midsummer at 70*N

Subject: midsummer at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 16:31:10 +0200

                        MIDSUMMER  AROUND TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

This June we here in the far north have been blessed with beautiful summer
weather quite regularly these last few weeks around St Hans (24 June, the
longest day of the year and the middle of our two months of midnight sun).
Today, Sunday 29 June, was one of the best days yet, with almost cloudfree
blue skies, sparkling blue fjords and lakes, a moderate NE wind and
18-20*C----that may not seem much to you, but for us this is quite ideal
and even better than the occasional few days with SE winds, 'Russian
weather', and 25-27*C (far too hot!). Even though the water temperature is
ca 10* and swimming therefore a very quick pleasure, I saw when I returned
now in the afternoon that there were serious parking problems at 'Tromsø
Beach' , the grassy slopes  not too far from our museum. Also at Rakfjord
and at Tisnes, where I visited today, there were picnickers everywhere, but
we have so relatively few people up here, and so many shores, bights and
beaches, that there is no real space problem, there is room for everybody.

In Folkeparken the undergrowth is now luxuriant and many places already
meter high, and we are moreover very fortunate in that brambles , nettles
and Galium aparine (those scourges of i.a. Dutch woodlands) still are very
rare to absent here; instead we have a carpet of stork-bills Geranium
sylvaticum, now just starting to dominate the whole scene with its violet
to pink flowers, although the very large fern patches always keep their
own. For a week or so the  white Wood Chickweed Stellaria nemorum held
sway, while the strange greenish flowers of Paris almost disappear among
the tall weeds. In the drier areas more white flowers appear (often
dominant in many woods in Troms), i.e.  the false flowers of Dwarf Cornel
Cornus suecica and the 'seven-pointed stars' of  Trientalis, the Chickweed
Wintergreen. Along the roads the dandelions have come in masses and mostly
already changed into white fluff balls; the 'yellow tradition' here is now
upheld by buttercups Ranunculus, and on drier places the glowing cushions
of the Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus , that can be most conspicuous
and decorative many places. But now yellow is now longer so dominant as in
spring, and masses of umbels of Cow Parsley Anthriscus, and in the more
meagre areas, or close to the sea, the more intricate and daintier Caraway
Carum carvi, many places steal the show, helped by the  regiments of white
sticks of the Vivparous Knotsweed Polygonum viviparum, which we Norwegians
call Harerygg= 'hare-rye'.

But this is a bird list. Of course Folkeparken helds the same birds as a
month ago, but some have become much less conspicuous. The Pied
Flycatchers, the Chiffchaff, and the tits have stopped singing, so that now
the morning chorus consists almost exclusively of the sweet cadences of the
Willow Warblers and the tired rasps of the Bramblings, with now and then
still  a strophe or two (more in the evenings) from a Redwing, and the
various sounds of the irrepressable Greenfinches, although even those are
more subdued now. The Fieldfares do not sing, they scold, and at that there
is no one better. In the neighbour's garden the young almost tailless
Magpies have fledged, and the parents wage a constant war against the
neighbourhood cats, mostly relying on whiles, e.g. by almost letting
themselves be caught by the cat, and in this way tempting it further and
further away from the young. But cats are far from stupid either, so some
of the magpie youngsters probably won't grow old anyway.

On the shore the scolding is kept up by the Oystercatchers , the Redshanks
and the Common Gulls, and esp. the Redshanks are tireless in their panic,
and follow the walker over such a distance that they must be far from their
nest, or nowadays maybe small young. At Rakfjord there was also a
Turnstone, a bird with a most picturesque scolding repertoire,  it almost
sounds like a short song-strophe. At the dam (with culverts) , where the
road crosses a bight of the Kvaløy sound and where I always park my car,
the Turnstone kept to the middle, while both ends had an alarming pair of
White Wagtails, several Oystercatchers and a pair of Redshanks, and one end
moreover several pairs of Arctic terns, who may get more problematic , and
draw blood, when their young hatch later in July. The tide was ebbing and
the bight emptying through the culverts, but 4 families of eiders with many
small downy young still kept to their side of the road, while another three
mothers with young  foraged on the other side. Eiders with young are
everywhere these days, also here near the museum. On the largish lake at
between Rakfjord and Risvika there were now much fewer ducks to be seen;
many of the mothers still sit tight and breeds in the reeds. And the male
mergansers f.ex. have already left to moult on more open fjords. The loon
pair had already come further, and floated proudly in the middle of their
lake with two greyish young; no hiding in the reeds for those guys!

