Easter weather in tromsø

To: <>
Subject: Easter weather in tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 2 Apr 2006 21:34:03 +0200


My home town of Tromsø in N.Norway, at close to 70*north, has once more had an 
'easy' winter; in reality that is much too early to say, as April and May may 
be quite cold winter months with lots of snow in some years, and our snow 
record of 2.43 m stems from 29 April 1997. But hitherto it has been OK,  not 
too cold and not too many mild and rainy periods (Although I think there was 
one of the latter while I frolicked in the Galapagos in February), and not too 
much snow either. I don't think the snow depth here on the island has surpassed 
1 m at any time this winter, and now we have maybe 2 feet of snow, which is 
considerably less than average. And the last two weeks we have had what we here 
call 'Easter weather': cold nights (-10-15*C), sunny days, with weak to 
moderate easterly winds. (It is called 'Easter weather' because this is what 
everybody hopes for in the Easter holidays, when more than half of the 
Norwegians are in the mountain skiing.

So this week I took the opportunity to take two days off (I am 80% retired 
officially, so can do this now quite easily, even though I usually go to work 
every day still); this was also to look around as next week a Birding-Aus 
couple will visit Tromsø, and I have offered to show them around.

On Tuesday I drove along the Balsfjord, the c 100km long fjord that stretches 
from the cold inland, past Tromsø (the island of Tromsøya and the sounds 
alongside constitute the sill of the fjord), ending up in the broad Ullsfjord 
north of town. This is a trip I often do in spring; it starts out along the 
main road, where I get the first birds from the car. Large flocks of Eiders in 
the sound, strings of Cormorants on a shipwreck, Herring Gulls and Hooded crows 
on the shore. The road then skirts the Ramfjord, a cold sidefjord of the 
Balsfjord, completely frozen over in winter, and at the bottom of the Ramfjord 
I switch to a side road that once more skirts the Ramfjord, but now on the 
other side. This is a much narrower road, and it is almost completely 
ice-covered (Our minor roads are never salted, so we drive on top of the ice 
and snow), and I note that with the climbing of our years (I am 69, my car 26 
years old) I get more and more careful and also anxious on this type of road. I 
do have studded tires, of course; everybody shifts to 'winterwheels' with 
studded tires for the winter half year. But even so it feels quite slippery and 
icy, and clearly that is not just my anxiety; I first come across a car that 
stands crumpled against the rocks at the side of the road, and later have to 
wait while the line bus is removed by a truck; it too had crashed.

'Around the corner'. i.e. where the Ramfjord comes out in the open Balsfjord, I 
have my usual stop where Andersdalelva, a small river, has its mouth. This day 
there was not a single new bird to see: no lapwings or oystercatchers, no 
starlings, no snow buntings, not even the Great Black-backed Gull, which 
amazingly I won't see all day. The road on the other side of the peninsula, 
along the Balsfjord, is exposed to the south and therefore the ice is less 
massive, and there are bare short stretches. But the winter and frosts have 
'buckled' the road many places, and the wind blowing from the cold inland 
builds up snow dunes across the road, so also here one needs ones attention 
mostly to the driving. There are a few stretches that I always walk here, in 
order to find the smaller birds---this time I did not find a single one, not 
even the resident and ubiquitous tits, greenfinches and bullfinches! In fact I 
would come home without a single passerine besides the crows and magpies, and 
oh yes, the Common Raven.

There were some birds in the water, though: Common Eiders, as always, here and 
there a few Red -Throated Mergansers, or a small flock of Long-tailed Ducks, 
and maybe the most common of all here, dense flocks of Velvet Scoters 
(White-winged Scoters, if you prefer that). I hastened on to the 'bottom' of 
the fjord (40 km of transport etappe along the fast new road on the hillside), 
bought petrol there---cheaper than in Tromsø, where we have an extra surtax of 
1 crown a liter to help pay for bicycle paths etc--- and swung on the old road, 
that here runs close to the shore and where the light in the middle of the day 
is wonderful. Nothing special here either, and I found neither grebes nor 
loons. But the ducks that were here---the same as earlier, but with a few 
Common Scoters and Goldeneyes added--- could be watched in beautiful light. On 
the shore there were large flocks of crows , but little else, although I did 
find my first Oystercatchers for 2006, and somehow missed the first Common 
Gulls which somebody else had seen in the same area on the same day.

