Early spring at 70*N

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Early spring at 70*N
From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2011 14:33:18 +0000
                                        EARLY SPRING IN TROMSØ, N. NORWAY

A week ago I returned from a week's family holidays in Holland, where I enjoyed 
full spring, in the fields the Sloe Prunus spinosissima was in full flower, and 
in the orchards pear, cherries and plums were wonderfully beautiful (In my eyes 
much more impressive still than the tulip fields of the west). Birds sang 
everywhere, and the first ducklings were already on the water. This time of the 
year the differences with my native N. Norway are most glaring: I came home to 
4-5 ft of snow, 5 consecutive days of sleet, hail and now and then rain, and 
temperatures just above freezing. But yesterday and today the weather has 
improved, especially close to the sounds much snow has melted away, and the 
road verges are yellow with the flowers of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara, the 
only flower out as yet (My garden has still c 2 ft of snow). The temperature 
has 'soared' all the way to +5*C.

As this morning was almost sunny, I decided to walk to the airport, a walk of c 
4-5 km on a path along a rather busy road, parallel to the sound. Compared to 
Holland, there are really few birds around, few species and few individuals. 
That is least apparent on the water, as there there are many places largish 
flocks of Northern Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks. On the shore the Common Gulls 
have returned in force; in fact there are even more now than later on, as many 
territories higher up on the island are not yet snow-free. But the gulls 
clearly feel that spring is in the air and there is much, although still 
somewhat half-hearted, courting and displaying. Also a pair of Curlews felt the 
coming spring, and broke a few times into their wonderfully evocative spring 
song, again maybe not yet at full strength though. At every 100m or so along 
the shore there is a pair of Oystercatchers, and in a field close by, where I 
scanned in vain for Northern Lapwings (They used to nest here, but many new 
houses have been built nearby), I was very surprised to find an early Golden 
Plover, still silent and unobtrusive. On the larger fields of the agricultural 
research station pairs of Mallards walked sedately around, keeping often to the 
edge of the snowfields, and here there also was a single pair of returned 
Greylag Geese, no doubt on their way to nesting on the outlying islands, where 
they are common.

The number of land birds is very quickly told. There were as always lots of 
Magpies---clearly also already very much with spring feelings, with much 
display and also flying with sticks for the nests--- and Hooded Crows, I now 
heard the House Sparrows at the local grocery shop that have hidden away all 
winter, and there was a single Great Tit on my feeders today. Miraculously I 
did not see or hear a single Greenfinch during my walk; usually this is by far 
the most common small bird on the island. And, apart from a single pair of 
Great Black-backed Gulls on a skerry, that was it! It will be a month before we 
have real spring!

The one thing we have plenty of already, is daylight. A month from now we'll 
have the midnight sun again; that'll help melt away the rest of the snow!

                                                                    Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum

Tromsø, Norway


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