last warm summerday in Tromsø?

Subject: last warm summerday in Tromsø?
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 09:57:17 +0200

                        LAST WARM SUMMER DAY IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY (70*N)

The last month we in N.Norway have been very lucky with the weather, with a
succession of quite warm, calm and sunny days, and temperatures now and
then above 20* (In fact, 32* was measured somewhere in the inland, and
Tromsø got up to 25*). Now of course  this 'luck' is measured through the
eyes of the nature walker and tourist; the farmers have already for some
weeks been complaining that it was far too dry (by our standards), and on
my excursion along 'the outer loop'  last Saturday, i.e. through the
interior of Kvaløya to Sommarøy on the outer coast and back along the coast
and the wetlands of Tisnes, I could see but all too clearly that the dry
weather also had created problems for the natural vegetation, and even for
the birds. Since yesterday, by the way, we have got northerly winds and
rain, and the temperature has plummeted to ca 11-12*C, so the problem seems
to have been solved for the time being.

Since I wrote last time, the last wave of tall summer flowers has arrived
in full, and now the fields along the roads are full of the creamy white
flowers of Meadow-sweet Filipendula ulmaria, and the vivid  violet splashes
of tight stands of Fireweed Epilobium. Both are pioneering plants, in a
way, but where the Meadow-sweet especially flourishes in fields that lie
fallow and are no longer used in agriculture---and we have a lot of
those--- (although it is also an integral part of the undergrowth in open
birch forest, such as in Folkeparken), the Firewood dominates clearings in
wood. This difference also causes that while Fireweed is numerous in the
inland and still very common on Tromsøya (e.g. along the larger paths in
Folkeparken), the Meadow-sweets get more and more dominant when one gets to
the outer coast.

The other plant that is extremely conspicuous these days, is our 'feral'
giant Heracleum, the impressive 2-4 m high Tromsøpalms with their large
white flowers and enormous leaves. They clearly have also suffered somewhat
from the drought, as many of the tall plants have a few leaves that are
already quite yellow----in this plant individual leaves seem to fade and
yellow separately, and as the leaves may be up to one meter long, this is
very noticeable.

Driving out to Sommarøya, I notice again how few birds there seem to be
around in this season; this is of course a false impression, as the numbers
are probably on top now that the young mostly have fledged, but they are at
any rate very little conspicuous, and from the car ones notices mainly
gulls, eiders (often now with half-grown young), crows and magpies, and the
White Wagtail,  a typical road-side bird, that always flies up in front of
the car and accompanies one for a little while.

On Sommarøy all the people were sitting around outside their houses in the
most skimpy bathing clothes, profiting from what may well be the last day
of summer for a while---all the bathing (or rather sunning) beaches along
the road were also clearly packed this day, judging from the congestion of
cars along the road. But on the flattish and peaty Hillesøy, the island
beyong Sommarøy proper, and connected with a bridge, there were strangely
almost no people, and I had the island almost to myself. Nor were there
many birds: the local pair of nesting Arctic Skuas lazed on their little
knoll and did not even bother to attack me (not close enough to the nest),
the normal gulls (Common, Herring and Great Black-backed) and Hooded crows
were present in numbers, and also as usual, both Meadow and a few Rock
Pipits alarmed, Oystercatchers were all around and Black Guillemots fished
in the shallows----the tide was very low so that the many kelp beds
(Laminaris hyperborea here, 3-5m tall) peaked their heads out of the water,
and gave the entire area a very beautiful look. Also here that prolific
newcomer, the Grey Heron was around, standing fishing.
Sommarøy is mostly covered with a thick layer of peat, but here and there
this layer is very thin and the underlying rock is a hard granite---- the
rich vegetation profits probably from the chalk from all the shells that
wash ashore and from the innumerable sea urchins Strongylocentrotus
droebachiensis  and crabs, mostly Hyas araneus, that are taken up by the
large gulls and dropped on the rocks, in order to break them before
consumption. On one south facing slope, where in spring I usually find the
first flowers of spring, the entire vegetation was now yellowing and
apparently dying off, clearly once more an effect of the dry summer months.
Only the Junipers---here horizontal sprawling mini-bushes--, looked still
healthy; they have no doubt long pen roots in the cracks between the rocks.
On the peat itself the richest flowering has already gone, and e.g. the
fields of  Mountain Aven Dryas, here exceptionally growing at sea level,
had already exchanged their white flowers for the spectacular fruit stands,
and the same goes for the also very common  red-flowered Water Aven Geum
rivale. Goldenrods Solidago, a blue vetch Vicia, the white pagodes of two
Wintergreen species Pyrola, and ---more common than I ever found here
before---, the sweet smelling white orchid  Leucorchis straminea (my book
says Small White Orchid as english name, is that true?) still flower, and
here and there the reddish unripe fruits of the famous multe, the
Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus tempt the walker. It is, however, one of the
greatest sins a  north Norwegian can commit --par with shooting Eider
Ducks, and considerably worse than killing your neighbour---, to pick these
berries before they turn yellow, ripe, and utterly delicious.

On the way back I stop as usual at Tisnes , where the wetlands in an
unpromising looking surroundings---pools in a a meadow with cows--- have
yielded so many surprises over the years. But the pools are almost
completely dry, and there are very few birds indeed, although I find the
first phalaropes of the year, out on the open sound beyond the dried up pools.

I have noticed that, especially now in high summer, with fewer birds
around, I have developed a tendency to put an increasingly large number of
flowers in these mails. If the readers of the lists to which I send
them----all birding lists--- deem this gets excessive, please tell me, and
I'll try to curb my enthousiasm for nature more in general and stick closer
to the birds themselves.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 tromsø, Norway

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