vagaries of spring 2

Subject: vagaries of spring 2
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Wed, 19 May 2004 09:53:26 +0200

                                THE VAGARIES OF SPRING AT 70ºN,  2

When I last wrote, 2 weeks ago,  we had had this wonderful period of
unseasonably warm weather and spring had sprung everywhere here around
Tromsø. I talked about the lightly clad people working in the gardens and
remarked: "we must grasp the chances while we get them; this may have been
the summer already". That will no doubt  show to have been unduly
pessimistic---many local weather prophets expect a warm summer---, but
these last two weeks it has been true enough. Spring has been suspended, we
have had northerly winds, frequent sleet and hail showers, and temperatures
were so low, that we also lost our beautiful ' 28 April and no-snow'
record: a few mornings last week a few cm of snow were recorded at the
official measuring station in town. That snow disappears during the day,
but the damage was done; it is measured early in the mornings.

So nature has more or less 'waited': the birches are still not fully out
here in Folkeparken, the first crop of bishop's staves from our large ferns
froze, browned and disappeared, and when I walk to work in the mornings,
there is practically no bird song in Folkeparken, apart from the
irrepressible Greenfinches and Pied Flycatchers. But this weekend we had
another, albeit seemingly temporary weather change: the winds veered to the
SW, with much wind and  horizontal rain (sadly here in Tromsø exactly
during the grand parade on our national day 17 May!), and the temperatures
increased from 2*C on the Sunday morning to 11*C yesterday afternoon, a
quite noticeable difference. Today temperatures are dropping again, and the
coming days northerly winds will once more take over (But I'll flee to
Holland for a week tomorrow).

In Folkeparken the next generation of fern's leaves unrolls, more and more
clones of  Anemone come into flower, I notice the first white flowers of
Wood-sorrel Oxalis, and the Caltha now colours all the small rivulets
yellow. (There are also yellow Primula in the undergrowth, but these are
the Siberian species that is so common in gardens here and very easily
escapes into nature.). For the first time in a week the Song Thrush calls
out his messages (although from a different territory), and today there was
almost a real bird chorus: gruff Fieldfares and dully rasping and easily
overheard Bramblings, with the Redwings and the now finally back in some
numbers melodious Willow Warblers as the star soloists. Of course there are
as always the Greenfinches, Great Tits and Pied Flycatchers, and yes, the
one House Sparrow, the new kid on the block, is also still present and
tsjilps all day.

On Sunday evening I drove to Tisnes for a short visit, mainly to see if the
Arctic Terns were back--- they weren't, but others have seen the first
returning terns this weekend. But there were a few Dunlins working the
mudflat, and a small flock of Red Knots flew past, the vanguard of the many
thousands that will stage for some weeks in Balsfjord, before continuing
the long trek to Greenland. Many ducks this time: 3 Pintails, 7 Teal, 5
Wigeons, 1 Tufted Duck, in addition to the hundreds of Eiders, and the
usual mergansers, Mallards and Shelducks. Special was the presence of no
less than 4 species of geese; in addition to the local Greylags and the
Pinkfeet on their way to the Arctic, the lone Canada Goose of last week is
still there, and there was also a single Bean Goose, a breeding bird of the
inland uplands here.

Yesterday evening, Tuesday, I walked at my other favourite local haunt, the
Rakfjord marshes. As I told earlier the ground here is acid, and the
vegetation marshland and Empetrum heath. . The heath looks at first sight
still wintery and lifeless (maybe not the right term, as so many plants
here, i.a. the dominant Empetrum, are evergreen). But when one looks closer
, there are inconspicuous whitish bells on some of the heath plants,
although much of their leaves are brown and shriveled; this is the Marsh
Andromeda, Andromeda polifolia, always the first flower in these parts.
When you walk through the heath, sooner or later there will be a further
pleasant surprise, the twinkling pink stars of the ground-hugging Trailing
Azalea, Loiseleuria procumbens. Along the road verge Dandelions now have
taken over from the Coltsfoot, but the general impression remains the same:
yellow in the open areas, white in the forest.

It starts raining when I walk there, but the air is clearly much milder
than the days before (Tromsø had 12*C this day); rain showers sweep across
the Kvalsund and create very atmospheric curtains of 'smoke' here and
there. The ice on all the lakes and ponds here is now gone, and the nesting
pair of Arctic Loons is back at its usual spot, but I can't find the
Whooper Swans today. Red-throated mergansers display, and there are also
Wigeons and a male Pintail. The Common Gulls that nest in these wetlands
(now protected, so one can only watch from the road) create their usual
racket, and the Lapwings ceaselessly and acrobatically patrol the area; but
otherwise the birds are mostly silent, until the rain abates. Then I hear
the trills of the Whimbrels from several directions, and watch two Snipe on
their display flight overhead, oscillating between the mysterious
whinnying, and the rhytmic 'chooka chook chooka'. A single, Mordor-black
Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger), the first of the season, is back, but as
yet mostly seems content with sitting on its 'skua-mound' and surveying his
territory. In the fields a bit further on no less than 5 pairs of Greylags
waddle and graze, while pairs of Whimbrels paralel-walk in some kind of
display, unknown to me, now and then varied by frenetic
wing-flapping---looks like two rivals competing. The Golden Plovers are
also here, but show as yet none of their wonderful melancholy piping
displays. Likewise the Meadow Pipits, also back in force; they fly up
silently before my feet, and most of the time do not even call. A single
Twite flies up and away.

On the way back I stop at the airport, Langnes, the former bird paradise
(now further diminished , as the airport authorities shoot a lot of birds
because of the danger for air collisions; the birds get to our museum, so
we know that there are sizable numbers taken). Here  there are as yet no
terns either, and also few smaller shorebirds this time, mainly gulls,
Hooded Crows, Eiders and Oystercatchers: a few Redshanks whistle, a Dunlin
forages, and I finally see a Ringed Plover (There used to be several pairs
nesting here).  As a final nostalgic point I come across a single beautiful
pink flower, the famous Primula finmarchica, of which there was a sizeable
population here before all the roadworks, that also demolished the local
colony of Sann Martins (Bank Swallows). Sic transit....

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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