from your antipodes

Subject: from your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 18:29:29 +0200


>From the end of April to late June everything happens in a hurry here in
northernmost Norway: winter to spring to summer! Please let me know whether
you still want to hear about this, or if "enough is enough" after two years.

Since Easter the weather has remained very pleasant: calm, mostly sunny,
and gradually milder, so that the last mornings even the puddles on the
street have not frozen over in the morning. Day temperatures are probably
not more than 5-7*C (=40-45*F), but in the sun it feels much warmer.

The official snow-depth yesterday was 48cm (ca 19 inches), which is only
20% of what we had last year at this same date! On many sun-exposed places
the snow has disappeared altogether, leaving a somewhat unlovely  brown and
tan mess of last-years plants, with a lot of long dead grasses. No fresh
green at all as yet; our spring is not that early! Some yellow, though, as
today I found the first yellow stars of what I think you call Coltsfoot
(Tussilago farfara), as usual on the verge of the road.

Yesterday evening I drove to the wetland of Tisnes, but found the situation
still largely unchanged. A few more gulls, maybe, and those more conscious
of the opposite sex definitely; 4 or 5 Lapwings displaying now, and the
only new arrival: 18 Greylag Geese, all in pairs as usual. They nest in the

Today I returned to the Balsfjord, i.e. inland from Tromsø, roughly the
same 250 km trip that I drove ca a month ago. Because the weather was so
calm (overcast much of the day, clearing later on), the mountains reflected
wonderfully in the fjord-water. Quite clear reflections for the unaided
eye, but when you look at them with field-glasses, they are "build up by"
(or better maybe "broken down into") large numbers of parallel vertical
dark and light lines, completely obscuring the picture of what they
reflect, but forming a wonderful set of ever changing patterns in their own
right. Almost like pointillism, but with lines instead of dots. Can
somebody explain me the physics and optics of this?  I sw it all the time,
as I sought where diving ducks, loons, and also porpoises would surface,
and got all the time distracted by the beauty of the reflections.

The general picture has not changed much since last month, but the Common
Gulls and Oystercatchers are back in full strength and dominate the
sound-effects, together with the many magpies (fantastic population density
in these fjord-coast agricultural areas)and the also common Hooded crows.
Of course there was less snow now, and I did not see a single Snow Bunting
any more!! Some of the Willow Grouse had started their moult, and had brown
heads on white bodies.

At my first stop, at the river mouth at Andersdalen (After having extited
the Ramfjord, still ice-bound and a fisherman`s paradise), gave the first
of many many White Wagtails; almost every farmhouse now has a pair of these
friendly and popular birds. In the fjord a few hundred Oldsquaws
(Long-tailed ducks) displayed and gave a wonderful concert, while a single
Common merganser (Goosander) was the first for the year.

Further on, along the southern-exposed shore of the Balsfjord, I did my
usual 1 1/2 hrs walk along the road. Lapwings were displaying everywhere,
and here and there Curlews also started up, although still somewhat
half-heartedly. I could almost swear I heard an unmistakable Redshank; the
trouble is only that I never saw the bird, and the local Starlings are well
able "to do an unmistakable Redshank", as well as most other
bird-sounds---it surprises me, that this "mimicry" apparently is never a
problem in America. Are the birders better there, or the Starlings more

A Snipe flew across, so could be counted as the first of the year, and the
local Shelduck-pair was still on the shore---no eggs as yet? Also among the
Mallards, now in force on the just snow-free ploughed land, most were still
in pairs, but there were a few small flocks of drakes only, so the first
ducks may be on the nnest already. The Eiders, the most common ducks of all
here, were still in full display, and there were now also more Red-breasted
Mergansers, small flocks rather than pairs (The same went for the Scoters).

I found this time 2 Yellow-billed Loons, as the quiet water made the search
easier, as welll as a quite close Common Loon (Great Northern Diver)in a
sort of piebald transition dress. Up here this bird is "the uncommon loon"
, while the yellow-bill is the normal winterer. Further inland, at the
"bottom" of the fjord, I found one Red-necked Grebe, and no less than 3
pairs of Horned grebes, the only species of grebe that nests regularly in
our area (in fresh water lakes, but these are all still frozen stiff).
Clearly they pair up, before they arrive at the nesting site.

On land the Greenfinches seem to have a fantastic good year, as one hears
them literally everywhere, pleasant trills, punctuated by the somehow
irritated-sounding little rasp-song. On a southerly slope with willows and
alders (alll still completely bare) some movement caught my attention, and
it turned out no less than 6 Redwings crept about, probably just arrived,
as completely silent. This is quite early, but with the constant
southeasterly winds maybe no great surprise. Nor was this all; I later
found 3 Fieldfares in a just thawed out meadow (also silent! Mirabile
dictu!), I found a flock of 4 Twites, and at the end of the day, just as I
decided to turn around, a Chiffchaff sang a few strophes from a willow-bush
on the shore (I saw the bird! The starlings can do Chiffchaffs too!)

Every year I become over-optimistic, and think: maybe there is already some
open water on the shallow and bird-rich Sagvatn, a lake some 10 miles S of
the Balsfjord. And every year I try too early; the ice-fishermen still
seigned supreme. A nice consolation was a Dipper on the ice along the river
that runs out of the lake (And when I crossed the  same river later on, lo
and behold once more there was a Dipper on the ice!), and a lone Chaffinch
singing near a farmhouse closeby.

At home still no territorial gulls, but I can see "5 lampposts down", so
ours can be back any day now. This year there have been no Snow Buntings at
all in the garden; even with so few bird-diversity as in Tromsø, no two
years are alike. But probably these small permutations are more fascinating
for Tromsø than for Vancouver or Melbourne, please warn me if I presume too

List of birds seen (*=first time this year in Tromsø)

Yellow-billed Loon                      Gavia adamsii
*Common Loon                            G. immer
Red-necked Grebe                        Podiceps grisegena
*Horned Grebe                           P. cornutus
Cormorant                               Phalacrocorax c. carbo
Shelduck                                Tadorna tadorna
Mallard                         Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Eider                  Somateria mollissima
Common Scoter                           Melanitta nigra
Oldsquaw                                Clangula hyemalis
Red-breasted Merganser          Mergus serrator
*Coomon Merganser                       M. merganser
White-tailed Sea eagle          Haliaeetus albicilla
Willow grouse                           Lagopus lagopus
Oystercatcher                           Haematopus ostralegus
Northern Lapwing                        Vanellus vanellus
Curlew                                  Numenius arquata
*Snipe                                  Gallinago gallinago
Common Gull                             Larus canus
Great Black-b. Gull                     L. marinus
Herring Gull                            L. argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull                L. f. fuscus
White wagtail                           Motacilla alba
Starling                                Sturnus vulgaris
Black-billed Magpie                     Pica pica
Hooded Crow                             Corvus corone cornix
Raven                                   C. corax
Dipper                                  Cinclus cinclus
*Chiffchaff                             Phylloscopus collybita
*Fieldfare                              Turdus pilaris
*Redwing                                T. iliacus
Willow tit                              Parus montanus
Great tit                               P. major
House Sparrow                           Passer domesticus
*Chaffinch                              Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch                              Chloris chloris
(*)Twite                                Carduelis flavirostris
Redpoll                         C. flammea
Bullfinch                               Pyrrhula pyrrhula

39 spp altogether, not bad for an April-day in Tromsø, away from the outer

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 tromsø. Norway

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