birding-aus From your antipodes

Subject: birding-aus From your antipodes
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1999 14:26:21 +0200


The summer of 1999 (June-August) has become the wettest and coolest ever in
northern Norway, in spite of a quite reasonable June.(To be quite correct,
both July and the threee months together were the wettest ever, and August
the coolest ever, with a mean temperature of ca 8°C). September goes on in
the same vein, and already for some days we have high winds, rain and
typically Atlantic weather. My silence the last two months is therefore a
combination of little time and little opportunity. (And a disinclination to
throw myself in those debates that flare up now and then, and that
generally generate much more heat than light)

Now my island of Tromsøya, at 70°N in N.Norway, looks already pretty
autumnal: many of the birches are partly yellow, the mountain-ash (finally
blessed with a rich crop this fall) is turning reddish, and the clumps of
sycamores stand out as yellow dots on the hillsides. The luxuriant
undergrowth in my bit of birch forest also looks already almost "used up";
many of the Hochstauden have suffered a lot from rain and wind, and
virtually all have stopped flowering. Here and there the last Fireweeds
still hold out, and while the large and ubiquitous "Tromsø-palms" (an alien
giant Heracleum) look yellow and unkempt, its relative the Angelica is one
of the few flowers still in bloom. On the grassy (and grazed) areas, as
f.ex. on Tisnes wetlands, there has this year been an unprecedented
flowering of Field gentians Gentianella campestris; on Tisnes they come in
both violet and whitish, while most places the violet dominates, and
strangely enough on Uløya, where we walked last weeks, virtually all the
gentians were white. In open ditches the immaculate white stars of the
grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris, still shine many places.

This has been a quite good year for berries and mushrooms, so the pickings
are good, although the terrain is much wetter than most years.

Birding is for the more active this time a year: there is always a chance
to find strange migrants, but the normal birds of the area are quiet and
harder to find than earlier in the season. Many are also leaving already;
during 5 days at sea 23-27 August I saw very few terns, and along the
shores most of the redshanks have disappeared, no doubt collecting in
flocks in favourable areas before migrating south. there are also clearly
fewer Oystercatchers and common Gulls along the shores.
The forest is very quiet, with only the occasional "hu-eet" of the Willow
Warblers, and now and then the conversational chatter and scolding of a
flock of tits, Great and Willow Tits. For some reason there are as yet few
thrushes on the island; this may well be because there are this year
berries everywhere.

Open areas attract lots of White Wagtails and Meadow Pipits, and the
occasional Wheatear is also still present. At sea the eiders, all still in
eclipse, forage industriously and are robbed by the ever vigilant Herring
and Great Black-backed Gulls (By the way, I saw quite a number of adult
Glaucous Gulls on the fishing banks north of the Finnmark coast, at a
season where I should have expected them still on their arctic nesting
areas). More open stretches have various auks, Fulmars and kittiwakes, as
well as Arctic and Pomarine Jaegers, and even a Great Skua.

During our collecting trip with the research vessel we worked primarily in
Varangen, the north-eastermost fjord in Norway, close to the Russian
border. we work round the clock, and the nights are already getting quite
dark, especially in the kind of weather we have had. I have always thought
of gulls as being primarily day-animals. I remember from Holland that they
could not catch the bread we threw out from the ferries at night, while on
very dark nights roosting gulls are also in danger from e.g. marauding foxes.

But on these two dark nights the ship was constantly followed by a flock of
20-50 Herring Gulls (I never saw another species at night), who flapped or
hovered quite low over the water in the wake of the ship, and regularly
dipped down and collected smallish prey-items. Staring down in the wake, in
the light of the deck-lights, showed small schools of small fish, maybe 1-3
inches long; I never could collect one, but suppose they were some kind of
juvenile gadids. They clearly constituted the prey of the gulls, and seemed
to be only available while the ship moved at low speed, e.g. while towing
our bottom sledges. I have been out on research vessels quite a bit, but
never have noted this behaviour before.

>From the end of this week I'll temporarily leave the high north, and return
to South Africa (Cape Town) for three months, to work on my beloved
amphipods. I shall of course use this unique chance to try to get a feel
for the nature and bird-life of this wonderful country as well. If there is
any interest for this, I could write up some impressions for the bird
lists, just as I did last winter. It will be impressions of "a stranger in
a strange land", however, and not authoritative in any way. I'll be back at
70°N around Christmas, when the sun once more will be below the horizon.

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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