gardens (and there are no fences between
gardens at all!), with a lot of trees, so conditions should be excellent
for birds.
>Still, on the first half of the walk, "over the top of the island", across
the old cemetery, where the gravestones are slowly disappearing in the
snow, and along the little lake Prestvannet,--in summer a beehive of bird
activity, now a vast expanse of snow (too snowy for the skaters, too flat
for the skiers)--, there were very few birds. Only three species can be
called common: the Great Tit (so eloquently presented recently to us by Ole
Post), the Magpie and the Hooded Crow. Today I saw quite a number of
Bullfinches, my favourite passerine here, mostly in the old fir trees of
gardens and the churchyard, a few Willow Tits, and in one place one of our
scattered small groups of House Sparrows. And that was in fact all in two
hours time!
>Watching the Bullfinches for a while, I saw two males doing something I
never had expected these so quiet birds to do, i.e. mob a Magpie. It was a
very civilized sort of mobbing, sounding much more like: "Excuse me, Sir,
would you care to move?" than the : "Hey, you, buzz off!" of the Great
tits, and the still much more emphatic  "*¤x*!!  ¤#*#!!" of the Willow
tits, but the birds persisted with their "requests" until the magpie moved on.
>On the shore and in the water there is always much more bird life,
although I do not think the wintering birds are at full strength as yet. I
saw the last 2 lingering Starlings (here a shore bird, rather than a land
bird) five minutes after I for the first time this winter heard the joyful
yodeling of the Oldsquaws (Long-tailed Ducks).
>Along the shore hundreds of Mallards (who stay all winter), further out
groups of now once more resplendent looking Eiders, the drakes often in
full courtship. This made these groups easy to separate from the much more
sedate groups of Common Scoters, even against the sun. On a skerry sat
about a hundred Cormorants, also mainly winter birds in this area.
>I`ll list what I saw at the end; as you see it is a very short list, but
normal for this time of the year. I missed the Red-breasted Mergansers that
also winter here, the Ravens  that I saw here yesterday, and the
White-tailed Eagle that I saw later today from my living room window, as
well as the Goshawk that I watched near the museum earlier this week. I
also saw no Greenfinches at all; there seem to be much fewer of those
around this autumn than the last two winters.
>I have reported from this quite small area for almost two years now, and
fear that I may start to repeat myself boringly. Please stop me , if this
is the case, and I`ll shut up for a while.
>Birdlist 25 October, 2 hrs walk on Tromsoeya:
>Cormorant              Phalacrocorax c. carbo
>Mallard                Anas platyrhynchos
>Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra
>Oldsquaw               Clangula hyemalis
>Common Eider           Somateria mollissima
>Herring gull           Larus argentatus
>Great Black-b. Gull    L.  marinus
>Magpie         Pica pica
>Hooded Crow            Corvus corone cornix
>Starling               Sturnus vulgaris
>Great Tit              Parus major
>Willow tit             P.   montanus
>House Sparrow  Passer domesticus
>Bullfinch              Pyrrhula pyrrhula
>                                               Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
>                                               9037 Tromsoe, Norway
>                                      , 26-10-1997

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