Looking for signs of spring

Mid April, but few signs of spring as yet in Tromsø

We have c. 1 m of snow on the ground in Tromsø now, but the last few days there has been a change in the weather, and now we still have night frost, but during the days the temperature ‘soars’ all the way up to 4-5*C. Also, the days are getting longer fast now, and the sun does not set before around 9 pm, so that , especially close to the sounds there is a considerable snow melt already and here and there small areas of brownish grass peek up; no Coltsfoot as yet seen, though.

Still no returning migrants heard in Folkeparken, the area between my house and the museum; the only songsters there are the irrepressible Greenfinches and the Great Tits and they have been here all winter. But, as I mentioned before, the Herring Gulls feel the spring coming and their melodious long call is heard more and more often; some pairs will nest on houses also in my neighbourhood, although most town gulls prefer the taller flat-roofed buildings in the town center. The last week I have also regularly seen Grey Herons fly in over the island, and i suspect they also have started visiting their nest trees.

Yesterday I walked around the south end of our island of Tromsøya, mostly in the vain hope of finding the first Snow Buntings of the year—they will fly on soon to East Greenland and arctic Canada. Now there were some 10 Common Gulls (very well named here, as they are really very common indeed all over the town) on the shore and also the first pair of Oystercatchers, while hundreds of Eiders are feeding in a tight flock on the sound. Four Long-tailed Ducks were the first this year; this species used to be common here in winter, but has decreased a lot. The path was slippery and icy (melt during the day, frost at night), so I was glad I had my ‘brodder’ under my shoes still.

But today I planned the longish walk (6 km) to the airport, and as this is most of the time low along the shore, and on a foot-and bicycle-path along a main road, I ventured out for the first time in months without the brodder (a clear sign of spring) and that went quite well; the main problem were the large puddles of melt water here and there. The road paralells the sound all the way and there was a clear difference from yesterday: both Common Gulls and Oystercatchers were back in force today. The gulls were mostly still in sizeable flocks, but the oystercatchers were already paired off and occupied their territories—this is a very common bird here along the stony shores. No Snow Buntings here either, though, and no other returned shorebirds. I did see a Purple Sandpiper near the airport, but that is the only shorebird that winters here in any numbers.

A final sign of coming spring probably were the pair of Magpies flying with sticks. Although they always remind me of the letter from a colleague in Newfoundland many years ago, who wrote: “The magpies fly with sticks, mistakenly thinking it will be spring soon. They are fools!!”

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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