from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 10:42:06 +0200


Tromsø has had a glorious Easter weather (Of course, since I was abroad!),
and all last week too day after day it has continued to be calm, sunny and
cold, with a few degrees frost at night, and some snow-melt during the
days. The sun is  now above the horizon from early morning till about 9
o`clock pm, and the main roads are mostly bare, although rather bumpy after
the winter (As ice takes more place than water, asphalt tends to get pushed
up, while our studded tires wear down the surface from above---we have two
sets of wheels for our cars, of which the "winter wheels", with studded
tires, are in use until late May or so).

Yesterday I succeeded in getting my car down the snowy driveway, and drove
to the wetland area of Tisnes, some 30 km west of Tromsø town, and
afterwards on to the outer coast at Sommarøy, another 40 km. Many families
were skiing in the mountains or picnicking around a campfire in the
intertidal; because of the lack of wind it did not feel cold, in spite of a
maximum temperatures of ca +5*C =ca 40*F).

At Tisnes the main impression definitely still was of late winter. Although
part of the meadows in this wetland were free of snow (and some Reindeer
were grazing there) the ground is still stiffly frozen, and there were few
birds. Still, the first Lapwings had arrived, and I even saw a short
acrobatic display flight, and there now also were a few Common Gulls
gathering on what will be a largish colony later on. Pairs of Mallards
waddled around on the snow-free patches, and at most farms Starlings were
singing from the telephone wires. A negative sign of sprimg was the absence
of the cormorant silhouettes from the stakes on dangerous shallows.

At one time I thought for a moment that I had rediscovered the albino
Oystercatcher that has been seen here several times. It turned out ,
however, that the piping oystercatchers all were pied, while the white bird
zooming overhead was a Willow Grouse, still in immaculate white winter
plumage. What it did on the mudflats, who knows?

Along the coast further out on the island of Kvaløya large groups of
Northern Eiders showed the unrest of spring feelings, and here and there a
Curlew had returned. Oystercatchers and Common Gulls were back on their
territories, and the closer ones gets to the outer coast, the more often
Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls appear. Twice I found White-tailed
Eagles sitting in the intertidal: one, on a very small piece of emerged
mudflat, was surrounded by Hooded Crows, for all the world like an Ocean
liner surrounded by tugs. Or thugs maybe rather: the crows clearly all had
their beady eyes on the large fish that the eagle had caught or found,
although they did not dare to directly harrass the big raptor.

Small birds are still rare, but every now and then flocks of Snow Buntings
flew up and swirled around, like snowflakes in the light of street lanterns
on a gusty night. These buntings are fueling up for the large non-stop
flight across the Atlantic Ocean to E. Greenland or even Arctic Canada;
they have wintered somewhere in the Russian steppes.

The island of Sommarøy, with a sizeable fishing village, is mostly quite
low and sandy, with the sand covered by a thick layer of peat many places.
As usual most of the snow here had blown together in large drifts, so it
was quite easy to walk. The colonies of Herring and Black-backed Gulls were
already forming, though no eggs had been laid as yet. At sea the first
Shags were in summer dress, but the Cormorants not yet.

I arrived at the outer coast of the island just at low ebb, and with the
calm seas all the tips of the kelp beds (Laminaria hyperborea) were visible
around the skerries and in shallow areas close to shore. Together with the
snowy silhouettes of the outer islands and the sun on the water this gave a
wonderful atmosphere. The sound decor was dominated by the cooing
(aa-OOOH-aa) of hundreds of Northern Eiders, strung out in ever-changing
patterns among the kelp beds, and by the gruff endearments of the pairs of
Great Black-backed Gulls, while now and then, and for the first time this
yerar, also the bronze trills of the Curlew sounded behind me. A lone Grey
Seal poked up its head close by, but submerged again quietly and
disappeared, probaly having spotted me sitting on the rocky shore.

Also here there were Snow Buntings everywhere. Most kept to the
surroundings of the houses and grassy areas among them, but a few also
frequented the wreck line along the many small bays and indentments along
the coast, probably foraging on the remains of washed-ashore marine

At home my feeders had been completely emptied, when I returned from my
Easter holidays. I refilled them, but it took ca 2 days before the birds
rediscovered this bounty of sun-flower seeds. Now, however, the same crowd
as before has returned, although the Bullfinches are still missing: some
tens of Greenfinches, merrily "rasping" their somewhat irritated sounding
simple songs high up in my trees between bouts of feeding, somewhat fewer
Redpolls (But still more than most winters), and a few Great and Willow
Tits. No Snow Buntings this year as yet: clearly there are enough snow-free
patches already for them elsewhere.

This morning I heard for the first time from my bed the long calls of our
house gulls, the Common Gulls. But they still are only visiting and have
not yet established territories. Still, it is one of the most encouraging
signs of spring just now in this still quite wintery Tromsø. Beggers can`t
be choosers!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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