two May summer days in Tromsø

Subject: two May summer days in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 12:16:18 +0200

                        TWO MAY SUMMER DAYS IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY (69*50'N)

Amazing weather up here these days, and we will no doubt get the warmest
May (on average) ever in Tromsø. Every day this last week the maximum
temperature has crept ove 20*C. Now that may not strike many of you as
particularly hot, and for some it may even feel chilly, but for us it  is a
special wonder and privilege to have these cloudless and even almost
wind-less summer days  for many days in a row, while winter is still so
recent that there are  a few patches of snow left in shady gullies along
the roads. All the streamlets and waterfalls are bigger than normal, and
even the hillsides higher up rapidly lose their even whiteness and now show
a dappled pattern of snow fields and bare rock.

All our trees are now in leaf in the lowlands, and spring seems to be
moving into summer at an almost frightening speed. I went back yesterday
and walked the same route on the outer island of Hillesøy that I walked
with Marit's friend Michael last Sunday, only four days earlier. Now
hundreds of 'flowers' of the Dwarf Cornel Cornus suecica were out, where
there were none last Sunday; and the Globe Flowers will follow suit in a
day or two, if this weather continues. In Folkeparken closer to home
yesterday the wonderfully sprightly yellow violets of spring, Viola
biflora, sparkled suddenly at at least ten different localities, again
where there were none two days before. I also saw the first two flowers of
Trientalis, another typical and very numerous summer plant up here.

In the many Starling boxes along the  coastal roads the young can already
be heard clamouring; I know it must sound strange for many of you to have
Starling boxes out, but these birds are popular harbingers of spring up
here, while also their hardy 'singing in the rain' image appeals to the
locals. The first Mallard mothers with ducklings move out on their
dangerous pilgrimage to find safer ground, and yesterday somebody phoned
and told he had come across a brood 150m inside one of our many tunnels
underneath the island, and he had succeeded in herding them all the way out

Finally, the park authorities in town have decided, for the first time
ever, to start mowing the municipal lawns before 1 June, and all the
potatoes have been planted record early, so yes, this is a special May up
here. The birds are less impressed by all this than the vegetation, though,
and most of them follow their routines and schedules  as if nothing had
happened. The terns e.g. are just now taking their nesting colonies in use,
and their piercing cries can be heard almost everywhere now, where last
week there were none.

I have grasped the opportunity to go out for two full days, one 400 km tour
to the inland and one shorter trip to my usual haunts on the coast. I have
already sent in the bird list for these two days, and am quite content with
almost 80 different birds in only two days, and 'without really trying' (I
looked at birds all the time, but had not laid out the route in order to
maximize the number of birds seen.) And no , I never saw the Indigo
Bunting, in fact I saw no rare birds at all. Most unexpected to me, and a
source of nostalgia, was the sweet song of a European Blackbird from  a
hillside at Andersdalen, the first time I have heard this southern bird
sing here (A few males winter here, often in gardens, and we do not know
where these come from). Several friends think they have heard singing
Blackbirds this year, so this may well become the next southern species to
expand northwards into Troms, following Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Blue
Tit and Jay.

I wish I could take you with me on these trips: our region is extremely
scenic and it is almost impossible to describe fjords, forests. mountains
and lakes in words. Now and then the weather was so quiet that the snowy
mountains mirrored in the fjord; but then a breeze would spring up and the
mirror image would first change into some sort of super market stripe code,
and then disappear altogether. But in the evening of the first day I
picnicked on the banks of the large Rostavatn in the inland, and once more
looked out over a glassy surface, with the massive blocky mountains of the
inland---so different from the 'alps' of the coastal areas-- serenely
mirroring , and a pair of Goldeneyes displaying just in front of me. Still
closer was a trio of Common Sandpipers, where three was probably one too
many; they argued , sang, and squabbled all the time I sat there, but the
situation was still undecided when I had to leave---this is still 150 km
from home. It is not always so serene here; I had some problems coming
through, as the dirt road clearly had suffered heavily from avalanches
during winter, and later on , in Tamokdalen, the scars after the monster
avalanche of two winters ago, with a breadth of ca one mile, are still very
visible, even if the people have been very busy collecting all the fallen
birches for firewood.

Along the forested hillsides at Andersdalen the Willow Warblers dominate
the song chorus as they do virtually everywhere here (How lucky then that
they are such good, albeit a trifle melancholy, songsters!), but there are
also 4 different thrushes (It was here I heard the Blackbird), Pied
Flycatchers, Bramblings and Chaffinches both, Chiffchaffs and a late
Dunnock. Above as always the resident Ravens croaked and gave their aerial
exhibitions, and below the terns now had added their voices to the gulls
and oystercatchers; a lone Sea Eagle sat in the intertidal, looking
dejected as they often do; this was the only raptor I noted these days, but
this may have much to do with my botanical interest---I usually have 'my
eyes on the ground, and my ears on the birds'.

Two Grey Herons flew past---they have become 'dailydays' nowadays; I can
remember the days that seeing one was a minor sensation. Small groups of
Scoters still hang around, and this quiet day I also regularly spotted some
of the small resident popualtaion of harbour porpoises Phocaena in the

At Sagvatnet all ice has now disappeared, and the Horned Grebes sat on
their floating nest close to shore, while several pairs of ducks still were
displaying: Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers (but no
Long-tailed Ducks anymore). Here I heard the first of the many singing
Bluethroats of these two days---this 'bird of a thousand voices, as the
Saami call them---is a wonderful songster as well as mimic, and in addition
it looks almost tropical in all its red and blue splendour. It is my
favourite smaller bird on the homefront. And fortunately it is still a
common bird, although they have disappeared from my side of the island of
Tromsøya. Also here Common Sandpipers and Redshanks were clamouring, but a
new shorebird song turned out to belong to the first Greenshank of the
year, larger and lankier than the ubiquitous Redshanks. Also the Reed
Buntings are back, and contribute their somewhat halting short song phrase,
that always sounds as if 'it may become better next week'.

Kirkesdalen is a classical glacial valley, with a flat bottom with a now
swollen river  and steep sides; some places the sun---and thei is the
midnight sun, remember-- disappeared already before 6 pm. Unexpected then
that this is the only place where I found the Globe Flowers Trollius
already in flower. A Song Thrush held a solo concerto of great virtuosity,
while Ring Ouzels whistled from the hillsides, and the Dippers kept
themselves well hidden---you need a passenger-spotter to find these, when
the narrow  road winds along the river, at least when you are 65..

The second day was a coastal day, and I visited mostly the areas that I
described in my last contribution. you can see, there are quite some
differences between the bird fauna of the coastal areas and the inland,
although of course I also missed many species inadvertently at one or the
other locality. But I  live in a wonderfully beautiful part of the world
(Not being a native Norwegian, I may be permitted to boast with the zeal of
the newly converted), and I wish you could come and see it. There may not
be all that many birds here, compared to more southern areas, but there are
many great birds!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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