Mild autumn at 70*N

Subject: Mild autumn at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 14:24:58 +0200


According to the 30 years mean here in Tromsø, N. Norway, the first snow on
the island should fall around 12 October, and on the hillsides around, on
the mainland and on the large island of Kvaløya between us and the open
sea, the white line of fresh snow should  gradually descend towards sea
level weeks before that. this year, however, autumn has been mild for weeks
on end, and with temperatures of around 10*C these is virtually no snow at
all visble on the lower hills, an uncommon sight here.

But nevertheless it is clearly fall: the days shorten with almost 10
minutes every days, and dusk now arrives around 5 pm. The leaves of the
birches have long fallen, and now lie in a soddy, no longer colourful mass
on the ground, but because of the absence of severe night-frosts even there
are still a number of autumn-colourful forbs here and there, although the
large 'islands' of ferns in the birchwood now are dark rusty brown, and
gradually fall down flat. In the air still most mornings one hears the
'chakking' of flocks of Fieldfares Turdus pilaris on migration, and a week
ago I even saw a lone Barn Swallow over the museum. But most migrant birds
have left by now, the Ravens have returned to our side of the island, and
the numbers of Cormorants in Tromsø harbour increases steadily.

Every autumn we have a few 'late autumn stragglers'. This is the time of
year one sees lone Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, mostly the black-capped
males, eating berries in gardens, and also this year a poor Hoopoe was
reported from the area. these usually stay around, but perish when the
first severe frosts arrive. A more unexpected guest was the red-footed
Falcon Falco vespertinus, that landed exhausted on a fishing boat in the
northern Barents Sea, between Bear Island and Hopen, and died the next day.
It is an enigma what leads such southern small raptors so hopelessly
astray. A few years ago Norway's first and only Lesser Kestrel Falco
naumanni was caught in the Barents Sea in exactly similar manner, landing
on a fishing boat!

This morning the caretaker of a nearby school brought in a dead Tengmalm's
Owl Aegolius funereus, found outside the school buildong in the not so
tender mercies of a flock of Magpies, dead but still warm. we surmise that
the owl was stunned by flying into the building during the night, and that
it had the msifortune to be dicovered by the magpies in the early morning.
The last weeks the lacal ringing group has banded almost twenty of these
small owls, in addition to 2 still smaller Pygmy Owls Glaucidium
passerinum. This gives the definite impression of a top year for these
small owls, no doubt because a top in the rodent population. Not only small
owls, by the way, yesterday somebody also reported a Snowy Owl from a
nearby island.

But most phone calls these days concern a quite different bird, that turns
up everywhere and now and then in sizeable flocks. That is the Long-tailed
Tit Aegithalos caudatus, that suddenly seems to be everywhere, some 22
years after the last major invasion from the east. No wonder that many
people talk about: a bird they have never seen before! Fortunately it is an
unmistakable bird, perfectly identifiable even by phone, and almost
universally beloved. These small balls of feathers, with a tail longer than
the body, hanging upside down in the low trees, and moving jerkily and in
follow-my leader fashion from tree to tree, move most reporters to
recognizable descriptions on the phone, otherwise very often a problem. The
northern race has a snowy-white head and underside, contrasting nicely with
the black back and pinkish 'shoulders' and sides. They are not shy, but
restless and always in movement.

Long-tailed Tits nest in Troms inland, but not very commonly, and the vast
numbers involved in the present invasion clearly come from much further
east. Similarly, Great Spotted Woodpeckers Picoides major, Bohemian
Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus, Pine Grosbeaks Pinicola enucleator, and Coal
Tits Parus ater arrive irregularly from the east in some years, while being
virt ually absent in others in our region. They are very welcome, as
normally we have only a few species of birds that are at all common in the
long winters, starting any day now!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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