Searching for signs of spring at 70*N

To: "birdchat" <>
Subject: Searching for signs of spring at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2007 13:25:36 +0200

                                        SEARCHING FOR SIGNS OF SPRING IN 

Every April we here in the far north are eager to find signs of the coming 
spring; colleagues talk about the wonderful spring weather and all the birdsong 
in their countries further south, and our media (mostly Oslo-based, i.e. c 
1500km further south) show pictures of people sunning on beaches and drinking 
beer on street cafés. Here in Tromsø too there is one unmistakable sign of 
spring: the sun stays up longer and longer each day, and by now sunset is at 10 
pm and the nights are no longer really dark (In fact, a friend in Ny Ålesund on 
Svalbard, at 78*N, told me this week they had just got the first midnight 
sun!).But otherwise winter does not yield all that easily here: we have had 
repeated snow showers last week, and although today is a rainy day, the 
temperature still is not much more than 3-4*C; and the forecast for the coming 
week is for more of the same! So although most of the major roads are now 
almost free of snow and ice, we still drive around on 'winterwheels' (with 
studded tires), and the long sticks along the roads showing the snow shovels 
where the edges of the road are, are also still in place.

But yesterday was a rare sunny day, so I skipped work (As I get nowadays only 
paid for one day a week, this is much easier done now than before) and drove my 
usual route down the Balsfjord, the long fjord that stretches a long way inland 
south from the island of Tromsøya, where we live. I try to stick to the same 
route, the same parking places and the same walks every time, so that I can 
compare different trips and different seasons more easily.(As I have done this 
trip for many years now and also have described this to the lists several times 
before, I ask once more whether maybe enough is enough and I should refrain 
from 'repeating myself year after year.)

The first 'sign of spring' was noticeable already during the first 50 km 
'transport etappe', 'around the Ramfjord', the arctic and cold side fjord of 
the Balsfjord, which is ice-covered all winter, and usually a paradise for ice 
fishermen; the Balsfjord itself never freezes over. This time the ice looked 
already quite unreliable, with some enormous cracks, and a much larger part of 
the outer fjord ice-free, and I no longer saw the signs of the ice-fishermen, 
snow-scooter tracks leading to holes, with often Ravens around them scavenging 
after the gutting of the fish. The fields here were still largely snow-covered 
(snow-depth here in Tromsø is officially some 40 cm still), but 'around the 
corner', on the south exposed slopes of the Balsfjord, the fields close to the 
sea were already largely snow-free. At the river mouth at Andersdalen, the 
first traditional stop, there were few signs of spring as yet: no wagtails, no 
shorebirds other than oystercatchers, and not even mallards; but there was a 
single pair of Teal, also a migrant bird here.

The first walk was along the road through the hill forest (birch, quite a 
number of Alders Alnus incana and willows, and here and there planted spruce), 
where I always listen to the bird chorus. Not much chorus here as yet; apart 
from the irrepressible Kjøttmeis Parus major, who start singing in January, the 
only performers were a few Chaffinches, here at the northern edge of their 
distribution. The ravens croaked from their nesting cliffs high above, but I 
heard as yet no Black Grouse. No signs of spring in the vegetation here; even 
the willows did not show any flowering and I saw neither butterflies nor 
bumblebees all day, while the only flowers were the Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara.

The next stop was at the large farm at Stornes, which is beautifully situated 
at the top of a rise, and with a view over a large muddy intertidal area. Here, 
as always, there were Starlings singing on the telephone wires, and Magpies 
squabbling around the farm--- magpies are very very common in these area--, and 
in a field with some horses also the first White Wagtail of the season; later 
on these most welcome birds will be found at almost every farm here. (Note that 
there are no House Sparrows at most of  these farms; in fact, the species did 
not figure on my trip list at all this day) Not much spring in the intertidal 
as yet, apart from the Common Gulls and Oystercatchers that have been there 
already for almost a month. On the meadows around the house quite a number of 
Lapwings, with at least some displaying; also those are quite early migrants. 
At some of the farmhouses the people feed the small birds all winter, and here 
there are always tits and Greenfinches; no Blåmeis Parus caeruleus this time, 
though, and no Chiffchaffs or Dunnocks as yet either (Both have been reported 
from the general area these last days, though). But in the undergrowth below 
some willows I found three silent Redwings scratching for food, and a bit later 
one indignant Fieldfare flew up scolding and 'tjakking'; they are the vanguard 
of the large numbers that will arrive the coming weeks. This morning I heard at 
least three Redwings sing in Folkeparken, all with the most characteristic 
local song-dialect, so no doubt our own birds (Redwing-song varies enormously 
from place to place). Later on I also surprised a Woodpigeon in the same 
coppice, also a returning migrant, and a comparative newcomer so close to the 
coast up here.

The Balsfjord is a well-known staging area for many waterbirds that await the 
thawing of the freshwater lakes and marshes in the fjord. In addition, 
especially the Velvet Scoters and the Long-tailed Ducks congregate here to 
partake of an annual feast, the spawning of the local race of the Capelin 
Mallotus villosus, a largely arctic small fish. which is very important in 
northern ecosystems. But there were already fewer waterbirds here than I had 
thought there would be, although I still could easily count both the scoter and 
the oldsquaws on my day list, together with a single pair of Goldeneyes and a 
Red-throated Loon, also awaiting the thawing of its breeding lake here. In the 
intertidal areas here there were also Greylag Geese, Shelducks, Wigeons, and 
Teal, but I did not this time find any Slavonian or Red-necked Grebes, maybe 
because there was just too much wind to easily find the small birds on the 

As usual, I also drove a bit inland from the 'bottom of the fjord', along the 
dirt road circling the shallow and productive Sagelvvatn. No signs of spring on 
the lake itself, an unblemished area of snow-covered ice. But the road was hard 
hit by the thawing process, and hard to force here and there. We call this 
teleløsning, and it may make our dirt roads often virtually impassable for a 
few weeks in spring, as the road almost liquefies.

All in all there were maybe still few certain signs of spring, besides the 
lengthening days. But it will come also this year, and the coming month is a 
wonderful one up here, in spite of our 'interesting climate.

                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Searching for signs of spring at 70*N, Wim Vader <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU