Once more around the Balsfjord))

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Subject: Once more around the Balsfjord))
From: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <>
Date: Wed, 16 May 2018 08:38:57 +0000

I have lived in Tromsø, N. Norway, for 45 years now, and every spring I drive 
at least once 'around the Balsfjord', the fjord penetrating southwards from 
Tromsø for some 100 km's; I must have reported about this trip many times to 
you already, so please tell me if this becomes a surfeit. This year my trip was 
2 weeks later than in most years: my car was snowed under until a week ago, and 
Riet, who was here for a week, does not much like long car drives (It is c 
250km). We have had a lingering winter, with lots of snow, but 2 weeks ago it 
got nice and sunny---one day 23*C, almost unknown of here in early May--, and 
all the snow has disappeared in record time. Now my walk to the museum is snow 
free, and there are only some rests in ditches etc left. The birch forest here 
is not yet green, but the Rowans (Mountain Ash, Sorbus) have leafed, and the 
birches, the dominant trees here, will soon follow----they were looking quite 
green already along the Balsfjord, where it often is a little bit warmer than 
here on the island.
Also yesterday the weather was quite nice, in spite of a somewhat threatening 
weather forecast: mostly sunny, and 15-16*C. The later date this year made for 
some differences: the always more arctic and usually ice-covered Ramfjord was 
now already ice free, and all the flocks of sea ducks (Scoters, eiders, 
Long-tailed ducks) that concentrate on the Balsfjord in spring, i.a. to feast 
on Capelin eggs, had already disappeared. When I started (8.30, I often do not 
manage to be out early) the Pied Flycatcher was singing lustily in the garden 
(They nest in nest boxes), and I also heard Greenfinches (of course) and the 
newcomer Blue Tit. The trip starts out along the main road south (E8) for some 
30 km, and the usual suspects join the day list: Common Gulls live up to their 
name and are everywhere, Hooded Crows and Magpies are common, Fieldfares rattle 
and scold, while the fjord yields Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, 
Oystercatchers and Common Eiders (and the odd Mallard), but not yet any terns, 
while the cormorants of winter have left to nest elsewhere. At 81, I need most 
of my attention on the road, so only the most conspicuous birds are noticed.

The above-mentioned Ramfjord, a side fjord of the Balsford, stretches 
east-west, and I drive around it. There is this time a year an enormous 
difference between the two sides: while the forest on the south-oriented north 
shore is already quite green, along the secondary road on the other side of 
this fjord there are still large patches of snow, and the birches here are 
bare.  But it is here I get my first positive surprise: a Ring Ouzel flies 
across the road in front of the car. This is not a rare bird here, but they 
almost seem to be somewhat allergic to roads and are therefore seldom seen.. My 
first stop is at the mouth of the small Andersdalen river, just when I get back 
to the Balsfjord itself. Here, somewhat earlier in May, I often spot wintering 
Yellow-billed Loons (White-billed Divers), but they have gone now, and I have 
to be content with Redshanks and Curlews this time.

After this the road curves around and we enter a birch forest, with alders, 
poplars, rowans and the  occasional planted  spruce, on a quite steep slope. 
Here again the  microclimate must be excellent, as the forest looks definitely 
green, and in addition to the thousands of Coltsfoot, that grace the road 
verges everywhere just now in our area, there are also Caltha in the ditch, the 
many 'minrates of Equisetum arvense and the quickly growing 'soldiers' of the 
fern Struthiopteris, that always remind me of soldiers on parade. There is 
birdsong here, but much less than I had expected (By now it is 10 am): Norway's 
most numerous bird, the Willow Warbler is also dominant here now (I heard the 
first one only 3 days ago; how lucky we are that this bird has such a pleasant 
song strophe!), together with the Redwing, whose song strophe here is quite 
different from the birds I Folkeparken in Tromsø---it is very much a 'dialect 
songster', and in addition I have noted that the dialect in Tromsø this year 
has changed quite a bit from what they sang here a few years ago.; but all the 
birds in Folkeparken sing the same strophe. Gradually some other voices make 
themselves heard: Pied Flycatchers (the cabins here often have nest boxes), 
Great Tit (ditto), Chaffinch, Brambling (just arrived) and Dunnock---and of 
course the irrepressible Fieldfares, clearly much more content themselves with 
their scratchy songs than we are. As every year, from the steep rockside above 
comes the conversation of the local pair of Ravens.

My next stop and traditional walk is in an area along the fjord with farmhouses 
and fields, in addition to coppices. I notice that House Sparrows have invaded 
the area, and apparently the nest boxes, and also miss out on the Bullfinches 
and Woodpigeons that I often see here. A pair of European Golden Plovers 
barrels over, calling; they remain the only ones this day. At the farm where I 
park there are as yet no swallows, but A Starling is singing from the roof.

The secondary road along this 'peninsula', much the worse for wear after the 
winter, as most of the smaller roads are here, ends back up at the E8, and as 
there are no sea ducks here anymore, I drive quickly (One of the few bits 
around here where one is allowed 90 km/hr) to the bottom of Balsfjord, where I 
follow the old road along the fjord bottom; no sea ducks there either, but a 
pair of Goldeneyes in a small river mouth---all the rivers and streamlets are 
greatly swollen because of snow melt in the surroundings mountains.

Traditionally I continue some 15 km inland from the bottom of the Balsfjord (at 
Storsteinnes), where I swing off to a small country road along the lake 
Sagelvvatn (=Saw River Lake), at some 150m asl. This lake is mostly ice covered 
as yet, but the ice is dark and 'rotten' and won't last long anymore; pity I 
can't send pictures. In some open areas, where small rivulets debauche, there 
are Mallards, Wigeons, and a beautiful regal Arctic Loon. Where the lake ends 
and empties itself into the Sagelva, I have a further traditional stop; I have 
often seen Dippers at the bridge here, but now the water is much too high, and 
also the local pair of Horned Grebes is clearly awaiting lower water: they were 
lazying on the shore. To my surprise, 3 Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) hunt over 
the lake here, and I was happy to hear a Yellowhammer sing; this species is 
decreasing alarmingly also here.

This is the furthest point of this day's trip, and I return via the 
Malangen-peninsula, where besides the here always common Greylag Geese, I see 
little new. Earlier one had to take a ferry in order to come back on Kvaløya, 
the large island between Tromsø and the sea, but since a few years there is a 
long tunnel under the sound here, which makes it much easier. The final stop is 
the wetland of Tisnes, about which you must by now have heard much more than 
you ever wished to know. The staging flocks of Red Knots, on their way to 
Greenland and Canada, have apparently already left, but there were some Ruffs, 
a pair of Teal, more Wigeons, many Redshanks and geese, and for the first time 
ever here, a Temminck's Sandpiper, usually seen near the airport in Tromsø. The 
last bird of the day (nr 39, numbers here do not really count up fast) is a 
lone Barn Swallow that I saw enter a barn here. 30 more km's on Kvaløya, the 
long bridge to our island of Tromsøya and home again around 5 pm with the 
feeling that spring has come in Tromsø also in 2018.
Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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