First birds of 2003

Subject: First birds of 2003
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 02 Jan 2003 11:26:25 +0100


(For those not on Birding-aus: Sean Dooney managed to see 700 different
bird spoecies in Australia in 2002, and has reported about it in a series
of wonderful progress reports through the year.)

Tromsø, at 69*50'N in Northern Norway, has had a wonderful Christmas
weather this year, 'just the way it should be: calm, clear, cold (usually
-10-15*C), with fantastic displays of the Northern Lights, and now and then
a light sprinkling of snow (maybe 40 cm on the ground, i.e. less than
average).  The roads are full of 'sparks', our very practical push-sledges,
and the fields full of ski tracks. The one problem birding-wise is the lack
of daylight; the sun remains below the horizon for another three weeks, and
we have only ca 3 hours of daylight and even that far from full strength.

Nevertheless, Riet (here once more for Christmas, luckily) and I drove on
our habitual trip to the outer coast, where the scenery and winter light
are maybe even more impressive than around town here. At breakfast we had
looked intently out of the window into the gloom to find the first bird of
the year, but these last days my feeder remains empty of birds for some
reason, and the only bird we saw, and thereby the first bird of 2003 for
me, was a Magpie flying past. On the trip, still on the island, we rapidly
added Hooded Crow (by far the most common bird of the day), Northern Raven,
and Great Black-backed Gull, but the sound seemed strangely empty of ducks
this day (of course the icy and snowy unsalted roads also prevent too
intensive sidewards looking for the driver), and it was in fact not before
we had come to the island of Kvaløya that a few further birds could be
added: Herring Gulls in Kaldfjord, Common Eiders in the Kattfjord,
and  immaculately garbed Red-throated Mergansers at the fishing village of
Sjøtun (and on a few later occasions).

Still, as usual the great winner was the landscape, with Reindeer scraping
snow and eating lichens on the higher ground towards the Kattfjord, and
with the white mountains surrounding the dark fjords, curling  with
frost-røyk (what the dictionary tells me is called frost smoke in English;
is it?); the majestic White-tailed Sea Eagle, alighting from a bluff close
to the road and flying out , white tail gleaming, over the fjord, is as
much part of the scenery as a new item on the year list. A small shorebird,
no doubt a Purple Sandpiper, managed to disappear in the time it took to
turn the car on the narrow road and so eluded inclusion on the list for the
time being. (Same thing happened later with a small raptor, most probably a
Sparrow Hawk).

Driving back along the wide Malangen fjord the twilight was already
deepening, but we added the usual Cormorant on a buoy, found two more sea
eagles (a common bird here wintertime) and tight large flocks of Common
Eiders in the gathering gloom, with up to a hundred birds, as always
partrolled by some marauding and kleptoparasitizing large gulls. The only
songbird of the day was a lone Fieldfare, a bird that must have had a hard
time in the cold of the last two weeks. Neither on this New Year's Day, nor
walking to the museum on 2 January I saw or heard a single tit or
finch---and for House Sparrows I need to go to town, at the petrol station.
So my year list stands at 10 birds today.

The coming days will no doubt add the overlooked birds from yesterday, esp
the Mallards, Long-tailed Ducks and scoters that I know are out there, as I
saw them only last week. But I shall be hard pressed to come past 20
species the coming months; as I said, a long cry from Sean Dooley.

A wonderful 2003 to everybody!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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