From your antipodes

Subject: From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 14:29:37 +0200


Tromsø in N.Norway, where I live since 1973, is a wonderful place in many
respects, but early spring is definitely not one of them. This year the
weather around Easter was as beautiful as anybody could wish, but here that
means crisp, cold weather with temperatures below freezing, and good skiing
conditions even in the lowlands. In my garden it will be 6 weeks to 2
months before all the snow has disappeared, and only the most hardy spring
migrants have arrived until now: Starlings, Oystercatchers, Common gulls,
Snow Buntings.
                So a visit to my native Holland in this season is always a 
contrast. Instead of snow and ice there are gardens full of flowers,
brilliantly flowering fruit trees (which I much prefer to the tulip fields,
personally), and gardens that are a riot of spring flowers. Along the roads
everywhere Amelanchier bushes are in full flower (One of the less obnoxious
aliens), and the meadows are yellow and pink with Ranunculus ficaria and
Cardamine pratensis. The bird chorus, although not yet at full strength, is
impressive nevertheless, and in the meadows the famous meadow birds (The
objects of Anneke`s care) are displaying everywhere and making themselves
                But April in Holland is nothing if not unstable, and this 
Easter the weather slowly deteriorated, so that in the Easter days we ended
up with strong winds, heavy showers, low temperatures, and finally on the
Tuesday morning the strange spectacle of completely white fields (hail
rather than snow mostly) and frozen puddles.
                By then we had borrowed my niece`s cabin "in the heart of 
Friesland", one
of the northern provinces in the Netherlands, and an area with a character
all of its own (, and their own language, Frisian, very much alive still).
The cabin is situated along one of the innumerable waterways, even this
early in the season already full of sailing and motor boats. It lies in a
small remnant of the original riverine brook-forest of alders and willows,
augmented by many planted trees and bushes over the years, and affords a
wonderful view over the water, on the ever changing light-effects and
cloudscapes of these "low countries" (= nether lands!), and on the many
birds, for which Friesland also is justly famous.
                Coots are squabbling and courting (The two look very similar in 
naturally aggressive birds), with a lot of wonderfully expressive threat
displays and "rush-attacks". Mallard drakes clearly have their females
already nesting somewhere among the many pollarded willows, but the Tufted
ducks clearly are later and still swim around in pairs. The ubiquitous
Great Crested Grebes demonstrate their eel-smooth diving techniques just
outside our windows, and Cormorants catch somewhat bigger fish, but are
much more restless and come and go all the time. Gray Herons and
Black-headed Gulls fly past steadily; clearly it is still too early for
terns (Although I saw Common terns a few days earlier in Central Holland,
just as I saw Barn Swallows there several places, but none in Friesland).
In the trees around the cabin Willow warblers and Winter wrens sing
exuberantly, and there are also Blackbirds, Great Tits, Chaffinches,
Chiffchaffs and Wood Pigeons. Starlings fly over in large flocks in the
afternoon, on their way to some common roost, followed half an hour later
by long drawn-out strings of Black-headed Gulls. At night the dominant
sound is the constant kleeping of the Oystercatchers, clearly in full
activity all night long.
                A walk into the meadows and reedlands of the Oude Hooidamsloot 
is a
chilly undertaking in this quite unspringlike weather, but it yields large
numbers of displaying Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits, regular concerts
of the bronze-voiced Curlews, very few Redshanks (as yet?), and ducks
everywhere: drake mallards, and pairs of Gadwalls, Shovelers, Tufted Ducks
and Pochards, as well as the very conspicuous Shelducks. Here and there a
pair of Greylag Geese shows itself, while Mute Swans are common here as
they are everywhere in the Netherlands. Not many songbirds as yet; once
more the Willow warblers and wrens are dominant, and tits and chiffchaffs
are also common. The meadows are full of Starlings and Meadow Pipits, but
little song is heard in this weather. Fortunately at least one Skylark
demonstrates a full song flight; I needed that!
                Another, a bit longer walk, goes to a polder that has been 
again and made into a wetland (Does not the proverb say: God created the
world, but the Dutch made their country themselves? The same goes for
nature reserves: they are created from scratch, and the method works
wonderfully, as long it is eutrophic areas one wants to create!). A screen
of willows yields unnoticed access to a beautiful circular bird-hide, owned
by the regional nature conservancy organization It Fryske Gea (The Frisian
                The hide gives an excellent close-up view of a colony of 
Gulls, and a bit futher away the edges of the low-lying meadows , where now
hundreds of Wigeons are grazing. Along the edge pairs of colourful
Shovelers are loafing, and here and there industrious Teals are foraging,
together with flocks of Black-tailed Godwits, a few Ruffs (One with an
impressive foxy-brown collar), many White wagtails and even my first
Temminck`s Stint of the year. Pairs of White-fronted Geese graze in the
meadows---they seem to be here all summer and may be of feral origin---,
and as everywhere in Holland, Egyptian Geese also give acte de presence;
one pair gets dive-bombed by the gulls, is clearly bothered, but stays put
                In the open water cormorants, Pochards and Tufted ducks dive, 
and over
the reedlands Buzzards,  a Kestrel and Marsh Harriers hunt. Very few song
birds here as yet (The water level is still very high): mostly Meadow
pipits and Reed buntings. But on the way back I hear an unmistakable
exuberant and varied song: the "bird with a thousand voices", the
Bluethroat, one of my absolute favourites, is back. Here they have white
stars in the blue throat, in Tromsø they are of the red-starred race.
                Even under these somewhat adverse circumstances, and "not 
really trying",
as usual, the list counts 58 bird species after 24 hours mostly spent
indoors looking out, a further indication of the great diversity of the
Dutch avifauna. And this is before the many Sylvia, Acrocephalus and
Locustella warblers that I know will swell the bird concerto around this
cabin in May and June, have arrived!
                I add the list of birds seen, even though there was nothing at 
spectacular among them. It still may give an impression of a wonderful
area, which I was privileged a short glimpse into on a very cold spring
day. The name of the cabin is `t Sprink, but for us this was "cold spring
harbor" this weekend.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

