autumn in Tromsø

To: "birding-aus" <>, <>, <>, "birdchat" <>
Subject: autumn in Tromsø
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2008 12:28:13 +0100

                                         AUTUMN IN TROMSØ, N.NORWAY

I am just back from a great trip to Namibia with Rockjumpers, and it is
quite a change from the constant sun and 40*C there to the short days and
low temperatures of autumn at 70*N. We have a very mild autumn hitherto,
mind you; there is no snow on the ground as yet (the surroundings hills
are snow-clad above c 400m), and the  temperature just now is a balmy
+7*C, while the severe autumn storm Urban has hit our coast further south
with force 11 winds and lots of rain, and will have lost most of its force
when it gets here tomorrow. After that we probably finally will get
somewhat more wintery weather, frost and maybe also snow.

The days are rapidly getting shorter, however, with only c 6 hours of
daylight left; four weeks from now we will enter 'mørketiden' (the dark
period), i.e. the two months that the sun does not rise above the horizon
at all. Most of the trees have lost their leaves, but the maple on my lawn
(not indigenous) still clings to c half of them. All the cars have changed
to 'winter wheels', often with studded tires; winter roads can appear any
day now---and have in fact already caused accidents last month, during a
cold snap. Here north only the few main roads are salted, for the rest we
learn to drive on top of the snow and ice; it saves a lot of corrosion on
our cars.

The Rowans (Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia) have a bumper crop this year
and all the trees are heavy with the orange-red berries. Most people here
know well what this signifies, but there are two schools of thought: one
says this signifies a severe and snow-rich winter, the other school that
it means an easy and rather mild winter. Some always get it right!!
Usually in such bumper crop years the local thrushes , mostly Fieldfares
and Redwings, hang around in large flocks until January at least, but for
some reason this does not seem to be the case this autumn, although I saw
two Fieldfares this morning. But the principal consumers of the berries
until now are Bohemian Waxwings, who swirl around in large flocks (almost
200 yesterday in the neighbour's Rowan) and feast on the berries. They are
still a bit skittish; later they become very tame indeed. Waxwings visit
Tromsø every autumn (and a few pairs have bred in the area these last
years), but in strongly varying numbers. Later on we may also get small
numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, also very fond of the rowanberries.

Quite coincidentally, we have an other invasion this autumn, of Crossbills
Loxia curvirostra, and the other day I saw some 25 in the fir trees
outside the museum. Somebody also has noted Great Spotted Woodpeckers,
again a species that does not nest here, but now and then visits in
winter. And just this morning a saw a Hoary Redpoll, another nomad in

I have filled my feeder tube outside my window with sunflower seeds this
week for the first time this autumn. The first day, only my local pair of
Magpies Pica pica showed interest. Interestingly, only one bird in the
pair has learned the quite un-magpie-like trick of clinging to the feeder
tube and extracting seeds; not all that elegant, but quite effective! His
(or her?) jealous partner tries and tries, but does not quite get it, and
falls down without any result time and again. The Hooded Crows , of which
I also have a pair, do not even try, but keep to the lawn; they were very
quick, however to discover, steal and empty the rest of the container with
seeds, which I had not hidden well enough!

Yesterday afternoon the first Kjøttmeis Parus major (NB the English name
of this species regulalry brings me into conflict with the  rules and
regulations of the Internet, with accusations of obscenity, so please
learn the norwegian name! Kjøtt= meat, meis= chickadee) found the tube,
and info spreads very quickly among these birds, apparently. Today there
are up to 7 kjøttmeis feasting on the sunflower seeds, while the first
Greenfinches also have discovered the tube. They are a problem for the
kjøttmeis; while these latter extract one and one seed and fly off to
hammer it open somewhere, the greenfinches tend to monopolize the sticks
and 'wait there until they get hungry again', to the chagrin of the tits;
there are not all that many sticks.

There are few land birds in Tromsø in winter, so we must make do with
observing the few that are here. Luckily they never cease to interest and

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum

9037 Tromsø, Norway

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