Altogether my day list stood at 12 bird species, mainly ducks, with no small 
birds whatsoever. Some of this must have been 'the un-luck of the draw' (In 
fact I saw two tits fly across the road from the car, but could not identify 
them in a hurry), some may be my very mediocre bird-spotting talents; neither 
my eyes not my ears are very good these days. But this winter we have had many 
telephone calls complaining about the lack of small birds at the feeders, so I 
think this has generally been a very bad winter for the smaller birds somehow. 
We do not know why this may be so, as the winter has not been especially hard; 
it has been very wet though, especially during the few mild periods, and that 
may have played havoc with the quality of the seeds offered at the feeders, 
maybe. We simply don't know; my own feeder I have not had to fill up since 
Christmas, and that is certainly very unusual.

On the Friday I took the outer roundtrip, to the outlying islands of Hillesøy 
and Sommarøy, some 50-60km west of Tromsø, on the outside of the large outlying 
island of Kvaløya. Here one can drive a loop, and I always start out driving 
the very scenic inner road, that passes a few fjords, and a pass at maybe 150m 
a.s.l., Kattfjordeidet. But before that I stopped at the airport, where the 
intertidal areas of Langnes has some remnants of its previous glory; most was 
destroyed when the airport was built out. This time there were lots of eiders 
there, large gulls (now both Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed), tens of 
Oystercatchers, a few Purple Sandpipers (the only Calidris that winters here), 
and a large lanky Grey Heron. Far off I also spotted two Common Gulls, just 
returned from their winter quarters in the countries around the North Sea.(And 
last Sunday there were also a few Curlews here; a few winter up here almost 
every winter)

The inner road yielded few birds, and those mostly Hooded Crows; the landscape 
here is beautiful and starkly black and white. There are high hills (mountains, 
we call them, but they won't probably reach 1000 m just here) on both sides of 
the vally, and a lot of parked cars show that even in the middle of the week 
there are plenty of skiers here. A few reindeer fill out the picture nicely; I 
shall see these regularly during this day. They are not really wild reindeer: 
all the animals on Kvaløya are owned by one Saami family, and in 
contradistinction to most reindeer in N.Norway, these stay on the island all 
year round (Kvaløya is the 5th largest island in Norway, with quite high 
mountains, so a very varied nature).

Sommarøy and Hillesøy are now connected to Kvaløya with bridges, just as 
Kvaløya itself is connected to Tromsøya with an almost 2 km long and tall  
bridge. When I arrive at Hillesøy, it turns out that nobody has walked here 
since the last snowfall, so I have to try to find a way through the deepish 
snow and guess where the paths may be. Although the snow is not very deep, it 
is hard work, and it is not really very much worthwhile, it turns out. There 
are plenty of tracks in the snow of Willow Grouse and hares, but I never get to 
see any of them; white animals in the white snow are not all that easy to spot. 
And when I get to the outer shore of the island, it turns out that the sea is 
so rough that it is hard to find any birds at sea; so no Black Guillemots this 
time, and no Shags either. I have to content myself with a majestic immature 
White-tailed Eagle cruising overhead, as always hotly pursued by crows, tugs 
around a large ocean steamer.

The longer way back along the southern coast of Kvaløya does not yield any new 
birds either; again there is a lot of wind and white horses on the fjord. I had 
hoped to find the first Snow Buntings and Starlings along the shore---and 
somebody saw them too--, but I did not find any. For the second day in a row, I 
had no small passerines at all during a trip of maybe 5 hours. So what shall I 
show the Aussies next week? Oh well, there is always the landscape, provided 
the weather does cooperate!

   Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
    9037 Tromsø, Norway
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