birding-aus From your antipodes

Subject: birding-aus From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 10:41:50 +0200

                        HILL WALKS AT 70°N (NB Few birds!!)

Tromsø, N. Norway, now has full summer, with temperatures this weekend from
20 to 25°C day and night, and of course always the midnight sun. Bird song
is decreasing day for day and instead we hear the hard to pin down begging
calls of the recently fledged young, while many parents also still fly with
food for young in the nests. In my garden a Brambling is singing
"desperately" and at a very high frequency; probably the poor bird has not
found a partner.

On the shore there are now many broods of Eiders, while also the large
gulls and the Oystercatchers have young out. The loons still breed
apparently, both the Red-throated Loons of the little lake Prestvannet in
town, and the Black-throated Loons of one of the little lakes at
Rakfjordmyrene, some 25 km NW of town. That area I have recently visited
twice, the last time with Birding-Aus subscriber Graham Barwell, in town
for the huge Womens World conference. It is a nice area to show off, as it
has, besides the loons, also Whooping Swans, Curlews and Whimbrels, Golden
Plovers, usually Arctic Skuas, and various ducks.

The first time I walked here, two weeks ago, I decided to climb the hills
behind the marshes, maybe 400m high. The climb goes through a succession of
steep slopes with hill birch forest, with in between marshy areas with
flowering Marsh Andromeda Andromeda serpyllifolia and Cloudberries Rubus
chamaemorus. Tree pipits Anthus trivialis still sang here and Willow Grouse
flew up with strings of protest cackles.

Above the tree line the ground is covered with a low heath (crowberry
Empetrum, Bearberry and Black Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and A.
alpina) Cranberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and heather Calluna vulgaris, as
well as the "horizontal trees" of the Dwarf Birch Betula nana. Some of
these are in flower, but the flowers are quite inconspicuous and
half-hidden. The rocks here are hard and acid, and the vegetation not all
that diverse, but two plants flower in large numbers: the prostrate
Louiseleuria (Is this English name correct? It is how my otherwise
excellent booklet Mountain Flowers spells it) Loiseleuria procumbens with
its dense carpets of small dull reddish stars, and the showy white Lapland
Diapensia Diapensia lapponica, a species that is in its own family. Birds
there are very few in this area, but now and then a pair of Ptarmigan
explodes croaking in front of my feet. These birds are in summer a colder
grey than the warm brown Willow Grouse of the lower altitudes, but have
similarly white wings.

Yesterday I took the opportunity to walk the calcareous hills above the
town, collectively known as Fløya because of the "fløy" (wind vane) on top
of one of the hills. These hills are 500-650 m high, and there is a cable
car from town to a restaurant at ca 400m, so that it is an easy matter to
get up there. (Although in the wonderful warm summer weather I had to queue
for an hour in the morning, while in the afternoon the service was
interrupted because of some technical mishap and I had to "creep" down the
very steep foot-path back to town).

These are botanically famous hills, and there is always a riot of flowers
in summer ("Like being in an Attenborough programme", a British guest said
last summer). Just now the Mountain Aven Dryas octopetala is in full flower
and dominates the calcareous outcrops, together with Moss campion Silene
acaulis, and here and there the white flowers of the insectivorous Alpine
butterwort Pinguicula alpina.  The grassy areas are yellow with thousands
of violets Viola biflora, but in the recently melted out snowfields
virtually everything is still brown and yellow, only alpine buttercups give
some colour.
                In other areas the thick layer of peat prevents the chalk to 
available to the plants, and here heath develops, with mostly the same
plants as at Rakfjord ( although few Diapensia), but also the blue bells of
the Blue Mountain-Heath Phyllodoce coerulea. Higher up small fields are
covered with the perfect miniature bells of the Mossy Mountain Heather
Cassiope hypnoides, one of the most beautiful flowers of the area; and near
the tops the Purple Saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia, the first botanical
harbinger of spring in the lowlands, still is in flower here and there.

These hills are not rich in birds. Scattered pairs of Common Gulls nest
near the various small lakes, and Ravens usually croak overhead, but
otherwise one mostly has to be content with the odd alarming Meadow Pipit
Anthus pratensis or Northern Wheatear oenanthe oenanthe. Once I came across
a pair of Twites Carduelis flavirostris, more common in the coastal hills;
and only once, -- no doubt because I lazily avoided the steep stony slopes
as much as possible-- I found a Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis with a
beak full of spiders.

Three different plovers nest in these hills. The Golden Plovers Pluvialis
apricaria are the most common, and mostly frequent the grassy areas, where
their sore and melancholic whistles accompany the walker many places. The
Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula are generally found in wet areas near
the larger snowfields; they were probably still on eggs, because the
parents restricted themselves to flying around with their low interrogative
whistles and did not show as yet the spectacular distraction display, that
is so common when they have young around. The third plover is the Dotterel
Eudromias morinellus, a bird that was much wanted by the
birder-participants of the Womens World conference---because their reversed
sex roles specially endear them to feminists?--; these birds nest in the
higher drier areas, with many stones and often incpmplete vegetaion cover.
I only saw males, probably still breeding eggs; the females often collect
in small flocks, but I missed those this time.

These hills thus have few birds, both in numbers and in diversity of
species. But they are still a wonderful terrain to walk around in in
summer. The views are spectacular (see my website), the flowers very
special, and this Sunday the insects still pleasantly inconspicuous (That
will soon become different!). And usually (although not this time) the
access is easy, 5 minutes by cable car; this time the Red Cross and
ambulances were awaiting us at the bottom of the path, and my knees still
remember the steepness of that path.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

To unsubscribe from this list, please send a message to

Include ONLY "unsubscribe birding-aus" in the message body (without the

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU