Tromsø in winter, birding in the dark, part 2
5. Bulk feeders. In this category the grouse are most important. Willow Grouse and Ptarmigan feed on willow buds and shoots, Black grouse on birch, and the large Capercaillie (more an inland bird here) on pine needles.
We have few woodpeckers here, but some winters there is an influx from the east of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and they feed mostly on pine seeds in winter.
6. Insect feeders. The large majority of these of course migrate south in winter, or switch to other food, as do the tits, the woodpeckers and to a certain degree also the Tree Creeper (which also habitually robs the caches
that the Willow Tits make in autumn). Strangely enough the smallest of them all, the Goldcrest, seems to stay with insect food all winter, and in severe winters many die.
7. Fruit feeders. Northern Norway is a country very rich in wild berries, feasted on by both birds, mammals and man. And many of them tolerate frost well. However, most of them grow on or near the ground and are therefore
very hard to get to in winter. An exception is the Rowan (Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia), a tree that yields large amounts of orange edible berries (which make a good jam!). The berry crop varies a lot from year to year, but some years we have a bumper crop,
and in those years the thrushes (Fieldfare and Redwing) that otherwise fly south in October, linger till January and feast on the rowan berries. Another fruit eater, that arrives in time for the rowan feast, is the beautiful Bohemian Waxwing, and in top years
there may be many hundreds of them even in my garden. Some years also Pine Grosbeak join in the feast, as tame here as they are everywhere.
- 8. 'Seed eaters *feeder birds'. Lots of people here feed the birds all winter, and for most of them sun flower seeds are the favourite food offered. The most common birds at the feeders are Great Tits and the last years
also the newcomer Blue Tit, as well as here and there pairs of Willow Tits. The latter hoards food in autumn, and is therefore less dependent on kind people than Great and Blue Tits, which do not hoard. Greenfinches, also a newcomer here far north (still absent
when I came here in 1973, but now almost the most numerous winter bird), greedily feed at the feeders, and have a tendency to try to monopolize them, and there are often also Bullfinches, these large, calm and beautiful finches, that here north have even taken
over for European Robins on the Christmas cards. Where there are House Sparrows, they of course also participate, but this species is quite patchily distributed here and also very resident: there is a small colony at a house 50 m down the road, but I never
see them in our garden. Many of these feeders are close to lighted windows and at such places one can find feeding birds virtually at any hour of day or night. Clearly, there is too little daylight to allow the birds to confine their activities to the 2-3
hours of twilight
- 9. Omnivores. Here the crows come in, and they are the most conspicuous land birds in winter Tromsø. Our garden, as very many, has a resident pairs of Magpies (not the Aussie ones, but the long-tailed black and white
crow of that name), and one of hooded Crows, while in winter Northern Ravens also venture into town, although they are much more circumspect. The magpies often succeed to raid the feeders, with some acrobatics (as our many feral pigeons now and down also manage),
while the crows don't even try. Also the large gulls are omnivorous, but in winter they mostly keep to the shores.
- 10. Predators. Somewhat surprisingly, given the lack of 'good hunting light' there are quite a number of predators around, mostly hunters of birds rather than small mammals. White-tailed Sea Eagles are common, but
they scavenge almost as most as catch their own prey in winter. More active hunters are the Sparrow Hawk, often causing panic at the feeders, and the Northern Goshawk, mostly a winter visitor here. I have also once or twice seen a Gyrfalcon, usually a hunter
of grouse, in town, no doubt looking for a meal among our town flock of feral pigeons, as so much else here 'the northernmost in the world'
If this sounds like a lot of birds, I have given the wrong impression. In reality land birds, except for the crows, the greenfinches and the tits, are very thin on the ground here in winter, and a walk through town will usually
not get you into the double digits of bird species numbers this time a year, even at mid day. nevertheless, we are very fond of our winter birds: they add colour and movement to an otherwise largely black and white landscape. A very beautiful and often spectacular
landscape, by the way. Come and see for yourself, when such will once again be feasible!
Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway