Further signs of spring at 70*N

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Further signs of spring at 70*N
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Fri, 1 May 2009 09:25:50 +0200
                                    FURTHER SIGNS OF SPRING AT 70*N

Yesterday we had a nice calm and sunny day, with temperatures 'soaring'
into the double digits (10*C), and in the late afternoon I decided to make
a short trip to the Kvalsund, the narrow sound between the mountainous
islands of Kvaløy and Ringvassøy, that lie between Tromsø and the open
sea. More snow has melted the last days, and many road verges are now
speckled with the yellow stars of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara, while
outside our museum the first crocuses are in bloom.

The Kvalsund has strong tidal currents and clearly often a lot of fish, as
one can find many fish-eating birds there. This time there were as many as
four species of auks: dapper Black Guillemots, now in immaculate
black-and-white finery and often in pairs, fished many places---they nest
here too---, I saw a few Razorbills fly past (fewer now than last time I
was here), and more surprisingly there were several fishing Common
Guillemots, and two flocks of Little Auks, all diving in unison. These are
late, as many have already arrived at the breeding colonies on Svalbard.
Fewer Eider Ducks than normally in winter----I think the Svalbard eiders
will have returned north by now, and I did not see any King Eiders:
Kvalsund is a well-known wintering area for this spectacular species. When
I stopped my car to watch a single duck, that turned out to be the most
common duck of this area, the Red-breasted Merganser, suddenly no less
than fifteen of these ducks suddenly burst out of the shallows and flew
away---I wondered why I looked so frightening, but then I too saw the
immature Sea Eagle, that had made them realize that discretion usually is
the better part of valour.

The Rakfjord wetlands are slowly emerging from their wintersleep, and the
snow is now very patchily distributed: large snowdrifts here and
there---one besides the road was much taller than my 6 ft--, but also
largish snow free areas already, where Reindeer contentedly grazed and
loafed, and where returning pairs of Greylag Geese waddled. The small
lakes and marsh ares are still ice-covered, though, so there are as yet no
ducks, loons or phalaropes to be seen here, only Common Gulls (they have a
small colony here too). I saw a single Curlew, and heard a faraway Golden
Plover , the first of the season. And at the farm a dapper White Wagtail
posed on the sign 'fishing permissions can be bought here', one of the
most welcome signs of coming spring of all here.

My garden is still completely snow-covered, but my American son-in-law has
caught the typical Tromsø habit of spreading the snow out on the driveway,
in order to make it disappear faster, and around the house the first earth
is visible. Yesterday there was a Redwing in the garden, and now this
morning a Fieldfare sat on top of a spruce tree. So spring is on its way.

On 1 May, a official free day here, I have had the tradition of making the
250 km drive 'around the Balsfjord', to feel the pulse of arriving spring.
But today is a dreary grey and drizzly day, and I have decided to wait
until tomorrow when the weather forecast hold out hopes of one more nice
day, before the depressions win out again. I just saw that I reported on
this tour already 10 years ago, and several times since then, so you may
well be fed up with it. There is always the delete button!

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum

9037 Tromsø, Norway

Birds observed (assterisked are the yearbirds: Cormorant, Grey Heron,
Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted
Merganser, White-tailed Sea Eagle, * Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Curlew,
Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, *Common Guillemot,
Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Little Auk, Hooded Crow, Magpie, Northern
Raven, Starling, Redwing, Fieldfare, *White Wagtail

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