slow start of a yearlist 3

Subject: slow start of a yearlist 3
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2001 13:35:34 +0100

                                WINTER TROMSØ, A CITY OF CROWS

        My home town of Tromsø, N.Norway,  now gets a little more daylight every
day. Today the sun is up, somewhat higher on the southern horizon, for more
than an hour, and we have proper daylight. It is a quiet winterday, a few
degrees frost, little snow (maybe 20 cm) and at least three tiers of broken
clouds, the lowest black and probably containing more snow, the highest
white whisps very high up in the surprisingly blue skies. With large gulls
flying across, the whole picture looking up gives a definite
'Escher-effect'. The sunlight is golden in the southern skies and throws
pools of gold on the quiet fjord, in vivid contrast to the mainly
black-and-white landscape of the surrounding hills.

        I walk along the path along the sound, together with very many other 
people; on Sunday around noon a walk is obligatory here, no matter what
weather. Many young families with prams, many elderly people with the
'spark', the characteristic and traditional push-sledge of Norway. Some
support is nice to have, as the roads are icy and quite slippery, although
not quite dangerous enough to warrant the use of the grip-soles. In Tromsø
the roads are not salted in winter, only 'graveled', and we
drive--carefully--on top of the snow and ice. This probably makes for some
more 'fender-benders' in the long winter season, but the cars rust much
less (My car is 21 years old and still going fairly strong) , and it is
more pleasant walking.

        The waters of the sounds are calm today, so it is easier to see the 
that dapple its surface. Mostly Common Eiders (I saw a single King Eider
among them; most of these beautiful birds stay closer to the outer coast),
but I also watched (and heard, their wonderfully optimistic
yodel  a-a-a-AW-lee, that brings you in a good mood every time you hear it)
Long-tailed Ducks, a few small flocks of Common Scoters, and here and there
a Red-throated Merganser. All the usual suspects, therefore.

        Away from the shore there are few birds, and nine of every ten you see 
hear is either a Hooded Crow or a Magpie. They absolutely dominate bird
life here in winter and clearly are able to find enough food in town, in
the gardens and along the shore (for the crows, the magpies frequent the
shore very little). They are conspicuous and loquacious. The crows are
always in pairs, but gathering in larger flocks where there is much food,
and also in the afternoon, as they have communal roosts this time of year.
(Interestingly enough the crows on my side of the island still roost in the
thickets where there once--10 yrs ago- was a mink farm and thus a lot of
food; old habits are clearly hard to break!).

        The magpies also are paired for life, but now in winter they often are 
small groups. I do not know whether the young of the year before still stay
in family groups over winter, but have more the impression that these
groups consist of several pairs of birds. I have already twice this January
surprised magpies in a bush in a garden sitting and singing a somewhat
gurgling sub-song, quietly and sotto voce---they really give the impression
of singing only for themselves, but I have no idea what the real function
of this subsong is. To me it always sounds like a glimpse into the softer
side of their character, that one often doubted existed. The magpies, as
the crows, are extreme residents, and probably never leave Tromsø at all:
when we bought our present house, we were asked by the daughter of the
former inhabitants to keep an eye on One-foot, a one-legged magpie that had
been around the house for years, and nowadays there is already at least
four years a magpie a bit down the road, that has an aberrant call-note,
almost like a jackdaw---and he/she is always there.

        In winter Tromsø there is a third crow, i.e the Northern Raven. When I
walk to work in the morning twilight, I hear the local raven pair fly past,
patrolling the shoreline, and keeping up a steady conversation. This
description 'jumped out of my keyboard' a bit unexpectedly, but I won't
change it after all,  as the pair really give the strong impression of
'talking together', when you hear them fly past.  I know of no other birds
with such a rich and varied repertoire of different calls, not even the
Hooded Crows and magpies.

        What about my year-list? Well, I could add the feral pigeons of the
church-square in town, but they live mainly on hand-outs. A flock of
Greenfinches on my feeder became nr 15, and also the King Eider, the
Long-tailed Ducks, the Common Scoters and the Red-breasted Merganser were
new year birds, so I'm up all the way to 19 ('without really trying'). Now
the list will probably come to a standstill until the sudden jump a visit
to Germany and Holland will bring next month.

        We learned the hard way the last weeks, that there are also other bird
species wintering on our outer coast. A Cypriotic freighter stranded on an
offshore skerry some weeks ago (After steaming a completely wrong course
for several hours in the winter dark), and broke up. The coastal
authorities thought they had succeeded in removing all the oil on board
before the ship broke up entirely, but it is getting increasingly clear
these days, when daylight is returning to this area of uninhabited skerries
and shallow seas, that thousands of seabirds in fact have perished,
although many of them are only lightly oiled. These are mostly Common
Eiders, but also Long-tailed Ducks and King Eiders , Razorbills, Cormorants
and some Yellow-billed Loons. Two of our major seabird islands (called
Sørfugløy and Nordfugløy, S and N Bird Island) are in this area, so the
tragedy would have been much more serious still if the stranding had
happened two months later; but even so the happening shows that it is not
always the biggest oil-spills that lead to the most serious seabird
killings---this time hardly any oil has come ashore, and we thought we had
saved the situation!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • slow start of a yearlist 3, Wim Vader <=

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