A new garden bird at 70*N

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: A new garden bird at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 12:09:54 +0100

                                         A NEW GARDEN BIRD IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

Here in Tromsø we have had a lot of weather these last weeks, but the sun is 
back since a week, and every day there is more daylight. Last Tursday we had an 
Atlantic storm, with temperatures 'soaring' to +2*C and an uninterrupted 
gradient from snow into sleet into lots of rain. It needs a lot of weather to 
really disturb the infrastructure here, but that day the airports were largely 
closed, many of the ferries did not run, and a lot of roads were closed because 
of avalanches or the danger thereof. At the end of the day the wind, still 
force 8-9, veered to the NW and the sequence played in the opposite direction: 
rain became sleet and then snow, and more snow and still more snow. Now it is 
Sunday, it freezes 7-8*C, and still we have strong northwesterly winds, and 
still it is snowing!  There must have come at least a meter of fresh snow, and 
the sound of snow-blowers is heard all day. My daughter Marit has worked hard 
to keep our driveway useable, but with the strong wind and heavy snowfall it 
fills up almost as quickly as it is cleaned. I myself slipped and fell on the 
way to the shop yesterday and hurt my wrist, making me completely useless as a 
snow cleaner; and my car is snowed in at the museum. (On Friday, during the 
worst blizzard, I drove back and forth to and from the conference Arctic 
Frontiers at the university, on the other side of the island, to a funeral at 
our church on top of the island; there was almost a white-out that day, and I 
came across no less than three crashed cars on the short stretch---which 
decided me to let the car stand for a while)

With all this snow, the small birds have a hard time finding food in the 
forest, and our garden feeders are as popular today as they have not been in 
months. The most common birds are as always the Kjøttmeis Parus major, while 
there are relatively few Granmeis P. montanus; these are very hardy and feisty 
small birds and theyalso store food for winter use. Today there are also 
Greenfinches, usually coming in small flocks, and using almost as much time 
squabbling as they are eating. And there are, as always, the local Magpies and 
Hooded Crows, the former a bit more daring than the latter. And there is a 
single newcomer to the garden, where I now have lived for 33 years, a Blåmeis, 
Blue Tit, Parus caeruleus! An expected newcomer in a way, as other people in 
and around Tromsø have had them in their gardens the last years, and they have 
become relatively common in the south-facing areas of the Balsfjord, some 40 km 
south of here. But it is great to see it here at last!

The Blåmeis is one of a small suite of southern birds that gradually seem to 
make to way north, and which are relative newcomers to Tromsø. I have seen 
other birds 'arriving and conquering' here: in fact, when I moved to Tromsø in 
1973, there were not yet any Greenfinches Chloris chloris here at all, and 
their northerly limit was reckoned to be c 100 km south of here. While now it 
is one of the more common winter birds, not only here in Tromsø, but all the 
way unto the Russian border in East Finnmark, and probably beyond. We think, 
that the extensive use of coniferous bushes and trees in gardens during the 
last decades may have as much to do with this extension of area than the 
illfamous global warning. The same explanation may hold for the Goldcrest 
Regulus regulus, but the numbers of this also in winter strictly insectivorous 
bird vary a lot from year to year; severe winters clearly cause large mortality.

Another newcomer to Tromsøya, the island on which our town is situated, id the 
Grey Heron, that c ten years ago started to nest in a spruce plantation not far 
from here, and that since has become a common bird to see, both summer and 
winter; in winter they of course are compelled to fish in the sea, as all 
freshwater is frozen over for many months.

Some birds come and go, and that goes maybe especially for birds that have 
their normal distribution in the pine forest of the inland and that normally 
are uncommon here nearer the coast. This concerns species like the Robin 
Erithacus rubecula, the Treecreeper Certhia familiaris (now and then here near 
the coast in winter, and on my garden list) and the Coal Tit. A few years ago 
several Robins sang in Folkeparken, my local patch of park/forest, but the last 
two years I have not heard any. The Coal Tits Parus ater are invasion birds and 
after such invasions they may hang around for a few years  and even nest in 
Folkeparken, but that peeters out, and now I have not seen them for a while 
(But I can't hear their very high call notes too well anymore, and that may be 
a contributing factor).

Another invasion bird that a few years stays behind and nests here, is the 
Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, and in 2005 we had for the first time I can 
remember a few pairs of Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus nesting in outer Troms; 
this is a bird that in autumn often is present in large numbers for a while, 
especially in years, like 2006, with bumper crops of Rowanberries. (Now 
depleted and the waxwings have moved on). Woodpigeons Columba palumbus are 
intermediate between this group and the next; they too are here primarily 
inland birds, but they are slowly getting more and more common in coastal 
areas, and I have heard them sing in Folkeparken. They are strictly spoken not 
residents either, but arrive earlier than most migrants in spring.

But the Blåmeis represents another group, that of resident birds slowly but 
inexorably creeping further and further north. The other bird presently in this 
group is the Jay Garrulus glandarius. Also of this bird, again earlier almost 
exclusively and inland bird here, we get more and more phone calls from people 
who have noticed this spectacular bird on their feeders (They are also here in 
summer, but then very unobtrusive) and this week I got a call from a farmer on 
Vannøya, one of the large outlying, quite bare islands NW of here, telling me 
that he had a Jay on his feeder, and that it chased all the other birds away!  
So far out I had not yet heard of its occurrence.

This sounds as if the number of bird species around here is growing all the 
time. But of course that is not the case. As everywhere in life, also here' you 
win some, you lose some'. The Garden Warbler Sylvia borin no longer sings in 
Folkeparken (too 'parky', I suppose), and I never see Willow Grouse Lagopus 
lagopus there either anymore, while the Woodcock Scolopax rusticola has been 
very tenacious for years, but now apparently also has given up the uneven 
struggle with the ever increasing numbers of walkers, cats and dogs. And at the 
airport the Temminck's Stints Calidris temminckii no longer display from its 
fences, a further victim of progress. Generally the birds we lose are 'more 
valuable' than the ones we gain, but that should not keep us to rejoice in 
small successes, such as a new garden bird after 33 years!

           Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
           9037 Tromsø, Norway

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