spring at 70*N

Subject: spring at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 27 May 2002 14:27:37 +0200


Now all the signs agree: spring (or maybe even summer) has finally come
also to my hometown of Tromsø, at 69*50' in northern Norway. The sun does
not set anymore at night, and won't set in fact for sixty nights in a row,
and this week we have 'Russian weather' to boot: i.e. southeasterly
breezes, sun 24 hrs a day, and  not too much winds. The temperatures are
still not impressive by most standards, I know, but for us 15-17*C is
wonderfully warm, and it feels much warmer in the sun anyway. All the
fields around the farms are full of newborn lambs; later on they will be
transported up into the hills for the summer.

The birch trees are finally leafing, and the forest is now green, with all
the myriads of different greens of spring. I have amused myself the last
weeks by looking at the different ways the plants of the forest floor in
Folkeparken sprout: the leaves of Lady's Mantles Alchemilla and Cranesbills
Geranium unfold like an unclenching fist,  the Blue Sow-thistles Cicerbita
come up in serried ranks of tender shoots like a vegetable garden (and they
can in fact be used a s a salad, when very young), and the Herb of Paris,
Paris quadrifolia (called firblad= fourleaf in Norwegian) grows up like a
green stick, which then unfolds its lily leaves like a upside down
umbrella. The many ferns unroll their bishop staffs visibly day for day,
and now also every days there are new flowers out: the white Anemone last
week, and yesterday suddenly and many places the white stars of the Oxalis.

Spring, when first exploding, rushes along here at speed. The first
Fieldfares have already small young in the nest, and scold  instead of
singing (Not that it sounds all that much different), and altogether the
bird chorus in Folkeparken now is dominated by different voices than 1-2
weeks ago. Now the melancholy falling cadences of the Willow Warblers and
the cheery upbeat statements of the Pied Flycatchers are everywhere, with
the tired rasps of the Bramblings in the background, while species such as
Dunnock, Robin, Great and Willow tits, Fieldfare and Song Thrush are
largely silent, and the Redwings now mainly sing at night. Greenfinches are
still present in numbers, and the Chiffchaffs also still have not given up,
but Bullfinches are inconspicuous as always in summer.

On the outer coast, at Sommarøy, most of the nesting birds are back,
although I did not see the Parasitic Jaegers there as yet (There were
plenty of them on the cloudberry marshes at nearby Brensholmen). In the
peaty areas here the Cloudberry is in flower, and many places the pink
stars of  Moss Campion Silene acaulis and Loiseleuria L. procumbens
twinkle. Greylag Geese and Whimbrels nest here, together with the
ubiquitous Mew Gulls , Oystercatchers and Meadow Pipits, and along the
shore one can here and there hear the (to be honest, rather forgettable)
song phrases of the Rock Pipits and see the dapper Black Guillemots, so
hard to show to visitors , as they dive all the time and move so quickly.
On distant skerries Cormorants and Shags sit like bowling pins, and
everywhere you look there are Eider Ducks. No eagles today; they keep away
when they see I have a visitor! Near the sea the  'rock gardens' are
suddenly full of flowers: blue violets, yellow Cinquefoil Potentilla
crantzii, and white Saxifrages S. caespitosa. Marshy areas are yellow with
Caltha, and on the bare granite the Rose-roots Sedum roseum have somehow
found a footing and contribute still more yellow, definitely the colour os
spring up here.

Also the wetlands of Tisnes are yellow with Caltha and the grass now grows
so quickly that it gets harder and harder to see the ducks in the shallow
pools. Everywhere one hears the monotonous repetitive calls of mating Mew
Gulls (I never hear this particular call under any other circumstances),
the nesting Lapwings see off every bird that overflies the nesting area
(but I wonder if they recognize the neighbouring nesting gulls and leave
them alone; it almost looks like it), and the Redshanks add their
nervousness to the scene both visually and orally. There seem to be fewer
Ruffs here than a few years ago, and they unfortunately , but
understandably, have moved their lek from near the road to at the other end
of the field---- there are maybe 10 colourful males, and they display
somewhat half-heartedly, even in this wonderful weather. A small knot of
Red Knots rests on some offshore rocks, and as always cormorants occupy the
stakes, put out in the dangerous rapids just offshore. Strangely, the local
tern colony is still empty, although the Arctic terns have arrived
elsewhere in the area; terns are notoriously fickle and shift around their
colonies year after year. A few swallows add toi the atmosphere of summer.

The last area I visited , a few days ago, are the wetlands of Rakfjord, on
the other side of Tromsø (NW, while Tisnes is SW), now my favourite place
for taking visitors. It is a marshy area (protected in the nesting season)
with several large and smaller tarns close to the salty Kvalsund, and it
presents a great diversity of habitats on a small area, although the rocks
are hard and acid and the vegetation therefore much less diverse and
luxuriant than i.e. on the island here. But the area 'sounds like paradise'
for a birder, and would undoubtedly be the site of choice to bring a blind
birder: Whimbrels trill everywhere, Golden Plovers add their melancholy
calls and song, Redshanks whistle and alarm, Snipes whinny, and the
unmistakable yodeling voice of the Parasitic Jaeger dominates over the
backdrop of the incessant song phrases of Meadow Pipit and Northern
Wheatear. There is much to see here as well: always 4-5 different duck
species, often in full display (and the mergansers are well worth watching
for a while, when the're at it), a Black-throated Loon on its nest, and a
pair of majestic Whooper Swans in the next tarn, to which they return year
after year.

The unseasonally wonderful weather is to continue tomorrow, and I plan an
outing to the inland (After 15 May we work an hour less per day until 15
september, so that after work we have an entire day of daylight left). My
excuse will be the Indigo Bunting, which  moist unexpectedly turned up at a
feeding place near here (by our standards, it is still 200 km away), and
which is a first for Norway (Although I suspect not a genuinely wild bird).
I won't find it, of course--it is a needle in a haystack; but there will be
other birds, more lambs in the fields, and sun and summer to enjoy!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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