meanwhile, in Tromsø

Subject: meanwhile, in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001 10:15:11 +0200

                                EASTER WINTER IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY (70*N)

On return from the 23*C , cherry blossoms, and sunny spring of Matsuyama,
Japan earlier this week, I had to make some adjustments, in order to again
get happy with the fact that I live so far north, and that spring here is
really late! The three days after my arrival it snowed almost continuously,
and we have now ca 3 ft on the ground, still not much by our standards ,
but more than earlier this winter, while my path through the Folkeparken
has become a trench. The last few days it is what we here longingly call
'Easter weather' (Most Norwegians use the week before Easter to take free
and make long skiing trips in the mountains): cold  (ca 10 degrees frost at
night), crisp, sunny , with a brisk SE wind blowing out the Balsfjord and
adding to the chill factor, but with the sun warming quite well as soon as
you get out of the wind. The snow glistens and glitters with thousands of
small diamonds, the glorious light of spring is here, with its long days,
and altogether it is a beautiful weather and scenery----I just needed to
adjust again for a few days!

In Folkeparken the scene is almost as when I left two weeks ago, although
the number of Greenfinches seems to increase steadily and they absolutely
dominate the sound-effects; only the Hooded Crows, the chattering Magpies
and now and then the sawing of a Great Tit compete. The magpies around my
house now and then somewhat half-heartedly fly around with branches, so
clearly their hormone-mirrors are slowly adjusting to the reproductive
season. In the corner of Folkeparken near the shop (The place quaintly
called Sorgenfri---'no sweat', if this had been Oz) a Raven has held
territory and been sitting in a birch tree croaking conversationally for
himself for a week or so, driving the local magpies in a frenzy---but he
has left now, the place was really not secluded enough for a Raven. Instead
I hear from the boathouses there the glorious jumble of nonsense and
imitations that is the spring song of the Common Starling, a real harbinger
of spring in this area. (By the way, it is a pity that this bird is so
universally loathed, that people don't realize what a wonderfully inventive
opportunist this really is, and don't value their character of 'never give
up, just do it' that had brought them in the dominant position they have
got many places---yes, I know, to the detriment of other birds).

Yesterday morning I woke up to an uncommon presence in my garden: a Great
Spotted Woodpecker scouted the hanging feeders and some of my garden trees,
before consoling himself with the 'largest tree of them all', the
electricity pole! These woodpecker invade now and then in some numbers from
the taiga forests further east, but this is the first one I have seen this

Yesterday I also walked along the sounds to the airport; the high tides of
Easter and the growing force of the sun rays have removed most of the ice
from the intertidal (The sounds themselves never freeze over), and
Oystercatchers and Common Gulls have returned to take the area in
possession again for the summer. They are strangely quiet as yet, though,
with none of the constant barrage of calls and screams that will
characterize them later in the spring. Hooded Crows and Mallards are here
all winter, and it will be at least a month before the freshwater areas
become accessible for the dabbling ducks. Also the seaducks: the Common
Eiders, Black Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers are
all still present in their normal numbers, but the Cormorants are becoming
more restless, and this is the time of year that people phone in 'ploughs
of returning geese', not realizing that also the cormorants know how to
take advantage of a V-formation.

At the airport a Grey Heron alights from the mudflats; they are quite
recent newcomers to Tromsøya island, where they nest in a pine plantation
and stay all year round---I still feel a small surprise every time I see
them in winter here. The two Curlews that fly over the sound are probably
recent arrivals from further south, though; quite sure one cannot be, as
every year a few try to winter here around 70*N. And the pair of Shelducks
on the mudflats has also just returned; I am unsure where these stay in
winter, but they are always among the earliest nesting summer birds to return.

 Today I somehow missed the best sign of spring of all, i.e. the blizzard
of a startled flock of Snow Buntings, a species that in some years occurs
in the thousands here for a few weeks, before they have 'tanked sufficient
fuel' for the grueling long flight across the Atlantic to Greenland and
Arctic Canada, where they breed. And somebody has even reported the first
Fieldfare! I must get that car dug out as soon as possible!!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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