Subject: WINTER AT 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 15:09:22 +0100

                        STILL WINTER AT 70*N (TROMSØ, N.NORWAY)

        The title is meant to be double-edged: while many chatters write about 
spring bird-chorus outside their windows, it is definitely still winter
here in Tromsø, and will be for many weeks ahead. But today it is also a
still winter, with light snow flakes softly descending from a pearl-grey
sky, and the whole scenery a quiet black-and-white print. Snow-depth is a
little less than 4 ft, and thus pleasantly less than average for the time
of year, and the snow is decidedly fluffy, as temperatures are only just
below freezing. In the weekend---and especially on Saturday, a radiantly
clear calm mild sunny day, much snow slid off steep roofs and fell down
from the trees, and the paths are more slippery than before, because of the
somewhat higher temperatures.

        Our day length is now roughly the same as yours, as we are only 10 days
away from the spring equinox, and a full moon additionally furnished light
and splendour in the weekend. I walked along the shores of the sound for a
few hours on Saturday, but birdwise there is in fact virtually nothing new
to tell---our winter waterbird population is quite stable, and the early
harbingers of spring (Common Gull, Oystercatcher, Starling) had not yet
arrived in town. Maybe the large gulls get a bit more noisy week for week,
and the wonderful long calls definitely arouse feelings of spring in the
birder. Also the Common Eiders are maybe just a tiny bit more active, with
the now once again splendidly attired males every now and then half-rising
up  from the water, showing their black bellies and uttering their somewhat
dove-like call, a sound that travels amazingly well in still weather---I
now and then hear the eiders from my home, several hundred metrs from the
shore. Also the Mallards have short bouts of spring feelings in between
their endless loafing along the shores of the sound.
        Two Velvet Scoters Melanitta fusca are the first I've seen this year, 
they have probably been around all along.

        In Folkeparken there is no morning chorus as yet, although the
Greenfinches do their best and rasp away incessantly. Also the 'tuning up'
of the Bullfinches (who never get further than this) is more often heard
now, and the birds themselves sit high up in the trees as if posing for
Christmas cards. They and the Greenfinches have suddenly rediscovered my
feeder, after having been unaccountably absent all winter, and I watched
them for some time yesterday. The Bullfinches, as usual all in pairs, were
more aggressive than usual (They are mostly the calmest of finches), and
their ire was mostly directed against the Greenfinches, themselves
well-known bullies of smaller birds. The Greenfinches are not in pairs yet,
as far as I can see, but in smaller or bigger flocks, with many more
greyish and presumably younger birds. The Great and Willow Tits zoom in,
take a seed and retire to go and hammer it at ease elsewhere, when there
are too many other birds at the feeder.

        One thing that struck me especially yesterday and that I had not noticed
so much before, was the frequency with which especially the Bullfinches
(but also the Greenfinches now and then) ate beakfuls of snow from the wet
snow blobs still hanging in forks of the trees. They gave the definite
impression that 'these dry sunflower seeds could only be digested with
frequent sips of water.', and took large beakfuls often several times a
minute. I checked a few of these snow blobs, but there were no insects in
them at all that I could see, just wet snow around the freezing point.

        So all in all, not much change here in the far north; still, it may be
useful to realize that spring comes much later some places than others!
Happy birding!

                                                                        Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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