GLIMPSES OF A TRIP THROUGH NORWAY. 2. SØMNA-TJØTTA
Norway is a large country, but its roads are generally excellent, and on
the same day we left far inland Snåsa we arrived at the coastal peninsula
of Sømna, at ca 65*N, far south in Nordland province. The weather is
invariably wet and chilly, so we decide to splurge and hire a largish and
comfortable cabin in Bjørnvika, with a wonderful view on an altogether
different landscape of the characteristic skerries and rocks of this coast.
Behind the cabin is a hard rounded granite hill, overgrown with heather and
birch and willow scrub, with small groups of aspen mixed in (our cabin is
called Ospeli= aspen hill); these are amazingly still almost bare in mid
June. In front a large mowed lawn, where Fieldfares and Starlings collect
food for their young. They are uncommonly jittery and all fly up at the
least movement; this must be a fairly new camping. Cuckoos keep time also
here, this is a very common bird everywhere in Norway (with pipits as maybe
the most common host)and bnot at all dependent on the presence of woods.
In the afternoon we walk along the coastal dirt road. Sømna is mainly
agricultural and has i.a. the largest milk factory in northern Norway, so
one sees cows and sheep everywhere. (And Yellowhammers are common still,
here often mixing freely with Reed Buntings in adjacent territories). The
mostly gently sloping coast has sandy and muddy inlets, alternating with
rocky outsprings and skerries, and any number of fjords, sounds and inlets.
Coastal birds are nevertheless much less common here than I had expected,
and I am astonished not to have seen a single tern or eider after 2 days.
As it is, gulls and oystercatchers absolutely dominate the scene, with Grey
Herons regular and Cormorants on the skerries and stakes. At Bjørnvika,
where many mostly German tourists come to fish, there are gangs of Herring
and Great Black-backed gulls hanging around, always alert to the off-chance
that somebody starts gutting fish. As soon as that happens, a chain
reaction sets in and all the large gulls of the area concentrate very
quickly indeed. Common Gulls are spread widely, also in the fields, and are
much less scavengers here, while a few Black-headed Gulls occur here and
there in the most muddy inlets. As always in Norway, Hooded Crows forage a
lot in the intertidal and there is a pair of Oystercatchers every 50 m or so.
Another bird that clearly thrives here, is the Rock Pipit, that is almost
never out of earshot--a good chance to compare both the birds themselves
(larger, darker, 'fuzzier') and their song with that of the meadow Pipits
of nearby fields. Wheatears also find optimal conditions on the bouldery
shore and hillsides, and several times I suspect Twites too, but they
always 'duck' in time.
The birch and willow copses hold many Chiffchaffs, Redpolls, and Willow
Warblers and fewer Robins, Dunnocks, Bramblings and Blackcaps. And a lot of
thrushes: Fieldfares everywhere and sounding like double their number,
exuberant Redwings (with a most characteristic local dialect), and
melodious Blackbirds on the lower hillsides, while the more simple whistles
of the Ring Ouzels sound from the higher slopes, where also Ravens croak.
(Four days later, on Dønna, we got a wonderful opportunity to watch Ring
Ouzels, usually so shy, at leisure.)
During a stroll along the track later on I thought that I finally had
tracked down my Twites, when I spotted two small birds in the richly
flowering dandelions along the track. But to my great surprise they turn
out to be Siskins, perfectly at ease far from any wood. They are so light
that they can land on the dandelions without bending them. They then
proceed to break open the faded flowerheads, snip off and discard the fluff
and feed on the seeds, clearly not for the first time, as they seem to know
exactly how best to do this..
The next two days we spent at Tjøtta (wonderful these Norwegian names; I
hope they are not mangled in your PC's), some 60km and two ferries further
north on the coast---the coastal route that we take is very scenic indeed,
but it contains many ferries and is therefore not for the impatient or the
pennyless! These 60 km are enough for the local Redwings to have developed
a totally different song-dialect, a most peculiar long descending trill,
that at first stumped me completely.
Also here our cabin overlooks the intertdal, but still I see neither terns
nor eiders! We do add a pair of Shelducks to our slowly growing list,
though, and more surprisingly, also a loose flock of some ten Velvet
Scoters, that are somewhat half-heartedly diving for food close to shore.
Also, we have now really in earnest arrived in sea eagle land, and today we
spot at least 4 White-tailed Sea Eagles, a premonition of the days to come,
when we'll finally call them 'just another eagle'!
The island of Tjøtta is of great historic significance in N.Norway and has
been since immemorial times. A kultursti (= culture path) leads us to i.a.
grave mounds from Iron and Bronze ages, we find standing stones from the
Viking period, and the local king of Tjøtta is well known friom the
Norwegian sagas; also these days we find and admire several stone churches
from the 12th-13th century.
After a while we follow a nature path, however, and this leads us through a
very luxuriant patch of forest, with a rich undergrowth of anemones, the
quaint Paris quadrifolia and the elegant Polygonatum verticillatum, all in
uncommonly large numbers. The forest here rings with the strange trills of
the local Redwings, the protests of the Fieldfares and the hasty muttering
of the Redpolls, while Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Chaffinch,
Robin, Blackbird and single Tree Pipits and Winter Wrens all add to a
memorable bird chorus. One virtuoso voice stands out, though, rich,
exuberant, sharp at the edges; this must be, and indeed turns out to be, an
Icterine Warbler, here near its northernmost occurrence. A Wood Pigeon
flies up with heavy wing claps, a Merlin barrels through, and where we have
parked the car, we hear the first of many Sedge Warblers of the trip, once
more an exuberant voice, but this with more enthousiasm than real talent.
Still chilly and windy, but the weather has definitely improved a little;
almost no rain today!
Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway
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