last sun of the year at 70*N

Subject: last sun of the year at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2000 13:34:43 +0100


        My home town of Tromsø, at 69*50'N in northern Norway, has had an
amazingly beautiful, calm, and dry autumn, while large parts of western
Europe (worst in England) and also southern Norway have suffered from one
rainstorm after another, with disastrous floodings as a result. Up here,
precipitation has been less than one third of the normal the last months,
and even now , 19 November, there is still no snow on the ground. Today
once more the skies are clear light blue, and the easterly winds very weak,
at temperatures a few degrees below freezing. Roads and lawns are white
with heavy hoar-frost, and in the Folkeparken the tall clumps of ferns have
turned a dull dark rusty brown, once more islands on the frosty white
forest floor.

        But autumn is inexoribly turning into winter, in spite of the wonderful
weather, and every day is about ten minutes shorter than the day before.
Today the sun peeped over the southern horizon, above the Balsfjord for
half an hour or so, and in a few days "Mørketiden", the Dark Period, will
have arrived, and it will be two months, in late January, before we again
can see the sun (otherwise than in the form of spectacular cloudscapes in
the southern skies, illuminated by the sun in all kinds of coopery sheens).
Twilight now arrives as early as 1 pm, and the last days I have been unable
to walk home through the forest at 4 30 or so, as it was completely
impossible to see the path. (Usually by this time of the autumn we have
snow on the ground, and this reflects so much light, that one can walk
alost everywhere with care, if you don't mind a few tumbles)

        In the morning there is enough twilight still to walk through the birch
forest and fir plantations of Folkeparken, and it is a pleasant walk
always, although there are few birds around and the birchwood is mostly
silent. Magpies and Hooded Crows I see and hear every day, and most days a
few gruff cries reveal the presence of Greaat Black-backed Gulls overhead,
but otherwise I must hope for a small flock of titmouse (The Long-tailed
Tits seem to have disappeared again, after the large invasion earlier this
autumn), often with accompanying Goldcrests---many of those around this year.
         Yesterday I watched such a flock in the firs, and suddenly realized 
I heard only the tits and not the Goldcrests at all! Ominous that, as much
of my birding consists of finding birds that I have heard first. But the
very high-pitched contact calls of the Goldcrests are clearly, and sadly,
no longer audible to me. Sic transit!
        Fortunately the Goldcrests are almost oblivious to the presence of a 
elderly gent with field-glasses, so it is still easy enough to admire this
King of the Birds: in Norwegian this species, and not the Winter Wren as in
Holland, is the Fuglekonge, and in defense of this choice the people point
to it's still wearing the crown he earned when he hid himself among the
feathers of the Golden Eagle, and so cheated himself to first prize in the
high-flying competition that should decide who was to be the king of the
birds. Personally I think the Winter Wren has the better personality for
this honour, but who am I to judge; the Americans also call the Regulus (=
Little King) species Kinglets.

        My feeder attracts the same species as there are on the Folkeparken, not
surprisingly as this is very close; but there are more Greenfinches in
suburbia, and the quiet Bullfinches are easier to watch. In addition a
single Feral Pigeon has discovered the bonanza of sun-flower seeds and
returns day after day.

        A long walk along the shores of our sound yesterday yielded nothing
new,  only all the usual and welcome suspects of winter birding here; the
first King Eiders had now arrived, though. About half way to the airport,
Hooded Crows gathered on the shore from all points of the compass, in pairs
as usual for these monogamous and long-lived resident birds. When there
were some 60 birds present, they all flew up in a loose flock, across the >
1 mile broad sound to the island of Kvaløya. It looked for all the world
like a well-arranged Saturday outing: "let's meet at 1 pm near the shore at
the 'Ecological area' , and then all fly to Kvaløya to....."  I have not
enough knowledge or fantasy to fill in the last part. They were too quiet
for a sports-fan crowd, and it seems too early for the preparations for a
common overnight roosting spot. I'll be most grateful for suggestions,
serious or otherwise.

        On the way back home I suddenly heard 'chakking ', and four late
Fieldfares burst out of a garden, where they must have found some berries.
As the Mountain Ash Sorbus crop was dismal here this year, most of the
thrushes left more than a month ago.

        Few birds also this time, but that is the way it is here in winter, and
seasonal descriptions without autumn anbd winter would give a most
incomplete picture. Happy birding, all you who now have the birds around you!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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