Surprises in spring Tromsx

Subject: Surprises in spring Tromsx
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 02 May 2004 14:57:40 +0200

                                        SURPRISES IN SPRING TROMSØ

April 2004 became a month of records here in Tromsø in several ways. Not
only had  the snow at the weather station all disappeared by 28 April,
beating the previous record by one day (That is, if it does not start
snowing again in may, always a real possibility up here), but also the
total number of sun hours exceeded 260, beating the 1969 record by a few
hours. This may not seem all that special to you, who live on sunnier
climates, but it is a wonderful and positive surprise for us; a few years
ago April had only 45 sun hours up here! Likewise the fact that we
equalized or even beat the April temperature record this month may not
impress you unduly, when you hear that this mean  April temperature record
stood at +3.7*C;  but again, we DO notice the difference!!

But all good things come to an end, and now the weather is back to more
normal for the time of the year, with low clouds, varying intensity of
rain, but again mild weather, after the sleet and hail of Friday. But
yesterday, 1 May, we were blessed with a largely sunny and calm day, good
news for all the parades on this day, which is an official free day in this
country. I did not parade, though, but used the opportunity to get out into
nature (also there I was far from alone, lots of people were picnicking or
fishing in the many secluded coves of our long and varied coastline). In
Folkeparken my foot path is now almost half snowfree (and muddy), while the
rest consists of dirty and rotting snow and hard-tramped, slippery
ice;  still very little new growth to be seen, although the many willows
---both low creeping bushes and sizeable trees--, slowly open their catkins
and fat bumblebee queens come for their first meals of the year.

Several waves of migrant birds have  recently enriched the bird chorus, and
the Greenfinches and Great Tits are no longer the dominant voices. The
Fieldfares are back, and have lost no time to start squabbling and
quarreling loudly and chronically; they seem to love this, as they usually
bunch their nests in small colonies. Also the Redwings are back, and
everywhere the ascending 'whirree whirree whirree' of the local
Redwing-dialect is to be heard---the first migrant waves had a lot of
different singers, probably birds on passage to further north, but now the
locals dominate. A single Song Thrush has returned to the spruce
plantations and shouts spring all day; 'taletrosten', the talking thrush,
it is called in some Norwegian dialects, and it is easy to understand why.
He seems to shout messages, every one twice or thrice repeated for clarity:
NOT; everybody hears what he himself wants to hear in these messages, but
the code sounds simple and  the message clear.

Simple and clear is also the jingle of the Dunnock, another bird that has
returned in force. But it is hard to decipher a message in the somewhat
mechanic-sounding jingle; the Dunnock, although also seated in the top of a
tree often, does not appear to sing with the same great conviction as e.g.
the Song Thrush. The Greenfinches and Great Tits of course are still
present and quite vociferous, and also the Willow Tits melodious but
monotonous 'ee ee ee ee' is heard more often now than earlier, while our
Robin sadly seems to have moved on: I have not heard his silvery cadences
the last days: The first ChiffChaff has arrived, but I have not yet heard a
certain Brambling; with all the rasping greenfinches these days it has
become harder to pick out the tired 'rrryt' of the bramblings, and one has
almost to see the bird to be quite sure. At my garden feeder small flocks
of Siskins still regularly appear, and 'the new kid on the block' , the
House Sparrow of three houses down the street, has against all odds found a
partner ; I saw them companionably take a dust bath on the road verge the
other day.

The intertidal area at Langnes, formerly such a great birding area, is
still always worth to check out. As everywhere in town, the Common Gulls
have returned to their nesting places , and the gulls celebrate spring in
no uncertain manner, day and night, resulting in a lot of indignant
newspaper comments also here. The nestboxes that the local ornithology club
has put out for Starlings on the telephone poles along the track to Langnes
are now  mostly occupied (Yes, I know, I know, this is the height of folly
to you, but we like our starlings, and they have decreased perilously the
last decades here as many places in Europe!!), and the birds are pouring
out their always fascinating potpourri of own creations and imitations. In
the intertidal area the Oystercatchers celebrate the piping ceremony, and
walk with bowed heads and stiff legs in an seemingly aimless series of
movements, which nevertheless clearly is of the utmost importance in
oystercatcher society. Everywhere sound the cooings of the eider drakes (an
amazingly numerous bird up here), but I also spot a silent diver among
them: the first Arctic Loon of the year, waiting for its freshwater lake to
become ice-free enough to land and fly up----loons need quite long starting

The mouth of one of the small local creeks yields a much greater surprise,
though, as a pair of Gadwalls is dabbling there. These 'quietly expensively
clad' ducks do not belong up here at all, and are in fact a rare nesting
bird in Norway altogether. But for some reason all the norwegian ducks,
common or rare, sooner or later seem to make their way to the Tromsø area,
where I have earlier also seen Garganeys , Pochards and Steller's eider,
and where the Shoveler nests regularly, not having read the bird books that
tell that it does not occur here.

The Tisnes wetlands do this time not give much news, and even the Redshanks
I saw earlier this week here, are now invisible, while no Ruffs seem to
have arrived as yet. The only newcomer I note is a spectacular drake
Pintail, one of the most beautiful ducks I know. But I have better luck on
the other side of the island, along the wetlands of the Rakfjord and
Risvika along the Kvalsund. This time I decide to walk the few km's along
the road, instead of useing the car as a blind. This gives one a somewhat
bad conscience, as every pair of Greylag Goose flies loudly protesting from
its territory, and Snipes jump up from the wetlands and zigzag away. But
these are the first snipes of the year, and I probably would have missed
them from the car. And not only them: I have the great good fortune to
surprise two diminutive Jack Snipe, from very close to the road. They jump
up silently, and one twice changes his mind before falling in again, so
that I have a good chance to watch the bird in flight. Jack Snipes nest in
some numbers on remote bogs in the inner parts of Finnmark, but one rarely
finds them here on migration. Still, Rakfjord remains the only place
outside Finnmark, where I have once---several years ago--- heard the
mysterious 'remote galloping horse' display song of this mainly crepuscular
and nocturnal species, although I do not really think they nest here.

Birds that certainly nest here are the Northern Lapwings, that now are in
full display, and almost seem to demonstrate for me alone. The acrobatics
are dazzlings, and in this still weather the labouring wings are cleary
audible. The lapwings have not yet quite sorted out their relations to the
nearby nesting Common Gulls and every now and then one eagerly pursues the
other; they will after a while recognize the neighbours and no longer use
energy on these chases, but now, early in the season, all the boundaries
have not yet been clearly drawn.

A few Whimbrels are back, but they are as yet silent and unobtrusive, and
although the small lakes now are largely ice-free, many of the local
nesting waterbirdsw are not yet back. I only see some Mallards, two pairs
of Red-throated Mergansers (probably the most common dusck of just this
area), a pair of Wigeons, and a single Tufted Drake, no loons back here as
yet. But a bit further on, on the larger lake where they nested and got
five young last year, a single Whooper Swan already glides silently and
elegantly among the ice floes; more than 80% of its lake is still
ice-covered. So even thought the heath here show no signs at all of new
growth (Of course the Empetrum is evergreen, and the Lycopodium looks fresh
green all year, but all the rest is clearly still 'hibernating'), spring is
on its way also here. These are really exciting months for the birder and
nature lover!!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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