autumn splendour at 70*N

Subject: autumn splendour at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 2004 17:01:20 +0200

                                AUTUMN SPLENDOUR IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

After an extremely rainy first half of september, the weather here in
Tromsø suddenly has become much more benign, the Atlantic
depressions---i.a. the remnants of the tropical storms that created so much
havoc in the Caribbean, and in Florida and the Gulf states in the US---
have taken a somewhat more southerly course. Thus Mid-Norway has this week
suffered heavy rains and occasional floodings, while here in the north the
weather has been mostly calm and mild, still with hardly any night-frost at
all. On the hillsides the snowline has crept upwards to 5-600m again, and
here in the lowlands the mushrooms still flourish.

And what a wonderful autumn splendour we have nowadays! The birches glow in
many different warm colours, the rowans are fiery red, and in the heath the
Alpine burberries Arctostaphylus alpina are maybe even redder than that. So
everywhere one looks, the views are wonderful (there are birches  and
rowans in virtually every garden in town), and the hillsides glow with autumn.

In my garden I have hung out my sunflower seeds hanging feeder, and for
some reason (Maybe I was a bit earlier than the neighbours?) it is these
days more popular than ever before, except a few invasions by Snow Buntings
in the spring.   It is an expensive hobby in fact, as they remove more than
1 kilo of seed every day; but it is also a lot of fun to just sit and
watch. As soon as I have filled the feeder, often before i have closed the
street door, the Willow Tits are back, and they are also the first birds to
return after the frequent panics chase all the birds into the trees. These
small and feisty tits are the only birds who fly directly on to the feeder
from a distance, all the others first land in the trees around. The Willow
tits alight on the feeder, snatch a seed, and fly back the way they had
come, some from the garden in front, others from the back garden around the
house, and still others from the neighbour's garden on the other side. They
are superb flyers and alight without hesitation , as soon as there is only
a single sitting pin free.

That is not always the case, however, because of the habits of by far the
commonest visitors, the dingy immature Greenfinches, more grey than green.
Not altogether dingy, though, for when two squabble and a short aerial
fight develops, one sees the vivid yellow side stripe, rump, and lateral
tail feathers. These greenfinches come in loose flocks, first land usually
high into the trees, and gradually jump further down, until they occupy the
feeder. They sit down on the sitting pins and gobble seeds, and if they
can, they then would sit and wait there until they grow hungry again. They
can't, however, as there are many more finches than there are pins on the
feeder, and thus the finches push, shove and squabble most of the time,
with now and then 10-15 of the losers gathering on the grass beneath the
feeder, to look for spills.

The third regular visitor is the Great Tit, the most colourful of the lot,
and somewhat intermediate in behaviour between the other two. They can
chase the smaller Willow tits, but not the Greenfinches, and seem to me to
be not quite as dexterous as the Willow tits in quickly snatching an open
place. Both tit species usually collect only a single seed, and the Great
tits usually find a nearbu perch to hammer the seeds into manageable bits,
while the greenfinches mandibulate the seeds in situ. The Great Tits also
regularly forage on the ground, the Willow tits much less often.

In addtion to these three core species (the fourth in winter, the
Bullfinch, has not yet come to the feeder this autumn) there are a few less
regular visitors. Although, the new kids on the block, the House Sparrown,
about which I earlier told that they had established themselves ca 100m
down the road, have also discovered the bonanza in my garden, and this
weekend there were at least three different males on the feeder, where they
behave just like the Greenfinches. They are a bit larger , though, than the
immature greenfinches, and I have the impression that they are dominant to
those, but not to the much less frequent adult Greenfinches, the only ones
that are really green. I also saw a Brambling the other day, already in
full winter dress and late for its migration, and daughter Marit described
what must have been a Redpoll on the feeder, which is just outside the
windows of their downstairs flat.

Otherwise there are fewer and fewer birds around. I walked around at
Langnes, near the airport, yesterday, where the small skerry just off the
coast now is full of cormorants. there are still Common Gulls in numbers,
but no terns  anymore, no Oystercatchers , and very few other shorebirds.
in fact the only ones I saw there were 2 Red Knots and a single
Black-bellied Plover, the latter a rare visitor here in autumn, and the
first I ever saw at Langnes.

                                                                        Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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