A sunny day along the balsfjord

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: A sunny day along the balsfjord
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Sat, 2 May 2009 21:31:15 +0200


Since many years I have tried to drive 'around the Balsfjord' on 1. May, a
free day here in Norway. The Balsfjord is a classical Norwegian fjord,
with a c. 30-40m deep sill in the sounds around the island of Tromsøya,
and several deep basins (c 400 m, not so very deep by fjord standards)
further inland; the fjord is c 100 km long, and  the bottom of the fjord
is almost due south from here. There is one major sidefjord, Ramfjorden,
which hads a much more arctic oceanography than the main fjord, and which
is frozen over all winter---The Balsfjord never freezes over.

This year 1. May dawned with grey, drizzly and cool weather, while the
weather forecast for Saturday 2. May was much better. Therefore I decided
to wait for the Saturday, and then not drive all the way around the fjord
(taking the ferry back), but rather to return along the main road, and
rather visit the wetlands of Tisnes already on 1. May. I started out at
the airport yesterday , and there was almost nothing at all of any
interest to see, just crows, gulls, oystercatchers and a chilly drizzle. 

Fortunately I continued the 30 km to Tisnes anyway and I am glad I did, as
there there were clear signs of spring to come. Already on the way it
struck me how many Fieldfares there now suddenly were everywhere in the
fields, usually foraging just at the edge of the snowfields---more snow
has disappeared these last days. Also at Tisnes there were Fieldfares
galore, foraging in the fields together with the starlings, and in one
field I suddenly discovered that the birds walking in the back there were
not thrushes, but Golden Plovers, at least 30-40 of them! Probably just
arrived, as there was no sign of any display activity. Later I also came
across a small flock (maybe 20) of Dunlins, but I did not see the
Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits that others have reported from the area.
One of the puddles in the wetland was now ice free, and held both a pair
of Wigeons  and several Teal drakes, and besides the pairs of local
Greylag Geese, I also discovered three Pinkfoot Geese, on their way to the
breeding areas on Svalbard. Curiously enough, all the Common Gulls, that
last week had occupied the colony field, sitting in pairs on the snow, now
had left again, and were probably in the intertidal foraging.

On the other side of the wetlands, where the local farmers again had put
up their signs 'No admission from 1. May  Birds nest here'  I heard the
hooting of an owl, no doubt the Short-eared Owl, that stays over every
spring for a while, but must nest elsewhere; but try as I might, I could
not find the bird itself. I did find a loose flock of Meadow Pipits,
though, as well as two Reed Buntings, in both cases the first of the year.
Two Woodpigeons are the first I have ever seen on Tisnes. And the
Saxifraga oppositifolia was in flower, for me the official start of spring
here in Tromsø!!

Tonight my colleague Rob Barrett, of seabird research fame, who lives in
this area, mailed to say that there is a Common Crane in the area,
definitely not a common bird here on the coast.

Today was a fabulous sunny, calm and warm day (+ 15*C, the warmest day of
the year until now), so my gamble absolutely paid off. The Ramfjord is
still frozen over though, although the ice seems rotten by now, it
probably needs strong winds to remove all the ice. Northern Ravens still
were patroling the holes made by the ice fishermen. Otherwise the first 50
km of the trip is mostly a transport etappe, and the first stop was as
usual at the river mouth at Andersdalen( then I have come around the
Ramfjord along both banks), a very disappointing stop, as just as at the
airport yesterday, there was very little to see, basically again  gulls,
crows and oystercatchers. A few eiders out on the fjord, and surprisingly
also a pair of Wigeons, unclear what they do far out on the open water.

The next stop and walk are at the hill forest just past Andersdalen. Just
as last week, the sound of gurgling water was still dominant, and a few
Chaffinches  showed off their exuberant song strophes. But this time there
was more life, and the spring bird chorus was clearly tuning up, even
though there were as yet few players. The trees are still completely bare
and birches and willows show very little signs of 'returning to life' as
yet. Some of the Alders Alnus stretch their catkins already just a little
bit, and the few Aspens Populus have come furthest of all the trees, but
all are basically still bare, and there is no green at all as yet in the
undergrowth, apart from the yellow Coltsfoot stars on road verges and
other disturbed places (Some of which are now  'painted yellow'! by these

All this makes the birds somewhat easier to see. Most common are the
Redwings, of which quite a few are already in full song---Redwings are
extreme 'dialect songsters', and these birds sing completely differently
from the ones on our island, only 40 km away, as the redwing flies! One
Song Thrush was also very much present, and shouted his joyous spring
messsages around, repeating each of them 2 or 3 times, to make sure they
are not misunderstood. (No European Blackbirds in song here as yet; there
are usually a few in this area.)

The other players were much more modest, and it took some time before I
picked them out. Not the Chiffchaff, because I heard his metronomic chiff
chaff chiff chaff as soon as I opened my car door. But the Bramblings with
their tired low buzz, and the Dunnocks with their somewhat mechanical
jingle, are easily overheard, and the tentative whistle of the Bullfinch
is still less conspicuous. Of course there were also Kjøttmeis Parus
major; they started singing in late January.

At least three butterflies today, and a few  fat bumblebee queens.

For the next walk I always park at a farm, complete with Starlings and
House Sparrows (but no wagtail as yet today). here there was almost no
snow left on the large fields between the farm and the fjord, and lots of
Fieldfares and a few Golden Plovers foraged here---no Lapwings this time,
though, and in fact I saw none all day today. In the muddy intertidal a
pair of Tufted Ducks were the first of the year, but otherwise there was
little new on this walk

In the fjord around here there were a few flocks of Common Scoters, but
little else, so I drove all the way to the bottom of the fjord. But also
here there were now much fewer water birds than two weeks ago, only small
flocks of Velvet Scoters and a few Horned (Slavonian) Grebes, the latter
now in brilliant spring finery

As almost every year around this time, I found out once more that this is
too early to see something on the shallow and productive lake Sagvannet,
some 15 km inland; the lake was still completely frozen over. Nor did I
find a lot along 'the other bottom end' of the Balsfjord, the area between
Storsteinnes and Tennes. Well, there were birds galore here, but most of
them were the same species I had seen also in the other side; the only
newcomers for the daylist were a pair of Shelduck, a single Whimbrel and a
pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (the threatened nominate race , that I
prefer to call Baltic Gull, as it differs in so many ways from the
graelssii gulls of Britain an Iceland)

I was back home just in time to watch a local soccer match on TV, and
before the expected change in the weather Tomorrow it will be 10*C colder
again. Together with the majority of the other locals, I have not yet
changed to 'sunner wheels' on my car; winter maybe be back a few times
yet! But next week I fly off, for a week in a cabin in S. France with Riet
and her son; there it must be full spring!!

Vader, Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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