Birdlist `t Sprink 13-14 April 1998.

Great Crested Grebe     Podiceps cristatus
Cormorant               Phalacrocorax c. sinensis
Grey Heron              Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan               Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose           Anser anser
White-fronted Goose     A. albifrons
Egyptian Goose  Alopochen egyptiacus
Shelduck                Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon                  Anas penelope
Gadwall         A. strepera
Teal                    A. c. crecca
Mallard         A. platyrhynchos
Pintail         A. acuta
Shoveler                A. clypeata
Pochard         Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck             A. fuligula
Marsh harrier           Circus aeruginosus
Buzzard         Buteo buteo
Kestrel         Falco tinnunculus
Hobby                   F. subbuteo
Pheasant                Phasianus colchicus
Moorhen         Gallinula chloropus
Coot                    Fulica atra
Oystercatcher           Haematopus ostralegus
Lapwing         Vanellus vanellus
Temminck`s Stint        Calidris temminckii
Ruff                    Philomachus pugnax
Black-tailed Godwit     Limosa limosa
Curlew                  Numenius arquata
Redshank                Tringa totanus
Black-headed Gull       Larus ridibundus
Common Gull             L. canus
Herring Gull            L. argentatus
Woodpigeon              Columba palumbus
Collared dove           Streptopelia decaocto
Skylark         Alauda arvensis
Meadow pipit            Anthus pratensis
White Wagtail           Motacilla alba
Winter Wren             Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock         Prunella modularis
Eur. Blackbird  Turdus merula
Song thrush             T. philomelos
Eur. Robin              Erithacus rubecula
Bluethroat              Luscinia svecica
Willow Warbler  Phylloscopus trochilis
Chiffchaff              Ph. collybita
Willow Tit              Parus montanus
Blue tit                P. caeruleus
Great Tit               P. major
Magpie                  Pica pica
Carrion crow            Corvus corone
Jackdaw         C. monedula
Starling                Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow           Passer domesticus
Chaffinch               Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch              Chloris chloris
Goldfinch               Carduelis carduelis
Reed Bunting            Emberiza schoeniclus

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