Wet autumn at 70*N

Subject: Wet autumn at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 2004 12:54:27 +0200

                                MILD AND WET AUTUMN IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

Wet wet wet: it looks like a new precipitation record for September here in
Tromsø, at 69*50'N in northern Norway. It is raining almost every day, and
we are almost at the previous record already, although we only have 19.
September today. Tromsø is otherwise not a particularly rainy place and the
September record was something like 220mm. Peanuts for many of you, I suppose.

During the three decades that I have lived in Tromsø , the autumns have
become milder, on the average: the first year (1973) I remember snow fell
and stayed on the ground already from late September, but the last years we
have several times been anxious about whether we would get a white
Christmas---until now the definite snows always did come in December,
though, albeit quite late in some years. That is not to say that we don't
see the snow. This year, for example, temperatures have been such these
last weeks (4-6*C), that the precipitation has fallen as snow on the hills
and hillsides down to ca 3-400m a.s.l., so that the hills lie gleaming in
the sun on the rare occasions that the sun is actually out. But here on the
island we have had sleet a few days, but not actual snow on the ground as
yet. Nor have we had severe night frosts either; they usually coincide with
nice sunny weather.

But it is definitely autumn here. The sheep have come down from the
mountains and are grazing in the fields close to the farms, where the piles
of 'tractor-eggs', the white plastic bolls with hay, keep their winter
fodder. Now the people are out in the
ncreasingly muddy fields in order to
harvest their potatoes, a plant that does well also here at 70*N. The
meadows are still largely green, and so are the willows, but most of the
birches have turned into a multitude of yellow and brown colours, and the
muddy paths underneath are dappled with the first fallen leaves. The
undergrowth in Folkeparken looks in bad shape: the large ferns are still
green, but their rosettes now look unkempt, and many other plants are
reduced to soggy and rotting leaves. In Folkeparken there are no flowers
left, and even the abundant mushrooms seem to get gradually fewer.

 The tall flowerheads of the Tromsø palms stand like gaudy skeletons along
the road verges, and the large patches of Fireweed glow for the last time
this year, with most of the leaves fiery red. Here there are a few flowers
left: Yarrow seems indestructible, and the Hawksweeds have only just
started to flower. In the many small marshes along the roads the colours
are different still, with a dull but warm brown dominating. In fact, it is
interesting to note, how the great diversity of colours of spring, with its
hundreds of different greens, slowly disappears in summer, when all somehow
seems to melt into a single green shade. While in autumn, the diversity is
at least as great as in spring, but now with yellows, browns and reds
dominating the greens. There are still plenty of greens, of course, the
dark dull green of the conifers, and the startlingly conspicuous bronze
greens of the carpets of mosses in the marshy areas.

What of the birds? Well, they have mostly 'taken to their senses and flown
south', as a local song has it. Walking to work through Folkeparken I am
lucky to hear any bird sounds at all nowadays, beyong the conversational
croaking of passing crows, and the scolding of the abundant magpies. Now
and then the clear contact notes of a small flock of tits, or ---usually in
the gardens beyond the woods proper--- the trills of the Greenfinches. At
the museum now and then a single young White Wagtail flits around, and the
other day I watched a flock of some 200 Starlings wheeling over the fields
on Kvaløya, quite a large number for here. A Goshawk was photographed by a
local journalist in town, mantling a freshly caught feral pigeon; both
Goshawks and Sparrowhawks winter here in town, as does the occasional

On the shore the Hooded crows and the large gulls again dominate. The
oystercatchers seems to be gone already, while the Common Gulls gather in
large flocks, prior to migrating south. Mallards have returned to the
intertidal, and the number of cormorants is still steadily increasing. The
Eiders are still here, of course; they'll stay all winter, and the drakes
are now slowly regaining their beautiful black and white finery. Also
Red-throated Mergansers winter here, and the other day I saw a flock of
Velvet scoters fly past.

Yesterday I paid a last visit to the Tisnes wetlands, where the dirt road
is full of potholes, filled with rain, and the pools in the fields get
bigger every day. Almost no birds left here, apart from the eiders and
gulls on the sound. The geese have flown south, the terns have left weeks
ago, and the shorebirds also mostly have moved on: yesterday I saw in fact
only some Lapwings, while last week there also was a small flock of
Curlews. At Langnes a few Purple Sandpipers foraged on the mud flats; they
are among the few birds that stay here all winter.

It is a nice thing that just around now the brochures of the bird tour
companies arrive. It is great material to dream by!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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