signs of spring around the Balsfjord, N.Norway

To: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
Subject: signs of spring around the Balsfjord, N.Norway
From: Graham Buchan <>
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 2011 09:09:47 +1000
Thanks, Wim. Always great to read your stories - full of weather, landscapes, 
atmosphere, birds and animals.


Graham Buchan

On 25/04/2011, at 4:34 AM, Vader Willem Jan Marinus wrote:

> 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!
>                                                                        Wim 
> Vader, Tromsø Museum
>                                                                        9037 
> Tromsø, Norway
> <>
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