Spreading my wheels again

Spreading my wheels again; once more around the Balsfjord


Last week I finally could use my car again, after it was buried in snow all winter and early spring. Now much of the snow has disappeared and this morning also our garden is finally snow free. This weekend the weather was quite nice, although very foggy in the mornings; but after the fog burned away, we had sunshine, by now potentially 23 ½ hours a day (We’ll have the midnight sun from tomorrow to 21 July), and 10-12*C. So I used the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with the areas I habitually visit in the area, and about which I feel I have almost written all too often. On Saturday I visited the area North on Kvaløya, while on Sunday I drove my annual ‘around the Balsfjord’ tour, some 250km. Generally spring is only just arriving (in fact, first today the birches around the museum here are leafing), and in the marshes and heaths of Rakfjord—Risvika, where I walked on Saturday, there are still large patches of snow, and the whole area has emerged yellow and brown, with little fresh green as yet, and no flowers, except the Coltsfoot of the road verges. The reindeer have moved to the greener fields near the shore.

Still, listening to the birds soon shows that many of the usual suspects have returned. A few Golden Plovers break out in their glorious display song, and I hear the bronze flute of the Curlews of the waterside. It takes a long time, but finally also the trills of the Whimbrels drift down from the heaths. Very few water-birds as yet, and the habitual pair of Whooper Swans has not yet arrived; the ‘swan lake’ is still partially ice covered and now only helds a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, the most common ducks in these area, in addition to the many large gulls that habitually come here to bathe in fresh water. No terns as yet, and no skuas, and the only song birds on the marshes are the first Meadow Pipits. A Willow Grouse is still conspicuously white, although its neck has already turned brown. There are a few more songbirds in the trees around the houses: Fieldfares, Redwings, Bramblings and Chiffchaffs.

On Sunday I start around 8.30, but the fog does not really lift before 11 am. In town I note that the Kittiwakes have taken another building in use for nesting, a phenomenon of the last few years (The species has decreases substantially in Norway as a whole). Otherwise the first 40 km is mostly transport; I note that there are already quite a number of campervans on the road. I keep to the main road until the bottom of Ramfjord, a side fjord of the Balsfjord, and double back along the north shore of Ramfjord, again noticing the large difference in snow cover between the south and north shores. A pair of hares jumps away; one is still completely winter-white, while the other already is summer grey. My first stop is at a river mouth at Andersdalen, at the mouth of the Ramfjord. Little to see there this time, and I look in vain for Lapwings (That would repeat itself during most of the day, our lapwings are not doing well). But the first of a number of White Wagtails is here; this friendly species is fortunately common here wherever there is habitation.

Just ‘around the corner’ from Andersdalen and thus south-exposed there is an extensive birch forest with also many alders, poplars, willows (now in flower) and rowan (fully leafed), and here I always do my first walk of a few km. Still foggy and not an overwhelming bird chorus; but one after one the different voices appear. Also here Redwings are dominating, but they sound completely different from the ones in Folkeparken in Tromsø. Fieldfares quarrel, Chichaffs chiffchaff, Bramblings rasp, and I also hear the mechanic jingle of the Dunnock, the positive statements of the Chaffinches (seems to become more common every year here), the jubilant shouts of a Song Thrush and down near the shore, where there are some cabins with nest boxes, several Pied Flycatchers. I am lucky to see a Bullfinch—they don’t have much song—and at the end of the walk I hear the voice I have been waiting for: the melancholy sweet cadences of the Willow Warbler, the most numerous bird in Norway. No Ravens this year apparently, but a Sea Eagle wings past, and from the fjord I hear the wails of Yellow-billed Loons, a wintering bird here and soon gone to the arctic in Russia. Also here Coltsfoot flowers galore—I think I have never seen so many as this spring everywhere–, but otherwise as yet the only others are the very first Marsh Marigolds in the ditches along the road, and the inconspicuous beige minarets of the horsetails,

The next walk is in a farmland area close to the shore, with a spruce coppice (planted). At the farm where I always park, there were this time not yet any swallows, but the whole area has clearly been invaded by House Sparrows, the only ones of the entire day. Greenfinches and many magpies in the spruce, but this time no Woodpigeons. A very pleasant surprise is the jingle of a Yellowhammer, a bird in serious trouble in Norway as so many places.

After this walk there follows a long transport etappe again, especially as the flocks of seaducks that are here earlier in the spring and feast on capelin roe, clearly have left already. Neither here, not along the bottom of Balsfjord there was much to see (but lots of Coltsfoot Tussilago everywhere), so I continued a bit inland, to Sagelvvatnet at about 100 m a.s.l.. This lake was still 90% ice-covered, as are many of the fields here still. A pair of Wigeons and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers swam in small open areas, where brooks run out into the lake, but where the lake itself drains into the river Sagelva, there is a larger open area, with a flock of Tufted Ducks, 3 Teal, and two pairs of Horned (Slavonian) Grebes, one actively displaying—they nest here annually.

The return this time was across the Malangen peninsula—there is no through road on this shore of Balsfjord–, and along the Malangen fjord. As always, there were many Greylag Geese here, and I found the first Baltic Gulls of the year, But still no lapwings. There is now a tunnel connecting the Malangen peninsula with the island of Kvaløya outside Tromsø, and on Kvaløya I as always make my last stop at the famous wetlands of Tisnes. Not all that much to see here this time, but also here the first Willow Warblers had arrived, and I also found 2 Barn Swallows. And the last new birds of the day were a pair of Lapwings, at long last. Traditionally spring has not really started for me before I have admired the red Saxifraga oppositifolia flowers at Tisnes. But since the beautiful chalk-rich meadow where they were found has become part of a horse farm, it has become more and more difficult to find them among all the trampled ground. And this time I searched for a long time, before I finally found 2 separate flowers. I much fear they may have been the last of its kind here!!

The bird list for the 2 days ends at 45, par for the course.

At the end of this week I fly to Holland for a few weeks, and will there experience full spring.

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway



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