autumn in the air in Tromsø

Subject: autumn in the air in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 24 Aug 2003 15:54:50 +0200


Up here at almost 70ºN, we have enjoyed a very pleasant summer, with none
of the excesses of temperature and (lack of) precipitation that have
plagued so many Europeans elsewhere this summer. Also now the weather is
still very pleasant, but there is a definite whiff of autumn in the air:
the winds have veered to the north, the atmosphere has that peculiar
clarity that is rare in summer and quite typical for autumn. and the
birches start yellowing perceptibly, albeit as yet still only in small
patches and in some trees. The Fireweed still glows reddish, but that is
because the seed-pods of this Epilobium also are quite vividly coloured;
there are almost no flowers left in most patches (A few patches are
aberrant, must have started later). Now browns and reds are becoming more
and more common in the fields, and even the tall coarse Rumex, that I hate
so much in my garden (and many seem to have survived the havoc there ands
sprout anew) has turned dark brownish red, and, I must reluctantly admit,
looks less repugnant than in other seasons.

Flowers there are still a few left: yellow composites, two species of
Yarrow Achillea, red and white clovers Trifolium and some late Buttercups.
And in the meadow at Tisnes, where I went to look for shorebirds again this
afternoon, the Felwort Gentianella is still in full flower (and visited by
late bumblebees) and now dominates the meadow, together with what I think
must be Leontodon and the last Harebells Campanula. Mushrooms appear
everywhere now, but generally I do not know their names. But there are
boletes (Leccinum) in the moist areas, vividly red Russula's in the short
grass, and at least three sorts of Puffballs. One is chalky white and
clearly irresistible to little kids, who 'have to' kick them around. While
the other, dull grey species stands in peace. A nice case of a selective
advantage: the survival of the dullest!!

In the very short vegetation around large stones, while I earlier found the
Moonwort, now another small sporophyte stands out; the small moss-like
Selaginella yellows differently from the angiosperms around; the Moonwort
is already faded away.There are signs of the recent presence of geese
(fresh droppings), and later on I find ca 40 Greylag Geese on a skerry
safely away from the shore.  A few spotted redshanks 'tuweet', but all the
normal Redshanks seem gone; I saw a few later on near the city bridge.

Birdwise the Oystercatchers still steal the show, but the earlier so
numerous Common Gulls (hundreds nest here) are virtually all gone--I saw
only two here, more still closer to town--, and the Arctic terns have
defintely disappeared. Herring Gulls sit in a tight 'highwater flock' of
maybe a hundred, but the young of the year are not here, but in the
'bottom' of the shallow bight near the main road, where a rivulet flows out
and the bottom oid muddier than elsewhere. In the wetlands the grass is
almost empty of birds---although meadow pipits are around---, but in the
pool, besides the last two Common Gulls, there is a mixed company of
eclipse-clad ducks: a few Mallards, 5 Wigeon, a pair of teals and a lone
Pintail. In the sound outside large flocks of Eiders, in all kind of
strange eclipse plumage, fish, and a lone Cormorant flies past. It is
tempting to call also that a symptom of autumn, but it would be incorrect;
although cormorants are much more common in the fall and winter, a few hang
around here all year.

A Merlin flies over, but elicits no response; all these birds are too big
to be potential prey. But merlins know usually very well where the small
shorebirds are on migration, so I search on, and finally meet with success
in the same muddy bight where the large young gulls reside. There are a few
hundreds of small shorebirds ('vadere' in norwegian, the source of many
jokes), about fifty-fifty Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, and they are very
flighty (Merlin been here too?) and unfortunately exactly against the sun.
A few Little Stints are present, no Curlew Sandpipers that I can see. But
one of the small plovers surprises me by having a quite different call:
instead of the tentative interrogative 'tulee?' of all its friends, this
one calls a much more distinct 'tuwee'; almost a little bit like a Spotted
Redshank. Could it have been a Semipalmated plover? I leave this to my
powerbirder friends here in Troms; if there is one, they will find it.

In the innermost part of the bight, where the shore is at its muddiest, I
find another rarish bird. I have never seen it here before, although they
nest not too many hundreds of miles from here--but migration routes are
mostly easterly, and it is not often one has the luck to meet a
Broad-billed Sandpiper here. But this one is not too wild, in better light,
and unmistakable.Nice!

When I drive home, I see one of the last cruise ships of the season steam
south. It seems almost symbolic; summer is over!

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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