The Common Gulls still have not hatched, and also the two pairs of Arctic
Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers) are clearly still breeding eggs, as they were
little aggressive towards me---but one of them suddenly sprang into flight
with loud calls. Turned out he had spotted a high-flying Rough-legged
Buzzard (One of the few this year, as we have a low for rodents this
summer), and clearly even a high overflight could not be permitted. On his
way back, the skua, probably still high on adrenaline, divebombed a Herring
Gull, who was most indignant ("Why me?? I did not do a thing!!"). Nothing
can compare to these skuas in flying capacity around here.
 The Cuckoos are still calling here; traditionally they should fall silent
'after St Hans' (=24 June), but I have earlier noticed calling cuckoos here
around Tromsø in the first week of July; they probably arrive a week later
too. In the somewhat scraggy birches here on the Empetrum heath Redpolls
were the dominating song birds---with the Meadow Pipits of the undergrowth.
Redpolls are never still, they always seem to have an urge to visit the
next tree, and then the next!

In the next lake, at Risvika, where many pipits and wheatears flew with
beaks full of insect larvae, so clearly had young to feed, I first once
more looked in vain for the local pair of Whooper Swans. I found nothing
but some Tufted Ducks, as always bathing large gulls, a single fishing
Cormorant, and two Grey Herons in the reeds. A Sedge Warbler scratched
enthousiastically in some willow bushes, and a Snipe I flushed went on to
demonstrate some strophes of his aerial whinnying, that has earned hin the
local name of himmelgeit= sky-goat. Luckily an elderly local came by and
directed my attention to two almost invisible white heads moving up and
down in the tall Equisetum swamp on the far side, the swan pair all right;
he also told me that this year they had nested on a little lake behind the
next ridge, and that they had hatched five young this summer; these may
have been with the parents, in fact, as the horsetails were so tall as to
completely hide the birds!

These marshes are quite bleak in this season, and also the Empetrum heath
does not show all too many flashy flowers. For some reason this area does
not have the spectacular masses of most decorative cotton grass  Eriophorum
(of which we have a number of species) that you find elsewhere, i.a. on the
Tisnes wetland, and also regularly in roadside ditches, and the
Bogbean  Menyanthes is not in flower as yet. A few places the conditions
seem to be just right for orchids and there there are largish groups of
showy  Dactylorchis in various shades of pink. And somewhat to my
consternation I found already the first flowers of the  'innocenty white'
Grass of Panassus, Parnassia----that is so much an 'end of the summer
flower' in my mind, that, much as I admire them, I am not only glad to see

On the way back I had to fill petrol---that goes all by card here now---,
but also wanted to buy the Sunday newspapers, and this led me into a long
queue of families for ice, soda and sweets for the Sunday picnic.
Fortunately I think most of these families were indeed on their way to an
outdoor picnic, for which N.Norway happily has still room for all. Two of
these families were already present at Tisnes, scrupulously observing the
'private initiative protection shield' ("No admittance 15 May-1 August.
Birds nest here".) that the local farmers have put up, and sitting on the
right side of the shields. I went there too, after having noticed that
there were no longer any Ruffs to be seen here, but that the Shelducks were
present and that a Wigeon had a large clutch of young in one of the pools.
Also here a Sedge Warbler gushed from a row of tall Cow Parsley, in full
sight some of the time.

In late June I always walk out to the admittance forbidden shield, to
search for some special favourites of mine among the small plants here. The
grassland here is quite calcareous (I think by all the sea shells) and so
has a rich flora  of a.o. Cat's Foot Antennaria, Alpine Cinquefoil
Potentilla crantzii, again masses of Lotus, some nice basically alpine
Fleabane Erigeron species, etc. etc. . On some places with very short
vegetation I search for and always find the quaint Moonwort Bostrychium
lunaria, a small yellow-green fern of uncommon form. But the other one, the
Snow Gentian Gentiana nivea, is a wonderful aesthetic experience every time
I find them---and they only open up in warm weather---; this is the bluest
flower I know of; nothing can compare to it, even though this is only a
small flower. Curiously enough they seem to thrive best right on the path,
where people tread it underfoot and don't even see it most of the time. But
I found almost twenty, and went home happy!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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