from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: Wim Vader <>
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 1997 12:08:28 +0200
                LATE SUMMER AT 70*N

Tromsoe, N.Norway, has had a good summer, although not as record-breaking
hot as large parts of S. Norway and NW Europe. But we had long periods with
sunny summery weather, with temperatures from 18-26*C, and that does not
occur every summer (2 years ago we had 27 minutes (!) above 20*C all
summer). So all the snow of this extra snowy winter has disappeared, and
most birds (apart from the earliest nesters) had a good breeding season.
Many insect-feeding passerines had salad days, in fact, because of a
continuing infestation of the birches with "leaf-worm", enabling them to
find a beakful of caterpillars in no time.
Now temperatures are still quite high for the time of the year(12*C this
morning), but the weather is gray and rainy, wth clouds covering the hill
tops. In my remnant birch forest patch (Folkeparken) the blanket of violet
Storkbills Geranium sylvaticum has come and gone since I last mailed from
here, and now tall forbs dominate the wetter areas: The deep blue-violet
"alpine salad" Lactuca alpina forms large, up to 2m high stands, together
with the "marsh Spiraea" Filipendula ulmaria (I make up these English names
as I go, so they are bound to be wrong) and a number of species of tall
ferns, of which the "ostrich wings" Struthiopteris sp. are the most
spectacular. On drier areas the Goldenrods Solidago virgaurea are marched
up, together with the more modest yellows of the Melampyrum species, and
along ditches the Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris lifts its pure
white flowerheads. In all clearings the Firewood Epilobium angustifolium
blazes; in Karelia people said that summer was over when the last flowers
of the firewood fade--fortunately these plants flower for many weeks.
Blueberries Vaccinium myrtillus and other wild berries are everywhere, and
the paths are speckled with the "calling cards" of thrushes and other
birds, showing how important these berries are as food also for the birds. 

The birch forest , and also my garden, are full of birds these days, but at
least two thirds of them are young Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus,
already starting their migration--SE into Sweden and from there also
generally SE, and thus different from the S.Norwegian birds.Besides the
Willow Warblers there are many Pied and Spotted Flycatchers Ficedula
hypoleuca and Muscicapa striata, Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis, Bramblings
Fringilla montifringilla, and Willow Tits Parus montanus, as well as
boisterous Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and more retiring Redwings T.iliacus
on the lawns.White wagtails  Motacilla alba fly up everywhere in front of
one`s car, and Redpolls Acanthis flammea are cruising over the treetops
(Not so very high here!) and "rattling"; they are much more conspicuous now
than earlier in the season. Just this morning I also saw a flock of Siskins
Carduelis spinus, less common again here near the coast this year after the
large influx last year. European Robins Erithacus rubecula have definitely
nested in Folkeparken this summer--first time I`m sure of this--:Atnleast
one , and probably two breeds of fledged young hang arouns and are
protected by furiously "ticking" parents.
In town the young Common Gulls Larus canus have by now learned to avoid the
motor cars, and their parents have stopped divebombing us; many young gulls
compete for handouts with the feral doves outside the church, and along the
little lake Prestvannet. Magpies and Hooded Crows join in, and also the
first Ravens Corvus corax are back in town.
On the coast (where I`ve been all too little this summer, since my
favourite spot was destroyed by road works (Yes, it happens also
here!)flocks of Ruffs Philomachus pugnax with smaller numbers of Redshanks
and Dusty redshanks Tringa totanus and T. erythropus congregate  in marshy
areas, while on sandy beaches active flocks of Dunlin and Little stints
Calidris alpina and C. minuta-- often with a few Curlew Sandpipers C.
ferruginea thrown in--, and Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula dominate
the scene. (This is the time of year to hope for rarities among these
flocks; in earlier years I have had both Pectoral, Baird`s and Buff-bellied
Sandpipers here). The Eiders Somateria mollissima are in eclipse, although
one now and then comes across broods of quite young ducklings.
Last weekend the weather was really nice inland, so Riet and I grasped the
chance of walking in the broad valleys and impressive "vidda`s" of inland
Troms. This area has had a "lemming year", and we still found a number of
dead and a few live Lemmings Lemmus lemmus. Such years are usually
characterized by high numbers of raptors and indeed Rough-legged Hawks
Buteo lagopus were everywhere, and we also came across several nest sites
of Merlins Falco columbarius. We also saw at least one Hen Harrier Circus
macrourus, as well as a group of three young Golden Eagles Aquila
chrysaetos; their "begging whistles" had us searching the mountain-sides
for a long time, in order to try to localize the "people in trouble",
before the truth went up. 
The mountain birch forests in these areas are often quite luxuriant, as we
found out when we lost our path and had to wade through more than man`s
high stands of Lactuca, Filipendula and ferns. The birds are mostly the
same as near the coast, but a Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
was typical for this area---we missed the Hawk Owls Surnia ulula, that also
have had a good nesting-season with this surfeit of rodents (as we missed
the Long-tailed Jaegers Stercorarius longicauda on the vidda (gone
already?)). Of passerine birds Lapland Buntings (Longspurs) Calcarius
lapponicus, Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis and the lone Little Bunting
Emberiza pusilla belong up here, while the most common birds on the vidda
are Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe. Most
shorebirds had left the area, but the sore whistles of the Golden Plover
Pluvialis apricaria still followed us, and along the river every now and
then we startled a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleuca. The cabin we
borrowed is situated along a lake (very invigorating swimming at these
latitudes!), and in the evening we almost constantly heard the wails and
cackles of the resident family of Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica; we
also heard and saw Greenshanks and Dusty Redshanks Tringa nebularia  and
T.erythropus, and Old-Squaws Clangula hyemalis, Common Scoters Melanitta
nigra and Red-throated Mergansers Mergus serrator, all of which nest in the
The days are rapidly shortening now, but we still have longer light than
most of you, until late September. This is a most interesting time
bird-wise, and diligent birding will almost every year turn up some rarities.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsoe 
                                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

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