birding-aus from your antipodes

Subject: birding-aus from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 09 May 1999 18:09:28 +0200


Yesterday the snow-depth here in Tromsø was officially down to zero (or to
be correct: "patches of snow")--that is quite early although the dates of
last snow have varied from late April to 14 June in the last 50 years. In
my garden the snow-cover is ca 70%, but then my garden is always late.In
lee of the house, the Blue Anemone, a well-known harbinger of spring
further south in Norway, but not occurring in the wild here north, has
large buds, and the Siberian Primula are not far behind.  Along the road
the "Tromsø palms", a non-indigenous but extremely common giant Hogweed
Heracleum, has just started to come out, looking red with cold. This plant
is in a hurry, as it grows to 3-4 m height when flowering, and it will
flower 2 months from now; so you can almost see these "palms" grow!
But out in the field there are very few botanical signs of spring as yet;
the fields surface from the snow cover brown and somewhat unlovely, and it
will still take a few weeks before the fresh green of 1999 will dominate.
That is, apart from the Coltsfeet Tussilago; they now flower everywhere
along the roads, often in large numbers, and give a most welcome feeling of
spring. And Friday night I finally found the first flowers on the Purple
Saxifrage at Tisnes.For me that is really one of the most important signs
of spring, in spite of the fact that the colour is "wrong" for an early
spring flower---they should IMO be yellow or white, not reddish-violet and
looking as if they have been there for weeks from the very start!

I do not understand why this year is late, both what concerns the
Saxifrage, and also many migrant birds. Of course we have had cool weather
the last weeks, with temperatures around freezing, and winds from the north
or east, but it has not been really cold, and there is less snow than most
                 But Tisnes on Friday night was a chilly experience and many of 
shorebirds still had not arrived, nor had the more exclusive ducks. The
latter is unsure, as some kids were playing in the best wetland, and they
may have chased the ducks. They gave me at least the chance to see that the
Snipe were back, as they kicked up quite a few of them. The other newcomers
on Friday were a small flock of Golden Plovers, sitting crouched, silent
and shivering (this latter of course my fantasy) in the stony intertidal.
The shore was chock full of Fieldfares, rummaging through the wrack: so
that is why there were no Fieldfares in my Folkeparken, even though they
arrived a week ago! The Redwings, on the other hand (thrushes, not
blackbirds!!) did not lose time on the shore, and the first ones were
singing in Folkeparken last weekend.

Today I drove virtually the same Balsfjorden trip as last week, and of
course saw mainly the same birds, 40 species this time. The ice on the
Ramfjord now looks pretty waterlogged, and shows many cracks, especially
along the shores. I think the next strong easterly will blow it all out the
                 The alder forest walk in Andersdalen was no longer silent, as 
also here
the Redwings had arrived in their territories and started singing. And here
I also discovered a flock of Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla,
apparently just arrived, as they were still in a flock and not yet singing.
Instead they announced themselves by their winter call, a hoarse "keeep"
(The Dutch name for this bird, only there in winter, is Keep, another
example of all the onomatopeic Dutch bird names). Later on I found another
small flock.

Near the "bottom" of the fjord I found another sure sign of spring, viz.
the first lambs of the year. And while I was admiring them, I suddenly saw
a "different little bird", that turned out to be the first warbler of the
year, as always the Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita. But this is I think
the first time I have seen the Chiffchaff before I heard its metronomic
song; this one was almost silent, a few "hueet's" was all I got out of him.
At the end of the day I wound up at Tisnes again (a magnet this, in
spring), but still there was not much news there. A single Whimbrel was the
first of the year, though.
On the way home I had to brake for a small flock of Reindeer; they come
down to the lowlands in spring, while the mountains are still mostly
snow-covered. they were in velvet now.

In a few days I shall go and meet the spring, during a two week trip to
Norfolk and Friesland. Will there be any interest in a report from those
areas, or are they all too well known?

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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