Finnmark lakes and rivers 1

Subject: Finnmark lakes and rivers 1
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002 15:08:38 +0200


Two weeks ago I had the chance to take part in a 'Barents area ornithology
conference', organized by the Norwegian Ornithological Society in Svanhovd
conference centre in the Pasvik valley, the narrow 'appendix' in
northeasternmost Norway extending south between Finland and Russia. I have
earlier reported on one of the subjects of the conference, the plight of
the Lesser White-fronted Goose; other subjects were seabirds, Golden Eagles
and their conflict with reindeer husbandry, and the Broad-billed Sandpiper,
a specialty of  quaking marshes in northern  Scandinavia.

As I also told you earlier, I think, we had been blessed for several weeks
in northern Norway with wonderful summer weather and that still continued
during the week of the conference (meanwhile temperatures are back to 11*C,
with drizzly and cool weather), and I therefore decided, also to test out
my 22 years old Saab, to drive the ca 1000km to Pasvik from Tromsø, and use
3 days on the trip, stopping at a few selected places to renew my
acquaintance with the special birds of the area. Such a whistle-stop tour
of course only scratches the surface, and also necessarily confines itself
to just a few places and a few biotopes, and this time I concentrated
mostly on freshwater habitats; personally I am a person who prefers the
more open type of landscapes.

But that has created an unexpected problem , now that I want to tell you
about my impressions. The English language is very rich in words, and there
is a long list of terms to choose from when one wants to describe
particular types of freshwater habitats: lakes, lochs, fens, tarns, pools,
ponds etc etc. I  have a certain feeling for the meaning of some of these
terms, but that is nevertheless clearly insufficient to choose the right
term every time. (In addition I have the strong impression that there is
considerable regional and maybe also individual variation in the use of
many of these terms by English-speaking colleagues). What do I call the
shallow, rather food-rich Nedrevatn, surrounded by pine forest? Or the
quite large, low-lying Sotkajärvi, surrounded by marsh-land? Or the quiet
river-bights in the heavily regulated Pasvik river, the border river with
Russia? I fear that my command of the English language is not up to this
particular challenge.

The whole week was, as I said, summery, with sun for 24 hrs a day, temp. of
around 20-25*C, full of flowers along the roads (with the dandelions having
taken over from the coltsfoot, and in the inner part of Finnmark everywhere
the violet splashes of the local milk-vetch (locoweed, Astragalus). The
Mountain-Ash ( Sorbus aucuparia) is in full flower in the woods, as are the
Cloudberries in the marshes, and the aromatic Ledum palustre in the eastern
areas. In the easternmost parts of the trip--from the Tana river east--
spring is still younger, and the birches  (and also the Dwarf Birch Betula
nana) still have the freshness of new leaves.Lots of insects, but as a
particular blessing, rare here, few biting mosquitoes and midges as yet.

I started out from Tromsø, following the new road along and often far above
the Balsfjord, with its Eider Ducks, Common Gulls, Arctic Terns and
Oystercatchers. The first stop, on the way to the Finnish border at
Kilpisjärvi (-järvi is the Finnish word for lake, in Saami it is -javvre)
is the above mentioned small lake at Nedrevatn, a place where I always
stop. It is a busy place always: a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls
(not common in coastal Troms) with as a great surprise two
black-underwinged and black-hooded Little Gulls among them, many nesting
Horned (Slavonian) Grebes, and many shorebirds: Redshanks, Greenshank,
Ruffs. Reed Buntings stutter along the shore, and the Dark-headed Nordic
Yellow Wagtails scold from the pine tops, while Sand Martins (Bank
Swallows) rattle overhead. The local pair of Whooper Swans sails along
unconcerned, and other waterfowl here are as always Tufted Ducks (a
somewhat 'weedy' duck species, that gets steadily more common everywhere
around here) , Teal, Wigeon and a few Mallards.

