midsummer at 70*N

Subject: midsummer at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 05 Jul 2002 14:27:45 +0200

                        JUNE 2002, A MONTH WITH 394 SUN-HOURS IN TROMSØ, 

As we live at 70*N here in Tromsø, N.Norway, the whole month of June we can
theoretically enjoy the midnight sun, and there is thus a potential for
more sunny hours this month than in any other month of the year here, and
in any month in most other places in the world. But we also 'enjoy' an
Atlantic-type climate here, and that means that in practice we usually do
not see the sun all that often , while the average June temperature is
something like +9.7*C.

But 2002 has turned out to be special. I have already earlier described the
sunny and warm days of early June, when I drove to eastern Finnmark and the
Pasvik valley at the Russian border. After a rainy week in between the sun
returned with a vengeance,  although this time with north-easterly winds
and therefore less heat. But as the weather was mostly calm and sunny, one
hardly noticed that temperatures never surpassed 15*C. The sunny weather
has only ended today, and the statistics showed no less than 394 sun hours
for the month of June, just four less than the record June month of 1953.
The average temperature for June 2002 was 10.6*C, and therefore not
significantly higher than the 30-years normal. Also the amount of
precipitation, though low, was not exceptional.

It still is an special summer. When I look out my office window to the
surrounding ca 500 m high hills of Fløya and Bontuven (chalk hills, famous
for their rich vegetation) I can see only a few snow patches, which is
quite uncommon for the first days of July. And driving around in the
neighbourhood of Tromsø, the first harvest of hay has already taken place,
and the large white plastic hay-balls lie around everywhere, waiting for
storage for winter-use. Only five years ago everybody still put up the hay
on strings (hesjer) to dry, a much more pictoresque view than these white
plastic balls----but also ten times as much work! Otherwise all the
hundreds of different greens of early spring have now more or less melted
together in a uniform green colour, as beautiful as ever, nåbut without
that 'new freshness' of spring.

Road verges and unmowed fields are a riot of colour these days, as are the
coastal islands, usually lightly grazed by sheep. In Folkeparken, my usual
path to work, the violet carpet of Geranium-flowers has already lost much
of its intensity, but in the ditches the insectivorous Pinguicula still
persist, although now increasingly outnumbered by the beautiful white
flowers of the Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia palustris. Along the roads the
Tromsøpalms, the enormous alien Heracleum sp that has become the symbol of
Tromsø, now everywhere stretches its large white flower-dishes to the sky
(The plants may easily be 3-4 m high), and I have watched with some dismay
the first flowers of the late-summer dominant, the Firewood (dismay because
to me it signals that also this summer will end before long) already out.

In the fjord everywhere Eider females swim with smaller or larger flocks of
young, and wherever you walk along the shore, your presence is protested by
nervous shorebirds. Last week on coastal Hillesøy, where I walked with a
Japanese family, the easiest noticed protests were those of the Arctic
Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers) which first fly round miaowing, then play most
pityfully 'poor me broken wing', but if this does not help either, they
divebomb you with high speed and great accuracy. Even though in this case
they do not actually touch you, the performance is impressive enough, and 9
year old Mami could mime it for days afterwards ('Ssshwooooossjjjj!!!').
The Curlews kept to vocal protests, but of course with their bronze voices
and tremolos that too became quite impressive, even for these non-birders.
Later that day, at the wetlands of Tisnes, we stayed in the car, and after
the first commotion died down, could observe the youngsters of Curlew
(still straight-billed) , Redshank and Oystercatcher at close distance.

Yesterday evening at 9-10 pm I decided to enjoy the last of the sunny
period, and drove first to the airport and the coastal area there. Much has
been destroyed in the course of the years here, but quite a bit is left
too, and I walked once more in a constant chorus of alarming birds. The
Redshanks are the most nervous and highly strung of them all, flying around
constantly, landing on the telephone wires, tips of bushes and on the path,
and working themselves into a frenzy. As there were at least five pairs
here, it was quite a racket. The Oystercatchers, who have already larger
young, were now less frantic, and the Ringed Plovers were as always
low-voiced, though insistent. Very special is the rattle-fanfare of the
Turnstones (This seems to be some kind of all-purpose sound in the summer,
both song and alarm); to my surprise the dainty grey young did not sit
still, but clambered over the intertidal rocks in spite of their parents
alarm. There are various gulls here too, as well as Arctic terns;
fortunately the terns seem to consider the gulls as 'worse even than
people', so that we are safe from their otherwise often painful attacks.
The dominant small bird here is the Meadow Pipit, and they too circle
ceaselessly overhead and add their thin cries to the general racket. A
Sedge Warbler broke out in snatches of song every time I disturbed him.

Afterwards i drove out to the Kvalsund, the sound between the large islands
of Kvaløya and Ringvassøya, and walked a bit along the now protected
wetlands of Rakfjord. The Whooper Swan pair was not on territory, which
made me wonder whether they have bred successfully this summer. But the
Black-throated Loons floated contentedly in their little lake with one
largish young, and a Wigeon mother had even 8 already quite large ducklings
in tow. Here too Redshanks panicked, but in this area there is one
absolutely dominant protester, i.e. the Whimbrel. Everywhere one looks they
fly and walk around, and protest with their somewhat hoarse bi bi bi bi bi;
although not quite as frenetic as the Redshanks, they come close and allow
'portrait studies'. There are other shorebirds here too, Snipe, Ruffs,
Golden Plovers (on the hillsides); there are various ducks in the small
lakes, Common Gulls and again a pair of Arctic Skuas on the wetlands, and
Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Arctic terns on the shores of the sound, and
Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and even a few Twites. And I was most surprised to
hear a Cuckoo call repeatedly, pretty late in the season. Still, this
remains the area of the Whimbrels!

In Folkeparken this morning the bird song is now more episodic and less of
an orchestra. Still, a few voices have returned, probably after having
finished their first broods. I hear the Chiffchaff daily now again, I heard
a Great Tit this morning, and I noticed the tentative whistles of the
Bullfinches three mornings in a row now. Otherwise Willow Warbler,
Brambling, Greenfich and Pied Flycatcher are still the most regular
songsters, and in the evening the Redwing also can be heard now and then
still. Many young and still short-tailed Magpies blunder clumsily through
the undergrowth; I guess dogs and cats must take many, but there are always
plenty left.

This is a wonderful country always, but especially with weather such as we
have enjoyed last month.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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