Sign of life

Sign of Life

Several subscribers have kindly emailed me to hear if I am well, since I have not sent anything to the bird lists for a long time, where earlier I was a somewhat regular contributor. Therefore this sign of life: fortunately I am relatively well, even though at 84 various problems cannot be avoided, deafness being the most frustrating. The reason I have been silent is that I feel I have virtually nothing to add to my earlier contributions. My action radius has been quite small in 2021, partly because of decreasing mobility, but mainly because of the restrictions caused by the covid pandemic, just now once again very much in the ascendence here in Norway, where we hitherto have escaped comparatively lightly, in part no doubt because of the many regulations.

Tromsø is now in the ‘mørketiden’, the dark period, without any visible sunlight, and just a short period of twilight in the middle of the day. We have had three periods with 20-40 cm snow already, but they have all been followed by Atlantic depressions, high winds and abundant rainfall (though we have escaped the damaging amounts of rain, that caused much damage in S. and W. Norway recently.). This varying weather also causes very slippery roads and paths often, so we need to walk carefully with ‘brodder’ under our shoe-soles most of the time. My walks to the museum, where I still occupy a desk and work on ‘my’ amphipods, to the shops, and to the places of vaccination, show how few birds there really are here in winter, when you don’t get to the shore. On a half hour’s walk I counted 7 species of birds: the ubiquitous and very common Magpies, the also always present Hooded Crows, a few Great Tits and Greenfinches,  in one garden a flock of House Sparrows, the odd Herring Gull  and Great Black-backed Gull overhead, and on 2 occasions a straggling flock of Fieldfares in the air. These are still here, because this year we had a bumper crop of Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries; even so, there are fewer than I had expected in such a rich berry year, and I have as yet not seen any Bohemian Waxwings, let alone Pine Grosbeaks, both also very fond of these berries.

In my garden I feed the birds, or at least try to, but there are very few takers, just the odd Great Tit or Greenfinch. Curiously, on 2 Saturdays there were more customers: Flocks of up to 15 Greenfinches and 10 Great Tits, with also a sole Blue Tit, a newcomer here in the north. One day there were also a few House Sparrows: there is a colony a few houses down the road, but they are normally extremely sedentary, and I see them but rarely. Flocks of Fieldfares landed in my alder tree, and there was at least one Redwing among them; they are of course not interested in sunflower seeds. The following Sundays there were no birds at the feeders at all, making me wonder if they were of some very conservative faith.

When I go to the shore of the sounds surrounding our island of Tromsøya, there will be more large gulls, and always flocks of Common Eiders. If you wait a while, Great Cormorants are sure to fly past; these are common here in winter, but leave to nest elsewhere. There will probably also be other sea ducks around: Red-throated Mergansers, scoters and maybe Long-tailed Ducks, but there is so little daylight, that it usually is impossible to identify far away birds. When you are lucky, which I have not been this last month, you may get eyes on a flying  White-tailed Eagle, or hear the cozy conversation of a pair of Northern Ravens.

The sun will be back (for 2 minutes, if the weather is agreeable) on 21 January, Soldagen, the day of the Sun, which is much celebrated here. Before that we will have Christmas and New Year, this year once more greatly curtailed because of the pandemic. My Dutch partner will be unable to come to Tromsø, but all 3 children and families will be here. Christmas is THE great family feast in Norway.

I wish you all a God Jul (merry Christmas) and a new year full of birds.

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

PS My home email is now

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