The pass into Finland is at 600 m, and the very large lake Kilpisjärvi is
still partially ice-covered (all the ice gone  5 days later on my return),
with Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes in the ice free parts, and
Common Sandpipers displaying along the shores. I hurtle through the boggy
Finnish landscape---an endless repeat of forest, marsh and lake, with
relatively few signs of habitation--, and do not stop before another 'fixed
point', the bird tower (sadly overlooked by many passers-by, as there is
only a small Finnish sign along the road) of the nature reserve Sotkajärvi
in Enontekiö. This is a large low-lying lake surrounded on all sides by
boggy marshes, and I have never had the opportunity to do more than climb
the stylish (Finnish design is famous) wooden bird tower (where many
Finnish birders write down their observations in the book provided,
unfortunately---though logically---using the Finnish names only), and walk
a small path some km to one side, which on an earlier occasion I have found
leads to an area where Smews are commonly seen (Also now seven Smews.,
among them five gleaming white males, were displaying here, and smew
display is a most lively affair! )The view from the tower itself is
impressive, but one almost needs a telescope for full rewards. The Whooper
Swans are of course easily recognized, and also here Tufted Ducks there are
galore. But there are also various other ducks, Wood sandpipers are
displaying along the shore, and I hear the first of the many hundreds of
singing Bluethroats of this week (No problem, I never tire of Bluethroats,
the bird of a thousand voices). Also the ever-enthousiastic Sedge Warbler
sings and 'air-dances' it self on my year list here.

I continue into Kautokeino, the 'capital of the Saami' where I stay
overnight and listen to the Redwings, Bluethroats and Willow warblers. The
next morning , some 20 km north of Kautokeino (now officially reverted to
its more correct Saami name of Guovdageaidnu, which I am sorry to say find
so much more complicated to get right, that I'll chicken out and continue
to write Karasjok, Kautokeino and Tana for Kárásjohka, Guovdageaidnu and
Deatnu), I have another 'fixed stop'. The reason that I choose this
particula small complex of bog-surrounded small ponds in the sandy 'vidda'
rather than others is probably just that I once here heard the mesmerizing
'faraway galloping horse' display of the Jack Snipe, and hope for a repeat.
Not this time either; in fact the area is a bit too cultivated for Jack
Snipe and Broad-billed Sandpipers, which prefer larger areas of treacherous
'black bog'. Instead, also as always the dainty Phalaropes trill and
pirouette here, various interesting ducks join the once more dominant
Tufted Duck (a male Smew is uncommon for this part of Finnmark), and Wood
Sandpipers and Bluethroats supply the right sound decor. I walk around the
pond complex, but the paths stay mostly on the sandy, sadly overgrazed
vidda, where Redwings, Bramblings and Willow Warblers are the main
songsters, and a fat Snow Hare ambles across the path in front of me. (The
fact that all week the Woillow Grouse eluded me, will at once show to the
locals that I have done very little cross-country walking this week).

Between Kautokeino and Karasjok the road goes across the 'vidda', the high
plains of inner Finnmark, full of marshes and various types of freshwater
bodies (lakes, tarns, ponds, pools??). In one very shallow pool, probably
caused by the digging of peat, a beautiful Long-tailed Skua (Jaeger) was
bathing, stealing the entire show from the gulls , terns, phalaropes, Wood
Sandpipers, and (once again) Tufted Ducks around. In a bit larger lake
along the road I thought for a moment that people had put out a slalom
course for paddlers or something like it. But a closer look revealed no
less than 17 Whooper Swans, all eagerly feeding by up-ending, so that their
rear ends were the only parts visible!

Time flies when one has a good time, and soon I had to half close my eyes,
and drive on, neglecting the birds on the mighty Tana river, which the road
follows for some 180 km. Common Mergansers (laksand=salmon duck in
Norwegian) are common here; the name is a bit unfortunate, as this is a
very famous salmon river, and the birds are accused of feeding mainly on
salmon smolt---not true, by the way,as we have found out during a study
some years ago; while the name in reality stems from the salmon colour of
the male ducks in summer. I stopped for the night in Tana Bru, and during a
stroll in the late evening had the great good fortune of surprising a
Gyrfalcon sitting on top of the bridge itself!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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