Inland kittiwakes

Subject: Inland kittiwakes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 03 Jul 2003 11:31:35 +0200

        Five years ago (time flies) I wrote a little piece on a strange little
colony of Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla, far inside the Ullsfjord. I have
taken the liberty to copy this piece here, as it still gives a good
impression of the setting. This piece was written in the last days of May

The next fjord to the north of the Balsfjord is called the Ullsfjord; it is
a broad and fish-rich "fjord" (It does not have a proper sill) running
north-south for ca 80 km. About two thirds of the way in is the little
village of Jøvik, only accessible along a 45 km dead-end road, and
therefore not all that regularly visited. A small colony of Kittiwakes
Rissa tridactyla used to nest on the local fish oil factory, but that
burned down last year, and I was interested in seeing whether the
Kittiwakes still had returned to this quite atypical inner fjord locality.
Turned out they had. Very interestingly they had; once the few
available window-sills on an empty building were taken,  they had occupied
a very
rickety and dangerous (and thus closed) wooden pier, where many nested on
the surface just like the many Common Gulls in the area, but always on the
very edge of the pier, so that they could hang on to "that old cliff
feeling", apparently. Many also had made their nests below the surface of
the pier, on the beams of the structure. Altogether there were 100-150
nests in the colony, many clearly with eggs.

                Early this spring we had alarming news about our local 
Kittiwakes, as all
the colonies in E.Finnmark were (temporarily, as it turned out) deserted,
and dead and clearly starved kittiwakes were reported from several areas
both in Troms and Finnmark. Fortunately the problem seems to have
temporary, and the Kittiwakes in Finnmark have returned and started their
nesting season ,albeit later than usual, and the food situation seems now
to be much better. As we have had these uncommonly beautiful summer days
here in Tromsø---with the temp 'soaring' to all of 24* in town one day (and
everybody agrees that 25* in Tromsø is much warmer than 25* in Oslo!)--- I
escaped one day from the stuffy office to check the Jøvik colony. I started
out with my usual walks along the Balsfjord, which you may have heard about
more than you care to hear by now, I fear.
        In the slope forest near Andersdalen the thousand different greens of
early spring have now melted into one 'summer green', with still a few
exceptions. The regiments of stiff Struthiopteris ferns still stand out as
much more yellowish green; they are now fully developed, though, and the
individual fronds are no longer so uncompromisingly upright, so that the
serried ranks of plants, each and every one with a small individual
distance to its neighbour (and not tolerating any other plant among them)
no longer give that strong impression of an army on parade---or at least,
the parade is 'at ease'. Also here the ground vegetation in the forest and
onits verges is dominated by the violet carpet of storkbills, offset by
white Stellaria Chickweed and yellow Buttercups; the large boulders that
have fallen down the slopes are densely covered by white Dwarf Cornel. The
Rowans (Mountain Ash) Sorbus aucuparia have almost finished flowering most
places, and the many willows are full with fluffy white catkins in seed.
Also the air this calm sunny day is full of fluff, probably mostly deriving
from the fluffballs of the many dandelions of roadsides and meadows. In the
hayfields in this calcareous area  Cow Parsley Anthriscus now is absolutely
dominant and colours all the fields white.
        Most birds have now largely finished singing, and so I suffer 
from the fact that I am a lousy bird spotter, especially for birds in
leafed trees; I somehow need Riet, Franz or Iman to point the birds out to
me. As it is now, I often only find them in the moment they fly up and
away, out of sight. Fortunately most of the birds now and then break out in
a snatch of song, so I still can make up the usual lists: Brambling,
Chaffinch, Pied Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Redwing and Fieldfare.
The Willow Warblers and Bramblings still sing much more regularly, and I
also hear the fluting of a Ring Ouzel from the steep hills behind. Two
species that arrive later  seem to be still in full song: A Garden Warbler
warbles its never-ending story from  the undergrowth, and later----on the
next walk--, I stand and listen for a long time to an exuberant singer that
also mimics the Oystercatchers most faithfully. It is in a garden behind a
farm house, so I never get to see the bird, but I finally deduce that this
must be one of those extra talented Sedge Warblers that I earlier only have
heard about---it can't be a Bluethroat (they have a different timbre), and
here north it can't be a Marsh Warbler either.

        The road to the little village of Jøvik is long and , although scenic
enough, not all that fascinating birding-wise. But the Kittiwakes are still
present, nesting as before on the rickety pier (where one needs a boat to
properly count the number of nests), on the old seahouse before the pier,
and even in two cases on top of flattish street lanterns (A home with a
view!). In addition I now see that there are  some ten nests on top of one
of the old herring-oil tanks of the derelict factory, now in use as a
storehouse. In many of the nests there are just hatched young, only a few
days old, but I never see more than one young per nest----I did not shy the
birds off the nest in order to see better, however. The number of nests
this year was lower than last time I was here, I think (but as I said, a
proper count necessitates the use of a boat), maybe 80-100; but otherwise
the colony appears to be in good shape. It is a most uncommon nesting
situatio for Kittiwakes, who are normally clinging to the narrowest of
rock-ledges (or window-ledges). Here most birds nest in the open on the
wooden pier, although I noted that the surface of the pier largely was
given over to the 'club' while most nests were on the seaward edge and on
the wooden understructure of the pier, a little closer to normal at least,

        Yesterday somebody phoned in an observation of a Coot in the 
of Tromsø, a rare visitor here from south Norway. But then the tourist
season is definitely over us anyway: the roads were full of camper-vans,
the harbour had several cruise ships, and our museum  also enjoys a steady
stream of tourists. We strive in vain to surpass 100 000 visitors a year,
but 90 000 in a town with 60 000 inhabitants is not all that bad either!
And we have much to show, just come and see!!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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