signs of spring around the Balsfjord, N.Norway

To: birding-aus <>, "Ebn " <>, birdchat <>, "" <>
Subject: signs of spring around the Balsfjord, N.Norway
From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2011 18:34:01 +0000

Today, Easter Sunday, Tromsø enjoyed a this year until now rare sunny day, and 
I decided to drive down the Balsfjord, the large and deep fjord that cuts far 
inland southwards from the island of Tromsøya, in fact, the island and the not 
very deep sounds around it form the sill of this fjord. I make this trip a few 
times every year, and in fact have reported to the bird lists so many times 
about this by now, that I fear little new can be said about it anymore.

My car had been snowed in for a few months, and when we now got it loose, the 
battery was empty. But we got it recharged, so once more I can move a bit 
further away from the home base. Day before yesterday i already visited the 
Tisnes wetlands on Kvaløya: no flowering Saxifraga---my official start of 
spring--- here as yet, but a very nice flock of some 50 Snow Buntings, also 
busily recharging before embarking on the arduous flight across the Atlantic to 
E. Greenland. The wetlands on the other side of Kvaløya, at Rakfjord, are still 
mostly snow covered and the only birds there Hooded Crows; but some ten 
reindeer already found something to graze on on the bare patches. In a shallow 
bight of the sound some 10 Red-breasted Mergansers displayed furiously, a lot 
of fun to watch for a while.

But today I started out as usual, making up a bird list as I drive along the 
main road from Tromsø across the bridge to the mainland, and along the 
Balsfjord to its much colder sidefjord, the Ramfjord, of which the innermost 
10-15 km are still frozen. But the ice looks unhealthy and I saw no ice 
fishermen today anymore. At the bottom of the Ramfjord, I leave the main road, 
and choose a narrower sideroad along the other, southern shore of the Ramfjord, 
narrow enough to need most of my attention to the driving---our roads usually 
suffer quite a bit from snow, ice and frost during the winter. Still the fact 
that 15 km on, in Andersdalen, at the mouth of the Ramfjord again, but now on 
the other side, my list still only counts six bird species: Common and Herring 
Gulls, Magpie, Hooded Crow, Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard, is not only the 
result of inattention from my side---there ARE few birds here, especially 
before the migrants are back. The first stop at Andersdalen, where a smaller 
river flows out into the Balsfjord, adds a few 'usual suspect': Oystercatcher, 
Curlew, Great Black-backed Gull and one more unexpected bird, a lone Goosander  
(Common Merganser for the Americans) drake in a small flock with Red-breasted 
Mergansers, the latter OUR common merganser species.  My usual walk along the 
road through a hill forest dominated by alder and birch at first yields no 
birds whatsoever: the only sound is that of the meltwater, coming down the 
steep slopes, often in tunnels under the snow, gurgling everywhere. A lone 
Great Tit crosses the road, the only one I see all day; amazingly, also this 
day passes without a single Greenfinch, nowadays probably our most numerous 
small bird this time a year. On the way back I finally hear birdsong; two 
far-away strophes sound to my ears like Redwings (their song varies a lot from 
place to place and also from year to year), while a closer bird is unmistakably 
and exuberantly a Chaffinch.

I next park my car, where I have parked it now in some 20 years (In fact, a 
local asks me:; Are the birds on schedule this year?), at a large farm 
surrounded by meadows---in one of them some ten Fieldfares forage, my first for 
the year. The farm often has House Sparrows and Starlings, but not this time, 
nor do I see the resident pair of Shelducks (they were back on Tisnes on 
Friday). But there is always something to enjoy anyway; this time a Woodpigeon 
starts up his 'Doe de deur dicht, zoete lief', the dutch version of its song, 
from a tight stand of planted spruce. This is a newcomer to the area (and a 
returning migrant); earlier one had to go to the inland to see them. Otherwise 
there is little spring here as yet, although many fields are partially or even 
wholly snow-free: this area is south-exposed, which is why we often get the 
first returning migrants here. The only flowers are still the yellow stars of 
Coltsfoot, but there are now many more than a week ago.

The Balsfjord enjoys local populations of both herring and capelin, both 
demersal spring spawners, and their eggs are much sought after by various 
diving ducks, maybe especially the scoters. This time they were all Velvet 
Scoters, viewed in beautiful light with the sun behind me 'at the bottom of the 
fjord'. Fewer ducks than usual, though, and no grebes at all. But a pair of 
Red-throated Loons were again the first of the year; this is the species that 
has become a town bird in Tromsø, with many pairs nesting on the small lake 
Prestvannet on the island (still completely ice-bound).

In shallower areas 'in the inner corner', near the village of Storsteinnes, I 
found some dabbling ducks: Mallards, Wigeons, and Teal, and also a small flock 
of Tufted Duck, more common on freshwater here. And near the end of the road, 
the beautifully situated church of Tennes, I glimpsed a well-remembered way of 
flying; and yes, a pert White Wagtail sat on the roof of an outhouse, also just 
back no doubt. From there I drove straight back home (c 100km), as our narrow 
window of nice weather was already closing again. At the end of the trip I had 
a list of exactly 20 bird species, which will probably not impress any of you. 
We don't have all that many birds, and the weather is often also so-so, but the 
scenery is truly wonderful. Sadly, I can't show that to you!

Vader, Tromsø Museum

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>

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