the downslope of the summer at 70*N

Subject: the downslope of the summer at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2003 10:28:07 +0200


While most of Europe suffers from an extreme heat wave, we up here at 70*N
enjoy still mostly pleasant weather, by our standards. And these days I
guess many people further south gladly would exchange their soaring heat
for our 12-16*C, frequent showers, but also occasional days as yesterday,
with sun from clear skies, little wind and the general impression of a warm
summer day (although the thermometer shows it is not all that warm in
reality). And the days are still long and the nights light, even though the
midnight sun left us several weeks ago.

But the summer , as we say here , is clearly 'på hell', i.e. we are on the
downslope leading to autumn and shorter, darker days. Because of a very
warm period (while I was on Svalbard) things have speeded up more than we
hoped, and now the Tromsø Palms Heracleum have already stopped flowering
and are yellowing quickly and ominously (and as they are so common and so
big, that does make an impression over all), the Fireweed Epilobium has
also burned out most places , and even the Meadow Sweets Filipendula
ulmaria are 'singing their last verse'. There are  lots of berries and
fresh mushrooms everywhere in the forest, and  yesterday I saw many parked
cars at places where the owners no doubt were picking berries and/or
mushrooms on the hill slopes and marshes. And yesterday I saw the first
flock of Fieldfares outside my house, White Wagtails run ahead on must
roads and paths (and also outside the museum), and the interrogative
whoeet? of young Willow Warblers is everywhere.

I had a few hours yesterday, and decided to drive out to the wetlands and
mudflats at Tisnes, to see how the shorebird migration was doing. I had
timed it not quite ideally, as the water was still too high. I should have
waited an hour or so (no hardship here with all the flowers and in the
beautiful weather), but a likewise interesting soccer match on TV at hime
won out, and I contented myself with seeing what there was to see and going
home. The pools have filled up nicely again here, with all the rain of the
last week, and even many of the innumerable potholes in the dirt road
through the Tisnes peninsula held water. This peninsula is very scenic, by
the way, with its backdrop of the narrow sound and the high mountains on
the other side of the sound; it more than makes up for the somewhat humdrum
character of the wetlands themselves. As often in late summer, small flocks
of Ruffs forages in the wetlands, and in the larger pools, phalaropes spin;
this is our local bird, the Red-necked Phalarope, the one with the very
fragile-looking thin bill. Otherwise the pools only hold ducks (mainly
Mallard now), while lots of Common Eiders, many gulls of the usual three
species here, a lone Grey Heron fishing along the shore, and the usual
Great Cormorants on the stakes warning for treacherous shallows, are in the
sound behind.

The walk along the shore of the inlet on the other side of the
peninsula---after 1 August one can walk again much further---, is always
somewhat complicated for me, as all the flowers of this chalk-rich
grassland distract heavily from the birds on the shore. Also here the
summer is waning, exemplified by the many fat, brilliant red and
juicy-looking berries of the Dwarf Cornel (They are not juicy at all,
mostly full of air and inedible), and the first puffballs of the season.
White and violet Felwort Gentianella is still in full flower., offset by
the yellow of what may be Hawkbit Leontodon and/or Hawkweed Hieracium (all
these yellow composites always confuse me) and here and there the beautiful
blue of Harebells Campanula rotundifolia.

But I did come here for the birds primarily, and the absolutely most
numerous bird here now, besides the numerous eiders of the sound, is the
Oystercatcher. The local birds, with large flying young, are still on
territory, it looks like, but they are joined by loose flocks of already
migrating  conspecifics, so that there are several hundreds around, and
they dominate also the sound decor. A lone Curlew shrieks hoarsely, as if
the constant warning and scolding of the last month has affected his
throat, and the local Herring Gulls also still circle over me muttering and
are just a bit aggressive, even though their young by now are as large as
their parents and well able to take care of themselves.

On the shore, as said, there was still a little too much water and thus
fewer birds than I had hoped for, but the variety was not to be complained
about. Ringed Plovers were most common---logical as they are the first to
be accomodated by a falling tide. I only saw a few Dunlins, usually the
most common shore bird here now, two Curlew Sandpipers (the first of the
season), but no Little Stints at all this time. The larger shore birds were
represented by a lone Bar-tailed Godwit, a few Redshanks, the ubiquitous
Ruffs, and as usual this time a year, one or two Spotted Redshanks. Not all
that much, maybe, but enough to gladden a simple birder's heart.  And yes,
the second half of the soccer match also was interesting to watch!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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