Once more around the Balsfjord))


I have lived in Tromsø, N. Norway, for 45 years now, and every spring I drive at least once ‘around the Balsfjord’, the fjord penetrating southwards from Tromsø for some 100 km’s; I must have reported about this trip many times to you already, so please tell me if this becomes a surfeit. This year my trip was 2 weeks later than in most years: my car was snowed under until a week ago, and Riet, who was here for a week, does not much like long car drives (It is c 250km). We have had a lingering winter, with lots of snow, but 2 weeks ago it got nice and sunny—one day 23*C, almost unknown of here in early May–, and all the snow has disappeared in record time. Now my walk to the museum is snow free, and there are only some rests in ditches etc left. The birch forest here is not yet green, but the Rowans (Mountain Ash, Sorbus) have leafed, and the birches, the dominant trees here, will soon follow—-they were looking quite green already along the Balsfjord, where it often is a little bit warmer than here on the island.
Also yesterday the weather was quite nice, in spite of a somewhat threatening weather forecast: mostly sunny, and 15-16*C. The later date this year made for some differences: the always more arctic and usually ice-covered Ramfjord was now already ice free, and all the flocks of sea ducks (Scoters, eiders, Long-tailed ducks) that concentrate on the Balsfjord in spring, i.a. to feast on Capelin eggs, had already disappeared. When I started (8.30, I often do not manage to be out early) the Pied Flycatcher was singing lustily in the garden (They nest in nest boxes), and I also heard Greenfinches (of course) and the newcomer Blue Tit. The trip starts out along the main road south (E8) for some 30 km, and the usual suspects join the day list: Common Gulls live up to their name and are everywhere, Hooded Crows and Magpies are common, Fieldfares rattle and scold, while the fjord yields Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Oystercatchers and Common Eiders (and the odd Mallard), but not yet any terns, while the cormorants of winter have left to nest elsewhere. At 81, I need most of my attention on the road, so only the most conspicuous birds are noticed.

The above-mentioned Ramfjord, a side fjord of the Balsford, stretches east-west, and I drive around it. There is this time a year an enormous difference between the two sides: while the forest on the south-oriented north shore is already quite green, along the secondary road on the other side of this fjord there are still large patches of snow, and the birches here are bare. But it is here I get my first positive surprise: a Ring Ouzel flies across the road in front of the car. This is not a rare bird here, but they almost seem to be somewhat allergic to roads and are therefore seldom seen.. My first stop is at the mouth of the small Andersdalen river, just when I get back to the Balsfjord itself. Here, somewhat earlier in May, I often spot wintering Yellow-billed Loons (White-billed Divers), but they have gone now, and I have to be content with Redshanks and Curlews this time.

After this the road curves around and we enter a birch forest, with alders, poplars, rowans and the occasional planted spruce, on a quite steep slope. Here again the microclimate must be excellent, as the forest looks definitely green, and in addition to the thousands of Coltsfoot, that grace the road verges everywhere just now in our area, there are also Caltha in the ditch, the many ‘minrates of Equisetum arvense and the quickly growing ‘soldiers’ of the fern Struthiopteris, that always remind me of soldiers on parade. There is birdsong here, but much less than I had expected (By now it is 10 am): Norway’s most numerous bird, the Willow Warbler is also dominant here now (I heard the first one only 3 days ago; how lucky we are that this bird has such a pleasant song strophe!), together with the Redwing, whose song strophe here is quite different from the birds I Folkeparken in Tromsø—it is very much a ‘dialect songster’, and in addition I have noted that the dialect in Tromsø this year has changed quite a bit from what they sang here a few years ago.; but all the birds in Folkeparken sing the same strophe. Gradually some other voices make themselves heard: Pied Flycatchers (the cabins here often have nest boxes), Great Tit (ditto), Chaffinch, Brambling (just arrived) and Dunnock—and of course the irrepressible Fieldfares, clearly much more content themselves with their scratchy songs than we are. As every year, from the steep rockside above comes the conversation of the local pair of Ravens.

My next stop and traditional walk is in an area along the fjord with farmhouses and fields, in addition to coppices. I notice that House Sparrows have invaded the area, and apparently the nest boxes, and also miss out on the Bullfinches and Woodpigeons that I often see here. A pair of European Golden Plovers barrels over, calling; they remain the only ones this day. At the farm where I park there are as yet no swallows, but A Starling is singing from the roof.

The secondary road along this ‘peninsula’, much the worse for wear after the winter, as most of the smaller roads are here, ends back up at the E8, and as there are no sea ducks here anymore, I drive quickly (One of the few bits around here where one is allowed 90 km/hr) to the bottom of Balsfjord, where I follow the old road along the fjord bottom; no sea ducks there either, but a pair of Goldeneyes in a small river mouth—all the rivers and streamlets are greatly swollen because of snow melt in the surroundings mountains.

Traditionally I continue some 15 km inland from the bottom of the Balsfjord (at Storsteinnes), where I swing off to a small country road along the lake Sagelvvatn (=Saw River Lake), at some 150m asl. This lake is mostly ice covered as yet, but the ice is dark and ‘rotten’ and won’t last long anymore; pity I can’t send pictures. In some open areas, where small rivulets debauche, there are Mallards, Wigeons, and a beautiful regal Arctic Loon. Where the lake ends and empties itself into the Sagelva, I have a further traditional stop; I have often seen Dippers at the bridge here, but now the water is much too high, and also the local pair of Horned Grebes is clearly awaiting lower water: they were lazying on the shore. To my surprise, 3 Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) hunt over the lake here, and I was happy to hear a Yellowhammer sing; this species is decreasing alarmingly also here.

This is the furthest point of this day’s trip, and I return via the Malangen-peninsula, where besides the here always common Greylag Geese, I see little new. Earlier one had to take a ferry in order to come back on Kvaløya, the large island between Tromsø and the sea, but since a few years there is a long tunnel under the sound here, which makes it much easier. The final stop is the wetland of Tisnes, about which you must by now have heard much more than you ever wished to know. The staging flocks of Red Knots, on their way to Greenland and Canada, have apparently already left, but there were some Ruffs, a pair of Teal, more Wigeons, many Redshanks and geese, and for the first time ever here, a Temminck’s Sandpiper, usually seen near the airport in Tromsø. The last bird of the day (nr 39, numbers here do not really count up fast) is a lone Barn Swallow that I saw enter a barn here. 30 more km’s on Kvaløya, the long bridge to our island of Tromsøya and home again around 5 pm with the feeling that spring has come in Tromsø also in 2018.
Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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