Wet Sunday at 70*N

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Wet Sunday at 70*N
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2009 10:35:58 +0200

                                            WET SUNDAY AT 70*N

In the days before the Whitsunday weekend, most of W. Europe enjoyed warm
and sunny summer weather, and newspapers and TV were full of warnings
against UV-radiation and sun-burn. Here in N.Norway we are blessedly free
of all such  luxus problems: the stable high above W. Europe sent all the
Atlantic depressions our way, so we got a surfeit of weather, mostly of
the mildly unpleasant variety. On the Friday the temperatures sank to
+2*C, and all the hills around were covered in fresh snow, on the Saturday
it all rained away again, on Whitsunday proper we had fierce winds, that
i.a. sent the neighbours plastic garden table sailing over a high picket
fence and more or less 'exploding' in our garden, and on the Monday there
was less wind, but much more rain again. Now the situation has somewhat
stabilized: grey weather with occasional showers, northerly winds of force
5-6, and a temperature of 5-6*C, cold summer weather also by our

But nature looks at its best this time a year here. The snow has retreated
to above c 300m a.s.l. on the surrounding hills, the trees are finally in
full leaf, and there are hundreds of different green colours around. The
lawns, and in fact also many road verges, are full of pale yellow Primula,
a Siberian garden species, that very often escapes from the gardens, and
on wet and marshy places---and of those we have plenty-- there are
butter-yellow carpets of the spectacular  Marsh Marigold flowers (Caltha
palustris).taking over from the Coltsfoot in the annual 'yellow flower

In our garden the birds are spectacularly hungry suddenly this cool week,
and I use 1 kg of sun-flower seeds every day, much more than in winter.
This can not be because of the feral pigeons that have discovered this
source of food, and who hang around almost all day now (periodically
chased by our resident magpie pair, although these intelligent birds now
seem to understand that this is a hopeless task and grumblingly accept to
forage together with the pigeons below the hanging feeders. One of the
magpie pair is able to cling to these feeders for a moment and extract
some seeds, while its partner can't do this trick), as they stay always on
the ground The main culprits are instead a large gang of Greenfinches (up
to 25, in all sorts of plumages), that seems to be around almost all day
(In spite of our midnight sun (theoretically) they disappear largely after
10 pm) and beleaguers the feeders, with much quarreling and fluttering. I
should have thought that these birds by now ought to be in pairs and nest
somewhere, but this gang seems to keep together all the time.
Nevertheless, now and then I see greenfinches assiduously collecting
fsmall eathers and fly off with them, no doubt to use in their nests. Now
and then I also watched them snip off the flowers of the yellow Primula,
only to subsequenltly drop them again----I wonder if it is the honey that
attracts these birds.

The other birds around the feeder are Bramblings, Redpolls and even a few
Chaffinches, all birds of the nearby forest, a few House Sparrows from
down the road, and now and then some tits, mostly Great Tits---these were
much more common here before and are no doubt nesting again. there are
other birds in the garden, that are not attracted to the feeder, but which
I hear sing (Redwings and Willow Warblers, the Chiffchaff seems to have
moved on) or scold (the irrepressible Fieldfares)

On Monday I decided to not wait any longer for better weather, but to
drive out to the wetlands of Kvaløya, using my car as a blind in the
pouring rain. This turned out to be a wise decision, for this was one of
those days, where patience paid off and I saw more than I had dared hope
for. Some of the 'year birds' this day were to be expected: at Tisnes the
first Arctic Terns fished and screamed---but seemingly have no plans to
occupy its former nesting colony here---. The Sand Martins (Bank Swallows)
were also back in force, and unexpectedly had concentrated over the
intertidal, and one of the farms even had a Barn Swallow, in vain trying
to 'make summer'.  A small group of Ruffs displayed, Redshanks were
nervous (So what else is new), and the resident Lapwings displayed
exuberantly, unaware of the fact that their eggs would the next day be
robbed by Hooded Crows (as watched and photographed by a birder
yesterday). At sea there was a single male Goosander among the many
Red-breasted Mergansers, but the many hundreds of Red Knots that are
staying and fattening here for zome weeks before flying on to Greenland,
clearly had come and gone---there was no sign of them. Few ducks here this
day, only Mallards and  Wigeons (But other birders have seen Pintail,
Gadwalls and Shovelers here last week).

Afterwards I decided to drive the 50 km or so to another wetland, Rakfjord
on the banks of Kvalsundet, the sound between the large outlying islands
of Kvaløya and Ringvassøya, between Tromsø and the open sea. Much fewer
birds on this fish-rich sounds with its strong tidal currents than a month
before, but three Atlantic Puffins were again the first of the year for
me. The small lakes at Rakfjord are always interesting; usually I walk
this area, but this time, with the puring rain, I chickened out and
watched from the car. On the small lagoon, which is crossed by the road on
a causeway, there were the usual Red-throated Mergansers, the most common
nesting ducjk in this area, but also two pairs of comic displaying
Goldeneyes, and in the fields close by I discovered a hunting Short-eared
Owl, that gradually came closer and closer, and now and then clearly also
watched me with its piercing yellow eyes. A wonderful bird moment!!

As usual this marshland had its resident pair of Arctic Skuas (Parasitic
Jaegers), that neatly saw off a crossing Raven, and demonstrated their
fantastic flying technique and souplesse. The little pond near the parking
places sported two pairs of Tufted Ducks and some Redshanks, but when a
couple walked through the area (illegally) with their cat (!), first a
Snipe flew up, and later three Red-necked Phalaropes. The next larger pool
held more Tufted Duck, but this year seemingly not the pair of
Black-throated Loons that have nested there the last years; instead this
quite small lake now helds two pairs of Red-throated Loons! (I found the
Black-throated Loon pair a little later on the sound, and while watching
them, typically for this lucky day in the rain, the first Northern
Wheatear of the year popped op in the foreground). The final year birds of
the day were more expected again, the local pair of the impressive Whooper
Swans is also back. More unexpected, but probably less spectacular for
most of you, was a single Black-headed Gull in the intertidal; this is
here mostly an inland bird. Altogether this day brought 54 different
birds, practically all seen either from the house or from the car, so that
I missed many of the normal small forest birds, such as the Pied
Flycatcher, the Dunnock, the Bluethroat, or the Sedge warbler, all of
which are common around here. If you want, I can give an annotated list of
what I did see this Wetsunday.

Vader, Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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