FW: Full spring in Tromsø

Subject: FW: Full spring in Tromsø
From: PennyDB <>
Date: Tue, 11 Jun 2013 19:53:02 +1000
Dear Wim

As others have said, your posts are never boring, so please keep posting when you feel like it. Delightful to read about a place so different to Australia, with a different fauna and flora. I like very much that you always mention the flowers and grasses, geology and other things that have caught your fancy, in addition to birds. Would love to watch the loons, one of my favourite birds and sadly absent down here.

From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus
Sent: 9. juni 2013 17:12
To: birdchat
Subject: Full spring in Tromsø

After the dismal summer of 2012 here in Tromsø (if you overslept one day, you might have 
missed that summer) the winter 2012-2013 was also a bit peculiar (as seems to become the norm 
these days): for a long time we had frost without much snow, and then in March-April 2013 we 
suddenly got a whole load of snow, up to 1.5m on the ground in mid April. But from then on our 
luck turned, as first much of the snow melted slowly and regularly, thus avoiding severe 
flooding (Contrary to S. Norway, and now also Central Europe), and then May became wonderfully 
warm and dry, the best May I can remember in the 40 years I have lived in Tromsø. So in 
the end the trees became green at the normal time after all (around 20 May) and although the 
first migrant birds were 2 weeks late, the later ones arrived more or less 'on time'. 'Hot May 
weather' in Tromsø is 19-21*C in the afternoon, and I know this won't impress you much, 
but together with calm weather and sun 24 hrs a day (21 May to 21 July) I can assure you that 
there is no better place to be than in N. Norway in spring. Now of course this could not last 
for ever, and just now we have one of those changes that are so typical for our area. 
Yesterday sun and 22*C, today partly cloudy and 12*C, and tomorrow rain, northerly winds and a 
maximum of 6*C.
I had my elder sister (80) and her daughter on a visit just when the weather was nicest, and we profited 
by sitting in the garden till late in the evening (there were not even midges as yet!) and visiting 
several of my old haunts, that I have written so often about. Here I'll write a little about two of 
these areas, both wetlands of sorts, and both ca 35 km from Tromsø town by road. One, the Rakfjord 
area, is situated on the northern part of the large and mountainous island of Kvaløya,  which is 
situated between Tromsø and the open ocean. The rocks there are hard and acidic, so the vegetation 
is much less luxuriant than further south, where there is much chalk in the ground. The hills are 
covered with heath, often with small birch and willow scrubs here and there; the ground vegetation is of 
a variety of berry-bearing dwarf scrubs, as well as heather Calluna vulgaris. A few weeks ago the only 
flowers here were the white Cloudberry flowers, that later hopefully will develop in the yellow berries, 
that Norwegians are so fond of. There are also quite early the small pink stars of Loiseleuria , the 
creeping Azalea, and now the white-pink globes of another heath, Andromeda serpyllifolia. This is the 
favourite area of the Whimbrels and one now hears everywhere their stuttering alarm calls, and their 
beautiful 'song', ending in a characteristic trill. The other day, a pair of these Whimbrels saw off a 
hunting Short-eared Owl, a bird which I don't see many years, but this year already 5 times. Also Golden 
Plovers are common here in the beginning of the season, but by now many have moved to higher ground. The 
common smaller birds here are Meadow Pipits and Northern Wheatears, while also here the ubiquitous 
Common Gulls nest; they really live up to their name in the Tromsø area, nesting from downtown 
Tromsø to the most remote valleys. As soon as there are some scrubs, one hears the beautiful, but 
somewhat melancholy song-strophes of the Willow Warbler, the most numerous bird in Norway.
The Rakfjord elva  (elv=river) runs out here, through a series of marshes and 
lakes and into a very shallow, mostly tidal bay (tidal amplitude here is ca 
3m). Here there are always ducks and geese: the geese are Greylags, of which we 
seem to get more and more, while the most common duck here is probably the 
fish-eating Red-throated Merganser. But also Mallards (One with pulli today), 
Wigeons and Tufted Ducks are common here, and two of the lakes hold a pair of 
loons, Red-throated loons in one, Arctic Loons in the other (What I call the 
swan lake, as a pair of Whooping Swans has nested there for years. They 
returned also this spring, but must have moved to one of the more remote 
lakes.) Also here there are lots of Common Gulls, and this year also Arctic 
Terns, as well as a few Parasitic Jaegers (Only 2 pairs this year, normally 
there are more). Close to the road there is a shallow round small lake, now 
fringed with a broad belt of the beautiful white chandelier flower-stands of 
the Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata. These, and the sedges and Equisetum belts, 
provide excellent cover for the two pairs of phalaropes Phalaropus lobatus that 
nest here, and try as I might, half of the time I can't find them at all, even 
if they are not at all shy. Also the Ruffs usually disappear completely as soon 
as they alight, while the Redshanks are so nervous and loud that one can't 
overlook them. Snipe there are here too, but as the area is protected so one 
cannot walk into the marsh, one only notes the snipes when they 'bleat' 
overhead, or sit somewhere calling their monotonous ground display call. On the 
shores of the sound here there are lots of Eider ducks and Oystercatchers, also 
Curlews and the larger gulls, Herring and Great Black-backed.
The other wetland, Tisnes, is on the south coast of Kvaløya, in the chalk rich area, 
and it is a low-lying moraine sticking out into the fjord. It is fully agricultural, with 
several farms, and all the ground is in use as grassland; one farm has been taken in use 
for horses, and that has ruined a wonderful chalk meadow, but also provided two new 
ponds, that are very popular with the birds and also close to the road, so that one can 
watch using the car as a blind. Several of the fields here are extremely marshy, and now 
yellow with Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, a very common spring flower in the 
Tromsø area, later several species of Cotton Grass Eriophorum will dominate the 
scenery here. Tisnes traditionally is famous for its Ruffs, their numbers have been 
decreasing steadily these last decades, but this year there are quite many, with maybe 10 
spectacular males, and almost as many females around. Otherwise Tisnes is a place for 
ducks, and we often have rare ducks (for us) here; as these are species that are much 
more common further south, other birders are not always much impressed by our Shovelers, 
Gadwalls, and Garganeys; they rather come for the wintering King Eiders and Yellow-billed 
Loons (now long gone). But last year we also had a few Avocets, and this spring no less 
than 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, and later a Lesser Yellowlegs, so it is always worth to check 
Tisnes. Today there were no specialties, just Mallards, Wigeons, Teal and a single male 
Pintail. Also Lapwings nest here still, another species in steady decrease in our area.
On the way back I stopped for a while at a bight close to Kvaløysletta, where the bridge 
from Kvaløya to Tromsøya is. No special birds here today, but when I sat for a while 
reading the Sunday paper, I was suddenly surrounded by no less than 14 Reindeer, not noticing 
me at all. What a pity then, that I have stopped taking pictures!
I have the feeling that I have written roughly similar stories several times before 
over the years. Let me know if you are still interested in the occasional story from 

Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway


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