from your antipodes (Tromsø-birds)

Subject: from your antipodes (Tromsø-birds)
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 06 Apr 1998 09:47:50 +0200


Yesterday, 4 April, was a grey and somewhat drizzly day, with periods with
rain and sleet interspersed with dry hours. As the weather forecast warned
for snow today, and this might make the roads still more difficult, I
decided nevertheless to drive the traditional trip "around the Balsfjord",
a trip of ca 200 miles, with side roads etc. (In fact now, 6 April, we have
ca 10 inches of fresh snow, and still coming down!)
                The Balsfjord is a classical fjord, complete with a sill (the 
around the island of Tromsøya), and a number of deeper basins, down to ca
400m. It runs inland to the south from Tromsø (Probably fjords don`t run,
but I do not know what they do instead), and the main road goes along the
eastern shore of this fjord. Balsfjord never freezes over in winter, and
the bottom fauna has a quite Atlantic composition. One of the side fjords,
the Ramfjord, on the other hand, has a lot of freshwater outrun, and this
fjord is frozen all winter, while the bottom fauna contains a lot of arctic
                Before getting to the Ramfjord, I have already seen all the 
normal winter
elements of the fjords here: Eiders, Red-throated Mergansers, Cormorants,
Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and Oldsquaws. Along the shore pairs
of Oystercatchers stand together every few hundred yards, but few of the
Common Gulls are back as yet: a large flock near Tromsø probably had just
                The Ramfjord, surrounded by high mountains, is a vast expanse 
of snowy
ice, punctuated by the holes of the many ice fishermen, and criss-crossed
by their tracks. Large flocks of large gulls keep the fishermen company,
and also Hooded crows and Ravens patrol the holes.
                At the bottom of the Ramfjord I deviate on to the narrow 
secondary road
along the northern shore of this fjord. As usual, this road is dangerously
icy or slippery-soapy many places, as the sun does not reach it for many
hours a day.Fortunately there is little aviandistraction here   
        "Around the corner", back along the Balsfjord, one clearly sees the
influence of exposure. Here the slopes are exposed to the south, and many
places near shore most of the snow has disappeared. At the mouth of a
little river a few Lapwings are foraging on the intertidal mud, and in the
valley here the Willow Grouse are already quite active. (Later in spring
this is also an excellent spot to listen to the cooing of the Black Grouse).
                On this "warm shore" I always put my car aside and walk a while 
along the
road. The small farmhouses here nearly all have nestboxes for tits,
flycatchers and starlings, and at several houses there are also active
feeders, with a steady stream of Great and Willow tits, and Green- and
Bullfinches. The Greenfinches rasp away in the planted spruce trees, while
the Bullfinches often are to be found in the Alder trees, where they forage
on the still quite small buds. In addition there were lots of Redpolls
(with some Arctic redpolls in between) and also Siskins, a species that is
slowly getting more common in the outer parts of Troms.
                (Similarly, it seems as if the Blue Tit Parus caeruleus is 
this area. I did not see any this day, but we have heard of more and more
cases of both wintering and nesting of this basically quite southern
species in northern most Norway during the last few years. There are also
some on the island of Tromsøya, and I think before long this will become a
common bird in the area, especially if helped by putting out nestboxes with
a bit smaller holes).
                On the fields the very first flocks of Snow Buntings were 
foraging, in
this area always a most welcome sign of spring coming.  On the shore a
Shelduck had returned to its traditional nesting-place under an outhouse,
and small flocks of Oldsquaws flew southwards , towards the inner reaches
of the fjord. There large numbers of ducks and grebes congregate to await
the thawing of the ice on the freshwater lakes later in spring. Our "real
birders", with sharp eyes and strong telescopes, have already found quite a
number of Yellow-billed Loons and Red-necked Grebes on the fjord, but the
fjord is many places more than a mile broad, and I found today (with 10x
field-glasses only) only two of the loons and a single grebe; still, both
were new birds for my year-list.
                Besides the eiders (much "spring-cooing in the large flocks 
now) and the
oldsquaws, the dominant duck on the inner reaches of the fjord is the
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca. An additional reason for this concentration
on just this fjord is the presence of a local race of the small fish
Capelin Mallotus villosus in the Balsfjord; the Capelins spawn in the
spring, in very shallow water, and the eggs are very eagerly eaten by the
                Another, although not completely reliable sign of spring was 
the pair of
Whooper swans in the intertidal halfways down the Balsfjord. Whooper swans
have increased in numbers in this area in the last decades, but a few
sometimes stay over winter, although most migrate to S.Norway. The Greylag
geese had apparently not yet returned, at least I did not see any, not even
in the next fjord malangen, where they traditionally are common nesters.
                At the end of the day, I paid a short visit to the wetland of 
then in pouring rain. Here much snow had melted, but the only sign of
spring were the many pairs of Mallards (As I had in fact seen all day);
none of the Common Gulls, that nest here in large numbers, had returned,
nor did I see Curlews or Golden Plovers. So here it looked still very wintery!
                At Easter I`ll take the opportunity once more to escape to 
Holland, where
signs of spring will be a dime a dozen, I hope.(So "nomail" to Birdchat for
8 days).Happy birding!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

List of birds observed (*=returned migrants):

Yellow-billed Loon      Gavia adamsii
Red-necked Grebe        Podiceps grisegena
Cormorant               Phalacrocorax c. carbo
*Whooper Swan           Cygnus cygnus
Mallard         Anas platyrhynchos
*Teal                   A. crecca (1 only)
*Shelduck               Tadorna tadorna
Oldsquaw                Clangula hyemalis
Velvet Scoter           Melanitta fusca
Common Scoter           M. nigra
Northern Eider  Somateria mollissima
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Willow Grouse   Lagopus lagopus
*Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
*Northern Lapwing       Vanellus vanellua
Purple Sandpiper        Calidris maritima
Great Black-b. Gull     Larus marinus
Herring Gull            L. argentatus
*Common Gull            L. canus
Feral Pigeon            Columba livia
*Starling               Sturnus vulgaris
Magpie                  Pica pica
Hooded Crow             Corvus corone cornix
Raven                   C. corax
Willow Tit              Parus montanus
Great Tit               P. major
House Sparrow           Passer domesticus
Bullfinch               Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Greenfinch              Chloris chloris
Siskin                  Carduelis spinus
Redpoll         C. flammea
Arctic Redpoll  C. hornemanni
*Snow Bunting           Plectrophenax nivalis

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