FW: What a difference a week makes



From: wim vader <wjm.vader@gmail.com&gt;
Sent: torsdag 3. juni 2021 14:06
To: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <wim.vader@uit.no&gt;
Cc: PG Nell <pgnell47@gmail.com&gt;; vermilion_flycatcher <vermilion_flycatcher@yahoo.com&gt;; Jan Willem C. Vader <jw.vader@chello.nl&gt;; L.J. de Vries <lenajee@ziggo.nl&gt;; Hayo H.W. Velthuis <hhwv@xs4all.nl&gt;
Subject: What a difference a week makes





             Tromsø, at 70*N in Northern Norway, enjoys a few days of beautiful sunny sommer weather, with temperatures above 20*C and of course sun 24 hours a day. This has really  brought out full spring in a hurry: the birch forests are completely green by now, and we can enjoy the hundreds of different green colours of spring, every plant species being subtly different. For unknown reasons, at this time of the year suddenly my hanging sunflower feeder, which hung virtually untouched since New Year, has become popular again (Same happened last year), with primarily Greenfinches, and the House Sparrows of a few houses down the road, which otherwise I never see here, but also Chaffinches and Bramblings. And, to my chagrin, the feral pigeons, which until now also kept to a feeder downm the road. A Pied Flycatcher sings in the garden, but of course is not interested in sunflower seeds.

             Every spring I make my annual pilgrimage ‘around the Balsfjord’, and I have reported several years already about this normally c 280km long trip. The Balsfjord is a typical Norwegian fjord, stretching c 80 km southwards from Tromsø, several hundred meters deep, and surrounded by quite high mountains. There is no road all the way on the western side of the fjord, so that one needs to cross the Malangen peninsula and follow Malangen; nowadays there is a tunnel from there to Kvaløya, so one is no longer dependent on a ferry. Most years I took this trip in early May, but since I no longer use my car in winter, it had to be later. And this year I further compromised by not driving ‘around’ at all, but returning along the main road, and visiting the Tisnes wetlands the previous day.

           I had been there less than a week before, but the differences were enormous. The Marsh Marigolds  Caltha now are out in their thousands and cover large stretches (Pity I can’t show you), and on the chalk grassland, sadly much damaged by trampling horses, there are enough steep slopes to allow my favourite yellow violets Viola biflora, Alpine Cinquefoil Potentilla crantzii and Globe Flower Trollius to bloom, while in the thickets the willows are in flower. There are also differences in the bird life: the Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) are back and also this year there is at least one pair of Barn Swallows in one of the local barns; the first Meadow Pipits are around as well. On the shore no less than 5 Ringed Plovers had arrived, while I also had the opportunity to watch 4 beautifully summer plumaged Ruddy Turnstones foraging close to the road. A few more Ruffs than a week ago, while two of the small pools each held a ‘year duck’, a Teal in one, a Gadwall (not all that common here ) in the other. And 2 male Lapwings far apart; one may hope for two pairs nesting of this sadly decreasing species.

          Yesterday was the day for the real Balsfjord run. The first 40 km is mostly transport along the main road, with various gulls, Common Eiders and Oystercatchers  on the shore, and Magpies, Hooded Crows and Fieldfares crossing the road in front of the car. But already here I had the first surprise:  a Eurasian Jay flying across, the third I have seen up here; this is a bird that is slowly spreading further North. The Ramfjord, a sidefjord of the Balsfjord, and with a much more Arctic character and fauna (It is frozen over all winter), now is fully ice free, and at the bottom of this fjord I leave the main road and take a secondary road following the Ramfjord back to its mouth. As always, I am struck by the difference in climate between the two shores of this fjord: the south exposed Northern shores have full spring and the Coltsfoot flowers have largely faded, while along the North shore the birches are only just turning green and there are patches of snow still here and there, while the Coltsfoot is still in full bloom. Not too many birds along the Ramfjord until you get to the outer end, where eiders are again common. These secondary roads have suffered a lot from winter conditions and are full of frost heaves and pot holes, so that one needs all attention to the road, in spite of very light traffic. My first stop is always at Andersdalen, where a small river runs out into the Balsfjord, and where the coast veers east again. Here I often have found Lapwings, but they seem to have disappeared also here. But there are 4 beautiful Common Mergansers on a rock, and my only Common Sandpiper of the day.

           A few kms onwards I always have my forest walk, through a birch forest on a quite steep hill. I am probably too late—both in the year and in the day—to expect a full bird concerto, but still I am somewhat  disappointed: the only songster present everywhere is our most numerous bird, the Willow Warbler; fortunately it has a nice song. There are also the positive statements of Chaffinches and the tired rasps of Bramblings (and Pied Flycatchers near the cabins along the shore), but I end up with only a single Redwing song—and these birds are very common here—, and also only one solitary Chiffchaff.  Yellow violets galore here also, together with a small-flowered Forget-me-not, and of course Marsh Marigolds in the ditches. And everywhere lots and lots of the bright green Ostrich Ferns, standing bold upright and equidistant, like soldiers on parade.

       Next I always park at a farm, where there are again Barn Swallows, also Pied Wagtails, Starlings and nowadays also House Sparrows, and walk along the road where there are some houses where they feed the birds and also have nest boxes, and where earlier in the year I often see Bullfinches. None of them showed themselves today. There is also a shallow bight here, interesting for shore birds. But this time I only find a Shelduck, an increasing nesting bird in the area, and a Grey Heron. In this area, south-exposed, spring has come far and all the Coltsfoot are in seed and replaced in the ‘yellow spring roadside relay’ by Dandelions. Earlier in the spring there are often flocks of diving ducks here, but they are normally gone now, and I am surprised to find 10-15 Velvet Scoters still present.

     Another long stretch of  main road, to the village of Nordkjosbotn, indeed at the bottom of the Balsfjord; here I again take a secondary road hugging the shore, but here all the ducks and grebes of early spring are gone and my next and last stop is a bit inland and higher up, at Sagelvvannet, a shallow lake still more than half ice-covered. There is a secondary road, again much battered by winter, along the lake and because of the (rotten) ice on the main body of the lake it is easy to watch the birds in the open areas close to shore. This time most of them are Red-throated Mergansers and Tufted Ducks, with a lone Wigeon, and the first Red-throated Loon of the year. I eat my lunch where the river Sagelva draining this lake starts, and as always there are Horned Grebes here, one even already on the nest. I have also several times seen Dippers here, but now the river is swollen with melt water and there are no places for these birds to sit. Along the old road from here to the vilage of Storsteinnes I know a spot where Yellow Anemones bloom, the only one I know of here North, and indeed they are in full bloom and out in numbers also this year.

    120 km back, mainly along a busy main road, and the only new bird getting itself on the day list is an Arctic Tern, just when I cross the bridge to my home town of Tromsø. 42 birds on a half day trip won’t impress you much, but for here—at 70*N—and for me—who does not hear well nor see all that well — this is quite a successful day.

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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