Langnes, an almost lost nature area in Tromsø

Subject: Langnes, an almost lost nature area in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003 14:14:59 +0200


Langnes is the name of Tromsø airport; as always in hilly country the
authorities have had to search for a reasonable flat area for the local
airport, and they have found it in the low moraine in the middle of the
west side of the island of Tromsøya. The flat area is not all that big, but
the planes can come in over the water of the sound (Sandnessundet) from
both south and north, and that sufficed until now. The name Langnes in
reality belongs to a small peninsula on the south side of this flat area; a
'nes' in Norwegian is a long narrow peninsula, and lang means simply long.

When I moved to Tromsø in 1973, the airport had opened rather recently
(earlier Tromsø had been served by sea planes), and there was still a quite
large stretch of land and tidal flats between the south edge of the airport
and the shallow sound. Langnes proper had some World War II bunkers, a few
summer cabins of local people and large fiskehjeller, the characteristic
tall fish-drying  racks that now have disappeared most places. The small
hilly area at the end of Langnes is very chalk rich, and has a  diverse and
wonderful flora; i.a. there used to be large fields of small pink Primula
finmarchica there in spring.

The airport itself was far less busy than it is now, and besides a large
Arctic Tern colony and the ubiquitous Common Gulls also Lapwings nested on
the outskirts of the airport , while Skylarks jubilated in the air above.
The mudflats held the usual complement of Tromsø shorebirds: Hooded Crows,
Herring, Common and Great Black-backed Gulls, Oystercatchers, large numbers
of Common Eiders, and here and there a Red-throated Merganser. In winter
Cormorants loafed on the small skerry just outside Langnes, Long-tailed
Ducks and scoters dived in the shallows, and Purple Sandpipers foraged
unconcernedly in the stony intertidal. The sandy beach in the bay leading
up to Langnes proper always held a few breeding pairs of Ringed Plovers and
Redshanks, and in the muddy creek at Giæverbukta every year Temminck's
Stints nested; one could often enjoy their trilling song and butterfly-like
flight display, and later the alarming parent often sat on the
airport-fence and scolded.

In the migration periods it was (still is, in fact) always worth checking
the various habitats carefully. The flocks of Dunlins and Little Stints in
late summer often held a few Curlew Sandpipers, and on some wonderful
occasions also a rarity. I have seen both Pectoral and Buff-bellied
Sandpiper here, both rare vagrants from N.America. Small grassy areas now
and then held Dotterels, on their way to or from the higher hills where
they breed, and often Golden Plovers. There are also large 'rough' areas
full of Tromsø Palms Heracleum, Meadow Sweet Filipendula, Cow Parsley
Anthriscus and tall Rumex and grasses. These  attract many Meadow Pipits
and always some pairs of Sedge Warblers during the nesting season, and may
be full of migrant passerines on migration. Bluethroats are common then,
and the only Dusky Warbler I ever saw in Norway, was also here.
A grassy cliff near a place where sand was extracted held a small colony of
Sand Martins (Bank Swallows), and around the fiskehjeller (fish-drying
racks) usually also a few pairs of Ringed Plovers nested, while the racks
themselves often were very popular with the large flocks of Snow Buntings
on spring migration.

Alas, little is left of all this, although the area still bears checking.
The airport had to be expanded to accomodate the fast growth of the town,
from 40 000 when I came in 73, to 62 000 now. Traffic is much more dense
now than earlier, and the airport has a programme of shooting birds in
summer and autumn because of the danger and the large economic damages of
bird collisions with airplanes. Furthermore the road which lies between the
airport and the sound and which connects Tromsø with the large outlying
islands of Kvaløya and Ringvassøya, where i.a. many commuters live, had to
be expanded into a four lane road, and the only way to do this was to
destroy large parts of the intertidal of Langnes and take away many of the
rough areas full of tall forbs that were so attractive for migrants. In
addition the fish drying racks were removed, as they are most places around
Tromsø, and the ground containing the swallow colony was leveled, so that
the swallows disappeared.

Still, the little peninsula of Langnes proper, with its few cabins and its
bunkers, is still there, as is the small sandy beach leading up to it at
one side. Also this year a single pair of Ringed Plovers still nested here,
and for the first time since years there were also scolding and thus
probably nesting Turnstones on the same stretch. And the large numbers of
White Wagtail which dominate the highest reaches of this beach, where
rotting algae are a haven for many kelp flies and other insects, don't
bother much with traffic and people and are as common as ever There are
also still small flocks of Dunlins there this time a year (But it is a few
years since I saw a rare bird here), and a newcomer is the stately Gray
Heron, which now nests on the island and can be found here all year round.
But the Temminck's Stints are gone from here, and from the island of
Tromsøya, the Skylarks no longer sing here, the Lapwings only pass through,
it is years since I saw Dotterels here, Purple Sandpipers are seen here
only infrequently, and passerine numbers on migration are far less
exuberant as before. The price of progress!!

Many people of course do not even notice! When the debate about the
expansion of airport and road raged (well, rage is not exactly the word,
when a certain debate occurred) the local authorities wrote that this area
'had nothing but crows and gulls' and had no nature value at all. And last
year, when the local radio station had taken me out to the airport to
search for 'signs of spring' on a day of chilly winds and sleet, and I
remarked to the young lady who was to interview me: "Well, at least I see
that some of the Common Gulls are back." (These leave our area in winter,
in contradistinction to the larger gulls and the ubiquitous hooded crows of
the mudflats), she flabbergasted me , on live radio, by asking: "Gulls, are
those the white or the black ones?"  We still have a great task ahead,
before the public in general understands the values of biodiversity also in
the local environment!

I love living in northern Norway precisely because of the large amounts of
more or less undisturbed nature one can find all around here still (well,
also because of its people!). But even here there are constant small and
larger losses, and one must go further and further afield to see the same
things that used to be 'just around the corner'.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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