Very early spring in Tromsø

To: <>
Subject: Very early spring in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005 11:44:56 +0200
                        VERY EARLY SPRING IN TROMSØ, N. NORWAY

These last winters have been 'easy' here at 70*N, with never much more than 1 m 
of snow on the ground, no periods of extreme cold (which here , on an island 
near the open sea, anyway only is something like -15 to -18*C), and a 
reasonably early snow melt. Now, 21 April, there are large bare patches near 
the sea and on sunny open places, and the official snow-depth can't be much 
more than 1-2 feet. The optimists are already changing from the studded winter 
wheels on their cars to summer wheels , but the 'snow-sticks along the roads, 
guiding the snowploughs, are still there, and now and then fresh snow showers 
bring a temporary return of wintery feelings. But in general the weather is 
somewhat mild, with temperatures above freezing during the day.

 That is not to say that we have glorious weather: these last days have been 
mostly grey and dreary, with low clouds lying like wet rags halfway up the 
hills, and constant drizzle varying between rain and sleet. But last weekend 
was not so bad, and on Sunday it was calm and intermittently sunny, so we 
grabbed the chance to go out---we being both my daughters and grandchild Marte 
of 1 1/2 years. For her---or maybe rather for grandfather-- it was a red-letter 
day, as her mother showed her her very first amphipods in the intertidal at 
Tisnes! (Pappadyr=daddy-animals these were known as when my kids were small)

At Tisnes where we had a picnic, there were hundreds of Eiders in the sound 
just offshore and their cooing was a constant backdrop. Also the gulls were 
back; pairs of Common Gulls just start occupying their territories again, and 
the larger gulls have come further and will soon have their first eggs. 
Lapwings demonstrate their flying abilities during acrobatic displays, and now 
and then one hears the bronze flute of the Curlew. Tisnes is also a favourite 
place for Shelducks, and their crisp colours and proud stance were much 
admired. Otherwise the Redshanks are back, but the Golden Plovers and Ruffs not 
yet, and of dabbling dicks I have hitherto only seen Mallards (galore!), a few 
Wigeons, and a lone male Pintail. The first Greylag Geese were also back and I 
also saw 5 Pinkfoot Geese, on their way to Svalbard. Dominating this day, here 
as well as elsewhere on Kvaløya, are the large flocks of Snow Buntings, 
fattening up here for a few weeks before their arduous crossing to Greenland; 
they are a joy to behold, as flocks of often as many as a few hundreds wheel 
and turn, white in the sun.

The weather was in fact so pleasant this day (although the temp hardly crept 
past +4*C) that we decided to drive out to the coast, to our favourite walking 
island of Hillesøy, where the snow was practically completely gone except in 
very shady places, and where the peat underground gives always an extra spring 
to our steps, so even little Marte walked by herself for long stretches. While 
we were celebrating the coming spring with an ice outside the café on Sommarøy 
(Norwegians eat ice all year round, in fact), no less than 4 adult White-Tailed 
Sea Eagles circled overhead, and the first Ringed Plovers of the year tripped 
on the sandy beaches. Also here there are small flocks of Snow Buntings,  and a 
raven carried out acrobatic display flights overhead.

On the shore we had a view of large lines of hundreds of Common Eiders, while 
the skerries were festooned with Cormorants, and here and there a stark black 
and white Black Guillemot gleamed in the beautiful backlit conditions. On the 
shore the thin reels of the Rock Pipits also talked of spring, and on the walk 
back we stumbled across a pair of Willow Grouse, the very cocky cock strutting 
around all white still, but with a brown neck and very conspicuous red 
'eye-brows', while the hen ducked down and played invisible, not so easy when 
you are still white and most of the snow is gone.

The landscape itself is still brown and uninviting looking, and the only 
flowers are the yellow stars of the Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara, locally 
extremely common on road verges and other disturbed places, as the pioneers 
they are. At Tisnes old Puffballs still 'smoke' and this time there was also 
much evidence that Moose had been here recently, in addition to the more common 
Reindeer. And at Hillesøy we glimpsed a few ¨springere' (jumpers), the 
White-nosed Dolphin Lagenorhynchus, so-called because its proclivity to jump 
right out of the water.

Not many songbirds as yet, but others have already noted the first Fieldfares 
and Chaffinches, and when I retunr to tromsø after two weeks abroad, around 10 
may, there will be much more to listen to and write about.

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway
                                                 (NB mark 
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