More sunny days, but Arctic air in Tromsø


In Norwegian we have an expression: "How long was Adam in Paradise?" which we use in cases of somewhat unexpected setbacks after a promising development. Last time I wrote to you we had temperatures in the double digits and everybody was enjoying the start of spring. But since then we have had ‘an outbreak of Arctic air’, manifesting itself in regular snow showers, strong northerly winds and temperatures hovering around freezing. We have already very long days now, however, at almost  70*N; it is only 2 weeks before the onset of the 2 months of midnight sun. So most of the fresh snow that fell these days melted away again during sunny periods, and the snow depth has not changed all that much, with our garden 3/4 snow covered. Along the shore, however, most of the snow has disappeared. The fields are mainly brownish and unlovely still, but everywhere there are the yellow stars of the Coltsfoot Tussilago, slowly turning their flowers, so that they always face the sun

But today the wind has abated, the skies are mainly blue and the temperature has ‘soared’ all the way up to +3*C. I walked through Folkeparken and around the southern end of our island of Tromsøya. This is Sunday, and traditionally lots of people go on a walk then, while today I also specially noted many parents with small kids on their probably first bicycle tour of the year. Most cars have now shifted to summer wheels, but there were warnings on the radio these days, that the roads in the mornings are quite dangerously slippery because of the snow showers and night frost.

The first narrow bit of the path through Folkeparken is narrow and treacherous, but the main path is more or less OK, although also still completely snow covered. There is less bird song, I feel,  on these cold mornings than during the warmer days earlier. Especially noticeable is the virtual absence of the earlier so dominant Greenfinches, probably already busy with nesting activities. Now most of what I hear are the Redwings. These astonish me every year: Redwings are outspoken dialect singers, and the song patterns may be quite different between e.g. here on the island and the forest along the Balsfjord 30 km further south. Not only that, but the local song phrases also seem to change quite a bit from year to year; what astonishes me in this respect is that in spite of all that all Redwings in Folkeparken have basically the same repertoire. How do they manage that?? Listen to each other??

Although there was less bird song this time, I hear gradually all the different players. There are a number of Chiffchaffs (a rare bird here 20 years ago), one or two Chaffinches (an increasing species here), and now also several Bramblings. A single Song Thrush shouts its joyous message, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the crystal flutes of two European Robins (duelling rather than duetting)—this is here mainly an inland species, and they  are not every year in Folkeparken .

From the path along the shore I have a good view of the sound and because of the calm weather it is easier today to watch the birds on the sound. There are always large flocks of Eiders here, and today I noted for the first time this year that they consisted for maybe 3/4 of males; clearly many females have started nesting. N other ducks here today, a lone Cormorant (here mostly a winter visitor) and  as the surprise of the day a single Horned (Slavonian) Grebe. Pairs of Oystercatchers have retaken their territories–they are very long-lived birds, and nest every year in the same place. (Even the pair that nests on the roof of the TV studio is back, I saw). Fieldfares squabble among the trees, and in addition to the hundreds of Coltsfoot, there are now also paler yellow flowers, a small Primula, that is a garden escape, but which clearly feels much at home here. The local newspaper had a picture of the first arriving White Wagtail, but I have not yet seen one.

Our ‘house gulls’, the Common Gulls, are establishing their territories again both on the shore, and in suburbia. Sadly their calls are much less melodious than those of the Herring Gulls on the shore (and in town); our ‘Fiskemåser’ shriek!!

My car has finally surfaced from its snowy grave, so in a week or two my action radius will become a bit larger again.

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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