morning choruses in N.Norway and Holland

Subject: morning choruses in N.Norway and Holland
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 03 Jun 2001 11:54:42 +0200


Whitsunday morning 3 June in Tromsø, N.Norway (70*N). Unfortunately the
optimistic weather forecasts did not materialize this time either, and
today is again grey, drizzly and cool (+7*C). Still, when I look out of my
office window (much work still to be finished before my summer holidays,
driving my 20 yrs old car to W.Norway, and then back to Tromsø with Riet),
I can for the first time this spring see and truly say that the  birch
forest is green! This is still mainly because of the Mountain Ash (Rowan,
Sorbus aucuparia) that leafs a week before the birches and is a pretty
common small tree in our Folkeparken. But today, for the first time, also a
few of the birches have leaved, and the rest will follow in a day or two:
with 24 hrs of daylight and potential sunlight each day, things grow very
quickly here, once they get started. Also in the undergrowth spring springs
fast now, even though there still are no flowers to be seen there (My
garden is full of pale yellow Siberian Primula and the imported blue
anemones also flower); but there is a lot of green. Alchemilla, Equisetum,
Geranium, the unfurling umbrella's of Paris quadrifolia, and the  unrolling
bishop's staffs of the large ferns, that are so characteristic a part of
the undergrowth of the birch forest here.

There is also a sizeable birch chorus, although one has to walk a bit to
collect all the members. The sweetest voices belong to the ubiquitous
Willow Warblers, the most numerous bird of Norway, while Bramblings and
Greenfinches deliver the steady background rasping, that one tends to
overhear at first. The two voices are quite similar, but the Greenfinch is
sharper and almost somewhat peeved in tone, while the Bramblings sound more
'tired and resigned' (I know that such similes only work for one self and a
few others, while they are just funny for most listeners, but I more or
less 'live by' these associations, so they will shine through time and again).

Redwings sing all day--in the late evening they are often the dominant
voice--; one can understand why Turdus musicus was one of the earlier
scientific names of this bird, especially as it was coined by a Swede, who
probably mainly had the Fieldfares for comparison---nobody would dream of
calling those 'musicus'. Still, their boisterous and always aggressive
presence adds a lot to the spring atmosphere of the Folkeparken, as do the
many Pied Flycatchers (There are nest boxes hung up here, so extra many of
those) with their simple but positive and optimistic song strophes and
their unafraid black-and-white presence (also in many gardens). The Great
Tits also use the nest boxes, while the Willow Tits prefer to excavate
their own nest hollows; but both species are so busy with nests and young
already, that they are virtually silent now; nor have I heard Chaffinch or
Dunnock lately, and the Chiffchaffs only occasionally. The Siskins that
invaded our coastal area in some numbers last month, have apparently mostly
left us again (as have the Long-tailed Tits that were so common a year
ago), but the European Robins have clearly come to stay, and every morning
I hear their crystal flutes from the spruce plantations. Yesterday I also
saw that other newcomer, the Wood Pigeon, there, and also the Redpolls have
finally come back---as in many, but not all, earlier years , they were
scarce here in early spring.
        One voice I have not yet mentioned, although it is maybe the first one
everybody hears in the morning and the last one at night. That is the
Common Gull, which here in our town really IS the most common gull---every
garden has its own pair, although apparently not all of these actually
nests and raise a brood of young. They are very loud birds and they annoy
many people, but for me they are the voice of Tromsø nature, and I would
not like to miss them for the world!  A very unexpected chorus member flew
over my garden yesterday evening: a Golden Plover in full display
song----weird, as they do not nest nearby at all. Probably another case of
bubbling hormones and force majeur!

        I did miss the shrieking gulls last week, though, as I spent one week in
Holland and experienced full spring, sun and +25*C; and real morning
choruses, which I could enjoy lying in bed or lolling in a garden chair
(Although we had to walk for five minutes in order to enjoy the
Nightingale, that sings in a clump of trees along the small river Kromme
Rijn in Odijk. Close to an major highway, in fact, but fortunately the
Nightingale has a very loud voice, in addition to being brilliantly musical).
         In Riet's garden the Chaffinches steal the show during the day, and the
European Blackbirds in the evenings, but many other voices mix in: a Song
Thrush shouts from a few gardens away (It comes now and then to catch worms
on Riet's small lawn), the Winter Wren that has built a male nest in  a
bunch of dried flowers on the wall of the garden shed breaks out in song
every so often, and here also the Dunnocks still add their jingle now and
again, while Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves,  Magpies and Jackdaws provide
the basso continuo. Goldfinches and the odd Linnet gossip in the trees
overhead, and yes, there are also some House Sparrows, although never too
obtrusive, and many Starlings-- in the air, they concentrate on the larger
grassy areas. In the nest box near the kitchen door a pair of Great Tits
tirelessly provide food for their begging chicks, and the last days of my
stay the young fledged. A few other voices come in occasionally: a
Chiffchaff, a Blackcap, a Robin, and once or twice even a Lesser Whitethroat.
        There are many gulls in Odijk too, mostly Black-headed Gulls now in
spring, but they are not garden birds here.

        For three days around Ascension Day we again borrowed the house of 
brother in our native village Krabbendijke in Zeeland in the SW of the
Netherlands (Odijk is almost dead centre, close to Utrecht). This house is
surrounded by orchards; the fruit trees themselves are low these days, but
the orchards are surrounded by shade hedges, and on the small dike opposite
to the house there is an old-fashioned thick hedge with Ash and Hawthorn,
such as there were so many in my youth, but much fewer now. In Danker's
garden there are also nest boxes, and here both Great and Blue Tits were
busy provisioning. Winter Wrens and Dunnocks were much to the fore in the
garden chorus here, while there were fewer Chaffinches just there. In the
evenings also here Blackbirds and Song Thrushes took over the solo roles,
and many of the accompanying voices were the same: Greenfinches in the
coniferous garden bushes, Chiffchaffs, House Sparrows, Starlings, Collared
and StockDoves and Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws and Magpies. A pair of Spotted
Flycatchers nested also this year, and also just as last year, the laughter
of the Green Woodpecker floated down from the other end of the orchard now
and then, Reed Warblers croaked in the overgrown ditches and Yellow
Wagtails and partridges were in the arable land. In Krabbendijke we lived
close to the shore, and I saw as many as five gull species from the garden
(Herring, Common, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed, Mediterranean), but
all just flying overhead.

        The thick hedge of the Monnikendijk proved to be a haven for song birds:
As usual in hawthorn bushes, Common Whitethroats were common, and Willow
Warblers, Chiffchaffs and winter wrens present, but in addition there were
quite a number of Icterine Warblers (Spotvogels= mocking birds in Dutch,
because of their good and frequent mimicry) with their always enthousiastic
and somewhat breathless song, 'sharp on the edges', and in addition several
Marsh Warblers, which in some cases---and here was one of them--- are even
better mimics: this one did Jackdaws, Blackbirds, Oystercatchers etc
masterfully, and through all of this also skilfully managed to keep almost
completely out of sight, although I , and later Riet's son Iman, tried our
best to clinch its identification by sight observations; we only caught
glimpses, enough to see that this was not a yellow bird, like the
spotvogels, but a grey and white one.

        More birds in Holland, and also a greater diversity of birds. But spring
in Tromsø also has qualities all of its own!!

                                                                        Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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