early winter at 70*N (few birds!)

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Subject: early winter at 70*N (few birds!)
From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2013 09:17:49 +0000


These last years, we have had long autumns here in Tromsø, N. Norway, with the 
snow not seriously coming in till shortly before Christmas. But 2013 seems to 
turn out different: a week ago a sudden snow storm dumped some 20 cm of fresh 
and heavy snow on the island, and since then temperatures have hovered around 
freezing and it has snowed almost every day, although not a lot (maybe 30-40cm 
by now). The streets became quite slippery all of a sudden, and those people 
who had not changed to winter tires in time got double trouble; many slid off 
the road and in addition the police gave hefty fines to those who had ventured 
out on summer tires. The red sticks along all roads, that will be there all 
winter to guide the snow ploughs, have come up, and the local newspapers are 
full of stories of large trucks and lorries, often with East European drivers, 
that get stuck on steep inclines and block the roads. And yesterday the police 
put out the first avalanche warning of the year: Please avoid steep hills!

Many people, me too, walk now with "brodder" under our soles, rubber soles with 
small metal studs that we bind under our shoes. Slippery roads are an almost 
permanent problem here in winter, where the coastal climate gives us periods 
with Atlantic air and milder weather in between, and our local dialect has a 
wide choice of words to describe this situation: 'holke' is the general word 
for icy surfaces, 'speilholke' (=mirror holke) denotes the situation when rain 
has made the holke extra dangerous, while 'blindholke' is the most treacherous 
of all, the situation when the ice is covered by a thin veneer of snow and 
therefore invisible at first sight. With the climbing of the years I have also 
become much more reluctant to drive my car on 'holke', which means that my 
world suddenly becomes much smaller in winter. Daylight is also fast 
diminishing now, although it is still more than a month before the sun 
completely disappears for two months. And the snow helps a lot by reflecting 
what light there is.

I live in the basement apartment nowadays, having let the main house to my 
younger daughter and family, and I feed the birds outside my windows with two 
cylindrical tubes with mainly sunflower seeds. One of my local pair of magpies 
has learned to cling to these tubes and feed on the seeds, while the other is 
much more clumsy. But the normal visitors are roving flocks of Greenfinches, 
with many youngsters, that are not much green at all, a family of Great Tits 
(the young still easily recognizable with their much narrower 'neckties' and 
paler yellow bellies), a pair of dapper almost black-and-white  Willow Tits 
(often arriving together), and a single Blue Tit. This last is a relative 
newcomer to Tromsø, first seen in my garden two years ago and for the time 
being only seen now and then in the winter half year. (The other newcomer to 
the area, the Jay, I still have not seen here, although it is present many 
places in the surroundings of Tromsø now, and last week somebody noted as many 
of ten jays on her feeders on Kvaløya, the large island between us and the open 
sea.) These species,  the prudent Hooded Crows, which mostly visit when I am 
not in my rooms, I suspect, and a varying number of Feral Pigeons make up the 
total of my visitors the last month, although just yesterday there was a Great 
Spotted Woodpecker, remnant of an influx from the east earlier this autumn. The 
House Sparrows that live a few houses down the road, don't make it to my garden 
in winter (They did now and then in September), nor do the large gulls of the 
shore, Herring and Great Black-backed, ever land here. The 'house gulls' of 
summer, the Common Gulls, have together with all other migrant birds 'come to 
their senses and flown south', as a popular song here expresses it.

So the shores of the sound only have hooded crows and large gulls, and further 
out there are large flocks of Eider Ducks, a few other wintering duck species, 
and Cormorants. The only wintering shorebird here is the Purple Sandpiper, but 
I rarely see them on my side of the island  (there are often a lot on a jetty 
in town). In Folkeparken, the remnant birch forest and conifer plantations 
between my house and Tromsø Museum, it is almost completely quiet these days, 
and the only birds I see are Magpies and Hooded Crows. Early in the morning I 
now and then hear the croaks of Northern Ravens, and a Grey Heron or a 
White-tailed Sea Eagle may flap overhead. As we have had a very inferior crop 
of Rowanberries (Mountain Ash) this year, all the thrushes have left early, and 
as yet I have not seen a single Bohemian Waxwings (These, and much smaller 
numbers of Pine Grosbeaks) are in many winters quite common here.

Winter can be very beautiful here at 70*N, but it is not an ideal season to go 

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway


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