midsummer at 70*N

To: "birdchat" <>
Subject: midsummer at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2008 11:28:37 +0200

                                  MIDSUMMER IN TROMSØ, N. NORWAY

Tomorrow we celebrate St. Hans eve (which in Holland is St Jan; Johannes can
be abbreviated many ways!), midsummerday, and the longest day of the year.
After that daylength inexorably decreases a bit again for every day that
follows. Not that we notice that so much hereas yet; the sun won't set until
a month later, late July. But we do celebtate St Hans, with a lot of
partying, and picnics around a bonfire, where often neighbours, or even a
whole street, cooperate. Hopefully the weather will improve a bit again
until tomorrow night, as this morning, when I walked around for an hour os
so in Folkeparken near my home, we had 9*C, light drizzle, and low clouds
lying like wet dishclothes over the hills above c 300m.

But 'changeability' is the password for understanding climate and nature
around here, so tomorrow may well be better again. After all, yesterday
started out really nice, with a light SW wind, ''Dutch cloudscapes' and the
temperature 'soaring' to 19*C, the warmest we have had in a month or so.
(Since I wrote my last piece, we have had continuous NE winds and cool,
though most of the time nice weather; the last days it has rained quite a
lot, though, and that was generally welcomed by most people.) So I used the
opportunity to return to the wetlands at Rakfjord, and repeat my walk of two
weeks ago. Nicer weather now, but still very little display activity---it
may simply be too late in the season already for that, and I have missed
this fun by being abroad too much. Of course generally I saw the same birds
as two weeks ago; on the lagoon were I park my car there again lots of
Red-breasted Mergansers, and several Mallards, Wigeons and Greylag Geese;
but this time they were accompanied by four stately adult Whooper Swans,
while a Turnstone gave his impressive staccato alarm calls. Still no
Lapwings or even Snipe on the marsh, but the 'phalarope-tarn' now lived up
to its name: a longish wait finally revealed at least three phalaropes
spinning among the rushes and the Menyanthes (just coming out). The marshes
are still brown and deadish-looking, but the heath on the surrounding low
hills has clearly become a bit more colourful: Cloudberries Rubus
chamaemorus flower everywhere, and the Bog Rosemary, Andromeda, is in full
flower. And even though its individual flowers may not be all that
conspicuous, hundreds of them definitely are! Also the Cotton-grasses
Eriophorum are in flower, but these first come to glory later, when they are
in fruit; the flowers are quite forgettable.To my great surprise, I also
found a single Dactylorhiza plant in full flower; these orchids usually
flower a full month later.

On the way back I stopped over at the airport, Langnes, where the small
primroses Primula finmarchica were in full glory; here the earth is
chalk-rich, and the vegetation therefore much richer. There is a large
fallow field, where  Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris (Also here a common
road-verge plant) now dominates, with an undergrowth of Lady's Mantles
Alchemilla, another plant with easily overlooked greenish flowers. This is
an ideal habitat for Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, and several
of them poured out their energetic songs, now and then even breaking out in
a little air-dance; these birds make up in enthousiasm and exuberance for
what they may lack in melody and finesse! The Starlings in the nestboxes
hung out for them here (Starlings are popular harbingers of spring here, and
their decrease has occasionased this nestbox programme, instigated by the
local birders group) are busy feeding small young, and two Sand Martins
(Bank Swallows, if you prefer that; the Norwegian name Sandsvale translates
as Sand Swallow, maybe a nice compromise?) chase each other overhead. there
used to be a colony here, but it became one of the many local victims of
progress. But the sandy beach is still there, and miraculously both
Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers still nest here, and also Lapwings hold
out. And I saw the first Eider female with small young of 2008. (The first
Common Gull young are also out now, while the larger gulls are 2-3 weeks

All this was yesterday morning, and it all looked promising for our annual
Midnight Sun Marathon in the evening, this year even with a Sabirdnet
participant. But sadly, in the late afternoon the wind changed, temperatures
dropped from 19 to 12*C, and it started to rain. Once more the Midnight Sun
Marathon had to be run without the actual midnight sun being visible! Too

Tius morning, as I said already, temperatures had dropped further, and it
was sad and drizzly weather. In my garden the Magpies and Common Gulls (all
local nesters) compete for the scraps that I throw out now and then (the
sparrows have largely left again: no nesting opportunities, I suppose), and
I have seen both Greenfinches, Bramblings and Willow Tits on the feeder
today. Fieldfares feed on the lawn which my son-in-law now keeps regularly
mowed; they come especially after rain, when the earthworms are easier to
get, apparently. In Folkeparken there is no longer a morning chorus, even
though both Redwings and Willow Warblers reguarly produce snatches of songs,
and the dominating sound now is the incessant scolding of the many
Fieldfares, that have small young. At the museum a Chaffinch was at the

The flower-picture changes always very rapidly here in summer; the 24hrs of
daylight apparently play a larger role than the absence of real summer
warmth. The first flowers of spring are rapidly fading; the Wood Sorrel and
the Marsh Marigolds are still there, but clearly over their first bloom, and
in a week or so the Cranesbills Geranium will absolutely dominate many
places, almost forming a wall-to-wall carpet in the undergrowth; today only
a few flowers have opened as yet, so pride of place still goes to my
absolute favourites, the yellow violets Viola biflora, that twinkle
everywhere. The white summer flowers, that will take over for the Wood
Sorrel and the Wood Anemone, are already coming into flower: the white stars
of Trientalis, the unfortunately named Chickweed  Wintergreen (how much
nicer then are the Norwegian Woodstar or the Dutch Sevenstar), and the also
white 'pseudo-flowers' of the Dwarf Dogwood Cornus suecica. And in the
almost dry ditch the elegant miniature flowers of the Common Butterwort are
more numerous for every day.

I walked some different paths today from the ones I usually take to and from
work, and in doing so I discovered a large group of one of the plants that I
always look out for in Folkeparken, the Whorled  Solomon's Seal Polygonatum
verticillatum, just coming into flower (not all that spectacular, I
confess). The interesting thing abour  this plant is the difficulty of
discovering scattered plants among the hundreds of young plants of Fireweed,
that look pretty similar at first sight. I had found only four Salomon's
Seals until today, and now I discovered a few hundreds more! Another lily,
the Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia is also in flower, but its elegant flowers
are greenish and very easily overlooked; they are common in Folkeparken.

And now of course a lone House Sparrow turned up at the feeder, teaching me
not to extrapolate too quickly!

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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