autumn equinox at 70*N

Subject: autumn equinox at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003 12:55:09 +0200


After a wonderful summer up here at 70*N, the autumn had been wet and mild,
so wet in fact that the usual glorious spectacle of autumn colours was a
trifle subdued this year, with browns dominating the reds. A week ago the
first autumn storm removed a lot of the leaves from the birches and rowans
(mountain ash), but not yet from the willows and some other trees. The
ground turns untidy, with many withered fallen herbs and a diversity of
mushrooms, and the paths get increasingly muddy. The days also get rapidly
shorter, but just today is autumn equinox and thus our days are exactly as
long as yours, whereever you live. But up here daylight now decreases by
ten minutes a day, and it is only two months to 'mørketiden', the two
months that the sun is not visible above the horizon here at 70*N.

On Saturday we awoke to a substantial pack of heavy, wet snow, early even
by our standards and un-forecast by the weather bureau, so that very few
people had remembered to change to winter wheels (with studded tires) on
their cars in time. Most adults were dismayed, but the kids were jubilant
and short-lived snow men arose in many gardens. The temperature remained a
few degrees above freezing, which made the snow maximally heavy and caused
a surprisingly large amount of breakage of even heavy branches on those
trees that had not yet shed their leaves. On Sunday the snow had already
fallen from the trees and today it has also largely disappeared from the
ground. But the next snow storm is forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday, so
we are not out of the woods yet.

This morning my garden, which these days is mostly a vast bare expanse of
earth beneath the remaining trees  (my daughter Marit and partner have
moved in downstairs with my new-born grandchild;  we(i.e. they) have
renovated that floor into a cozy flat, and at the same time we have
improved the isolation of the outer walls, which killed most of the garden)
for once was alive with birds----like a Dutch garden, said Riet, who is on
a visit these weeks. I think we had hundreds of Fieldfares flying around
and tearing and swallowing rowan berries, while the fewer Redwings divided
their time between the berries and what the ground had to offer. I even saw
a single SongThrush among them.

In addition, there were finches everywhere, both on the ground and in the
trees; lots of greyish-green young Greenfinches (which do not really
migrate far), dapper but already winter-clad Chaffinches and
Bramblings,  and a few stripy Twites. Yesterday Riet and I found a large
flock of finches elsewhere in Fiolkeparken, and there there were also
Siskins present.  The usual Great Tits, habituals of the garden, almost
drowned in the flocks of migrants, and the Willow Tits and Bullfinches kept
to the forest today. At the museum young White Wagtails fly up in their
characteristic curvy flight pattern, and the other day there was suddenly a
small flock of some twenty House Sparrows on the lawn here, a bird that
here in Tromsø is both very patchy and normally very
site-resident.  Magpies are the dominant presence when one walks through
the Folkeparken or through suburbia, though Hooded Crows are also common,
and there are still some Common Gulls around, with a predominance of this
year's youngsters.

On the shore the crows and large gulls now almost rule alone (There are a
few Grey Herons around), and at sea there are large flocks of eiders and an
increasing number of Cormorants, but the wintering ducks have not yet
arrived in any numbers (they won't be long). The Mallards still are being
fed on the small freshwater lake Prestvannet on top of the island, while
the nesting Arctic Terns, Tufted Ducks and Red-throated Loons have left
this area weeks ago; also here herons fish now---their numbers still seem
to be growing.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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