17 May is Constitution Day here in Norway and normally a day full of processions, horn music and bunader (traditional clothing).
But as you all know, this is not a normal year and just as last year, all these festivities had to be canceled.
So my daughter Marit had the excellent idea to invite me for a trip from Tromsoe to the outer coast, some 50 km by road.
And as luck would have it, today the weather is excellent: light clouds, little wind, a lot of sunlight, and up to 13*C (may seem cool to you, but the warmest day of the year until now).
We drove to Hillesoey by the shortest route, across the large island of Kvaloeya. All the way the roadsides are festooned by flowering Coltsfoot; we must have seen 10.000s of them during the day. Otherwise spring has not really arrived
here: most of the fields are snow-covered, the birches are bare (but many willows are in flower) and the Coltsfoot and the small also yellow Siberian primroses of the road verges are the only flowers.
The small outer
islands of Sommaroey (a thriving fishing village) and Hillesoey are connected to Kvaloeya by a long and narrow bridge.
Just before the bridge I noted (twice even) my first year bird: the unmistakable Black Guillemot.
We parked the car on Hillesoey and walked my well known route to the sea
side. Here all the snow has gone, but many areas are quite waterlogged.
To my disappointment, there were few signs of spring here,
not in the vegetation either: no flowers as yet on the Cloudberries and in fact no flowers and very little green at all as yet. The birds yielded more promises: pairs of stately Greylag
Geese occupied their territories, the large gulls (Herring and Great Black-backed) probably have eggs already and the Oystercatchers were 'tepeeting' everywhere.
No less than 4 impressive, although somewhat unkempt looking immature White-tailed Sea Eagles sat on some offshore skerries (here also the lone Shag of the day, as well as several Great Cormorants).
We picnicked near the shoreline--quite low ebb--and watched a Herring Gull dive up a sea-urchin and drop it on the rocks (the island is full of sea urchin rests). Red-throated Mergansers were almost ubiquitous
today, as are the Common Eiders, with here and there a few Mallards, and we were lucky to watch a line of some 10 Pink-billed Geese fly over, on their way to Svalbard. A lone Wheatear in a bare tree was probably still on migration;
I’ve never seen them on Hillesøya before
We returned along the longer coastal route, skirting Malangen all the way. On the extensive cloudberry marshes near Brensholmen the Arctic Skuas, that always nest here in some numbers, had
not yet arrived, but we found the first Whimbrels for 2021. Here in N. Norway the Curlews nest always close to the coast, while the Whimbrels nest more inland and often in the hills. Also
along Malangen we saw many mergansers and regularly Greylag Geese, and lots of eiders.
A single Starling made its way on my year list, as did a tight flock of some 25 Red Knots; a few 1000s of this species have a staging area in the nearby Balsfjord, on their way to the nesting areas in Greenland and Arctic Canada.
Our last stop was the marshy peninsula of Tisnes, about which I must have talked to you too often already. I wanted to show Marit displaying Ruffs and luckily there were 3 colourful males obliging.
Also this species has decreased a lot around here, as a nesting bird.
This is also the area where I already in many years search for a beautiful spring flower, the Purple Saxifrage (looks more pink than purple to me) Saxifraga oppositifolia.
There used to be many, but their wonderful chalk-rich flower meadow has these last years been trampled into pieces by many horses. Still, also this year we found a single group of flowers, for me always the official start of spring.
We also added the 9th year bird for me, a pair of Wigeons, common nesters in the area.
No swallows or terns as yet, and no Willow Warblers, but spring is definitely on its way also at 70* N.
Wim Vader, Tromsoe, Norway