short winter trip

Subject: short winter trip
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2005 13:20:37 +0100

                                        A SHORT WINTER TRIP IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

        This last weekend before I leave for a month abroad at the end of next
week (2 weeks in Wellington, New Zealand, 2 weeks in Odijk, Netherlands) I
promised myself to try to mop up some of the missing birds for my as yet
quite short year list. Two days ago I got a pleasant surprise bird-wise, as
a Tree Creeper Certhia familiaris crept up a birch tree along the path from
my home to the museum. Treecreepers are mostly birds of the inland here,
but every now and then a few come out to the coastal areas in winter, and I
have even had one in the garden a few years ago. But I see it far from
every winter here.

        Today the weather forecast had promised partly sunny weather, with light
frost and not too much wind, but they had promised too much, it turns out;
in reality this is a quite grey, overcast day, with now and then a
powdering of light snow, and a chilly force 6 southerly wind. The
temperature is around zero, and esp. the secondary road around the Kvalsund
an ice-rink, where it was quite hard to stop, and even hard to get started
again: if you were a little too enthousiastic, the wheels just spun on the
ice! I must admit that I gradually have become a more anxious driver under
such circumstances; fortunately my car, by now 25 years old, is very

        The combination of icy roads and high snow walls along the road verges
(snow depth is now ca 120 cm) makes it almost impossible and anyway unwise
to try to do too much birding from the car. So I decided to drive to
Kvalsundet, a sound between the two large mountainous islands of Kvaløya
and Ringvassøya, situated between Tromsø and the outer coast, where one can
stop and go out every km or so and scan the sound. Kvalsundet has a strong
tidal current and is not extremely deep, and it is therefore quite popular
with wintering ducks. In winter I almost always see King Eiders there,
usually forming their own small compact flocks separate from the very large
flocks of Common Eider---King Eiders often dive a little deeper, down to
40-45 m. But today all the flocks were Common Eiders, with their attendant
kleptoparasitic gulls, mostly Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. A few
young Glaucous Gulls and a lone passing Kittiwake probably had blown in
from the fishing banks off the outer coast by the recent storms. As always,
there were also Long-tailed Ducks and Cormorants, and here and there a lone
fishing Red-throated Merganser (at last!). A probable Shag was too far away
to include on the year list, but a flying White-winged Scoter was
unmistakable. The sound was too rough to find the winter-clad Black
Guillemots that no doubt were present, and I again missed the Grey Heron,
as every single time this year. A young White-tailed Sea Eagle was lolling
on a small skerry, and every buoy had its cormorant.

        My favourite wetlands of Rakfjord were now a white wasteland, where the
wind blew lots of snow across the icy road, so that a snow plow had to
drive back and forth to keep the road open. Nary a bird, of course, a
Hooded Crow here and there. But on the one tidal lagoon I found to my
surprise the whole family of Whooper Swans, that grew up there last year. I
don't know if they stayed here all winter, or maybe are back already; I
suspect the first.

        So my year list climbed all the way to 26, not bad at all! Someone in 
reported a European Blackbird on his feeding table, an uncommon occurrence
here. But I suppose my first Blackbird of the year will come from New
Zealand this time!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 


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