FW: Full spring in Tromsø

To: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>, birding-aus <>, "Ebn " <>, "Sabirdnet \( " <>
Subject: FW: Full spring in Tromsø
From: Helen Larson <>
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2013 05:30:19 +0100 (BST)
no please don't stop sending your stories, Wim! how else are we going to 
remember how different the frozen north is. Plus you have northern ducks and 
loons, all of which my northern husband misses (quietly).


 From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
To: birding-aus <>; "Ebn " 
<>; "Sabirdnet ( " 
Sent: Monday, 10 June 2013, 16:58
Subject: [Birding-Aus] FW: Full spring in Tromsø

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 
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 
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 Tromsø.

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway


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