Feeding the Ruffs at Prestvannet

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Subject: Feeding the Ruffs at Prestvannet
From: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <>
Date: Sat, 8 Sep 2018 12:44:08 +0000
Prestvannet in Tromsø, N. Norway

Prestvannet is a smallish, shallow, mostly artificial lake on top of our island 
of Tromsøya at 70*N in N. Norway, just north of and above the town center of 
Tromsø; I must have written about it several times before, as it is famous for 
its population of nesting Red-throated Loons. The path around it is exactly one 
English mile long and it is much used by strollers and joggers, and by families 
who want to feed the ducks, primarily Mallards.

 The lake was formed two centuries ago by damming a few creeks in a marshy 
area, and originally it functioned primarily as source of ice, used to conserve 
corpses in the wintertime, when the ground is frozen stiff. The damming was 
done by the church, hence the name Prestvannet (=the priest's lake). The monks 
also put out Crucian Carp in the lake, and this is still the northernmost 
population of this fish (Which has special physiological adaptations against 
freezing). The area around the lake is mostly birch forest and marshland, with 
a large colony of Common Gulls (so that feeding the ducks in summer in practice 
often becomes feeding the gulls), and also a mixed colony of Arctic and  
(fewer)Common Terns, and in addition to the abundant Mallards, there are also 
always several nesting pairs of Tufted Ducks, just as avid users of the feeding 
as the Mallards. And the great pride of the lake are the now 9-10 pairs of 
nesting Red-throated Loons, mostly nesting on small mud islands, and much less 
shy here than most other places---this number has steadily grown from 1-2 pairs 
30 years ago,

When I first came to Tromsø in the early 1970's, the town was only half its 
present size, and every year there were some displaying Ruffs and a few pairs 
of nesting Redshanks at Prestvannet. The Ruffs have sadly decreased slowly but 
steadily everywhere  in our area. For example, on the wetlands of Tisnes, where 
there earlier were 45-50 displaying male Ruffs, there are now usually less than 
10. But the species is still a common one further north, in Finnmark,  and here 
in Tromsø it is one of the most common autumn migrants in August-September, 
often together with a few Spotted Redshanks and more in the marshy wetlands, 
than on the open coast, where Dunlins and Ringed Plovers dominate. This year 
there seem to be more than most years, and I have already two times seen a few 
on the parking place outside our museum.

Acting on a tip from a colleague, I went to walk around the Prestvann this 
morning. The weather was nice; calm and sunny, although with large banks of fog 
over the sounds, and 10*C. Prestvannet was most quieter than in summer:   the 
terns and most of the gulls (some young of the year still here) are gone, as 
are the loons and the many Bank Swallows that usually forage  over the lake. 
Also the Tufted Ducks appear to be gone south.  Interestingly, no less than 15 
Grey Herons were loafing in the middle of the lake, a few in the peculiar 
sunning position; this is a relative newcomer as a nesting bird on the island.

But the Mallards are here, all in eclipse plumage and a few still with 
half-grown pulli . As always there were a few people, often old men or families 
with small kids, who come specially to feed the ducks, and the ducks know that 
very well and come flying as soon as they see somebody with a large bag. But to 
my great surprise, also Ruffs came flying in, as soon as the man had sat down! 
They came one and one and from different directions, but very clearly they had 
learned the routine, and I saw this many times and at different localities 
around the lake. One place where I watched a while, there were at last 10-12 
Ruffs (both sexes) walking around among the ducks, not at all shy and coming 
within a meter of the man who sat quietly on a bench (and who had no idea what 
kind of birds these were!). The ruffs did not interact at all with the ducks, 
but squabbled now and then a bit among themselves, and they seemed to enjoy the 
smaller bread bits. Another place there was a family with small kids, i.a. 2 
girls of 3-4 years who delighted in running after the birds, as kids do; but 
even there the Ruffs did not go aside further than strictly necessary.

I have never seen anything like this before, and would love to hear if other 
have had similar experiences. I have seen Ruffs following the plow, but my only 
shore bird experience which comes close were the Ruddy Turnstones scavenging 
under the tables in a beach restaurant in Ostende, Belgium 2 years ago.

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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