still winter at 70*N

Subject: still winter at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2001 15:53:01 +0200


Since last time I bothered you with an impression of the seasons in Tromsø,
N.Norway, at 70*N, very little has changed, apart from the fact(very
important in itself!), that every day has almost ten minutes longer
daylight than the day before, and today, as we have passed the spring
equinox, our days are already a tiny bit longer than yours, wherever you
live. In addition, this late winter has been an uncommonly beautiful one
weather-wise, with now already several weeks of cold, crisp winter, with
not very strong easterly winds, sun all day long, and temperatures here in
Tromsø (a town on an island surrounded by always open sounds, which
ameliorate the climate considerably) varying from ca -10*C at night to just
below freezing in the middle of the day. We have some 2-3 ft of snow on the
ground; this entire winter snow depths have been much lower than normal
(which has saved us a lot of shoveling, so we don't complain).

Today, a Sunday with shifting clouds, lots of sun, but also some light snow
showers, 'half of Tromsø' is out skiing. I drove along the coast on the
large hilly island of Kvaløya, between us and the open sea, and one had to
drive extra carefully because the long rows of cars along the road and all
the families taking on their skis and back-packs preparatory to a whole
days skiing-trip, with pincic-lunch up in the hills (These Kvaløya hills
are very good for families with smaller children, and I too have enjoyed
many Sundays there, when our kids were small). One has to drive carefully
anyway, as the roads here are not salted, and thus the less frequented
roads are usually quite icy and slippery, also the reason why virtually
everybody here north still has an extra set of 'winter wheels' with studded
tires,that we put on the car in the autumn, and leave on until late May.

These icy roads also make it a bit problematic to do too much birding from
the car when you drive alone. Still, I tried as well as I could to get a
glimpse of the first Starlings, usually on telephone wires or farmhouse
roofs; but all the birds I spotted there were Magpies or Hooded Crows;
clearly most Starlings had not yet arrived.

In the intertidal, after this long cold period, there is much ice and
conditions are definitely not very good for returning shorebirds as yet.
Even the one shorebird that winters here in numbers, the Purple Sandpiper,
may have some problems gathering their usual fare from the stony
intertidal, as the entire flock today was found on the muddy shores near
the airport, where they 'played Dunlin' and foraged in a tight bunch.

The gulls on the shores here are still all Herring Gulls and Great
Black-backed Gulls, but they are gettingmore and more loquacious, with the
wonderful evocative Long Calls sounding more and more frequently, as the
days get longer. The common shore gull here, the Common (Mew) Gull, has not
returned here on the island, but at the protected and south-exposed shores
of Straumsbukta on Kvaløya I found quite a number already returned and in
pairs today, several even on the farm roofs, where they will have their
territory later on. In the same area I also saw the first two returned
Oystercatchers, and I hear other birders have seen them also elsewhere
around town, i.a. at the airport.

In the sounds things have not changed much, and the same flocks of seaducks
and cormorants dominate the picture, with smalled  looser flocks of usually
paired Mallards along the shore line, and Hooded Crows the common
shorebirds. Pairs of Raven patrol the shore at regular intervals, and now
and then a White-tailed Eagle appears to inspect for carcasses.

In the birch forest around the museum the Greenfinches still dominate the
sound picture totally, and the Bullfinches are still tuning their flutes.
But the last week the Great Tits have suddenly started singing, not really
as a regular morning chorus, but still much more frequently as before, so
that I now almost always hear a few strophes when I walk to work. Still, it
clearly is winter here: signs of spring are few and far between, and one
needs to be an optimist to see them. Fortunately this type of 'Easter
weather winter' is very pleasant and exceedingly beautiful, and as most
Norwegians prefer skiing to birding, people are generally quite happy.

I'll have a chance to see a quite different spring, with famous cherry
trees in blossom, as Tuesday I leave for a short visit to Japan, where I am
invited to the opening of the new nature museum in Shimonoseki, where
Tromsø Museum's Blue Whale skeleton (> 100 years old), lent to the new
museum there, is to be one of the centre pieces. There will be little free
time for birding, I fear, but birding is an activity one can indulge in a
bit almost everywhere, and the whole country is new for me, so I expect to
find at least a few new birds, that are common there and rare or absent
here. And I'll be back in time for the Easter days, when all Norwegians
pray for similar wonderful weather as we have these days.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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