Ornithological Notes from Northern Norway, Salter 1899
ORNITHOLOGICAL NOTES FROM NORTHERN NORWAY.
By J.H. Salter, D.Sc.
Thanks to the numerous contributions to the subject which have appeared in 'The Zoologist' and elsewhere, the avifauna of most parts of Norway is as familiar to English naturalists as that of the Scotch Highlands. I have therefore, in writing the following notes of a month's holiday spent in the far north during the past summer, dwelt chiefly upon the points which appeared to be of interest, and have tried to avoid repetition. Tromsö, in 69° 38' N. latitude, was selected as offering facilities for making the acquaintance of certain birds of a distinctly arctic type. Ten days spent in the birch woods and on the fjeld tended to confirm in almost every detail the account given by Mr. O.V. Aplin (Zool. Dec. 1896), to whom I am much indebted for this and for other information. A few species were noted which Mr. Aplin failed to meet with, his visit having been paid earlier in the summer, before the snow had fully melted. On the other hand, in mid-July we found many birds silent, and hence less readily identified.
In company with a friend, I crossed from Newcastle to Bergen, the latter place being reached early on the morning of July 7th. In the grounds of the Fishery Exhibition, the Nygaards Park, but few birds were to be seen, owing to the wet. I noted the Chaffinch, White Wagtail, and very tame House Sparrows. We left at 11 p.m. in the 'Sirius' for Trondhjem, and rose next morning to find, in place of the gloomy Bergen weather, bright sunshine and blue sea. A crowd of cackling Gulls, Lesser Black-backs, hovered over our wake. In the quiet channels many Shags were perched on the rocky islets. As we rounded the Stadtland, justly dreaded for its rough seas, birds were numerous. There were many Common Guillemots. Kittiwakes appeared to be breeding on the white wave-worn rocks of the headland, and the first Black Guillemot passed, flying low and fast just above the waves. Late in the afternoon we came to Aalesund. A stay of an hour and a half allowed of a hurried scramble about the grey rocky bluff behind the town. Here a Common Whitethroat was singing. Molde was reached at ten. We took advantage of the lingering twilight to run up to the fir woods. Robins were singing as we roamed through the forest, collecting plants and vainly hoping to stumble upon a Fieldfare colony. Next day, while passing the large island of Hiteren, haunt of the Red Deer, the first Eiders were sighted. At Beian, at the mouth of the Trondhjems Fjord, a White-tailed Eagle passed us, and was assaulted farther on by two Hooded Crows. Many of the latter species, with Common Gulls, were resting on the stones and posts of the breakwater as we came into Trondhjem Harbour. After visiting the cathedral there was time for a stroll through the town and suburbs. White Wagtails were feeding newly-fledged young upon the yellow-lichened roof of an old monastic building. A Willow Wren was singing, and the Spotted Flycatcher's note came from the black poplars. Magpies chattered from trees across the meadow. A Chiffchaff sang from a dingle below us, where in moisture and shade grew blue columbine, meadow cranesbill, and a wealth of ferns. A Whinchat was scolding as it carried food. Down by the shore many House and Sand Martins hawked about, with Swallows in smaller numbers. At 11 p.m. Robins were singing, and Swifts were still upon the wing. The sun was out of sight, but clouds in the north-west were still illuminated, and by midnight the short spell of twilight was fast giving place to daylight once more.
Next morning (July 10th) we left for the north in the 'Vesteraalen.' As we ran down the fjord a Richardson's Skua flapped low over the surface of the water. Just beyond Beian there were hosts of Eiders dotted about amongst the low grassy skerries. In the evening we were threading our way through the narrow sounds of Vigten, amidst a perfect archipelago of islets. Some of them were Eider-holms. One Duck, Eider, carried two young upon her back. Oystercatchers piped from the rocky strand. Upon two islands which were tenanted by Common Gulls, the glass showed several young in the down. As we passed Torghatten at eleven, sea and sky were still illumined with the purple and golden hues of the northern twilight. Gulls were still playing above the shoals of fish, a Cormorant flapped along the water, and a Black Guillemot rose from a dive. Next morning, by contrast, was fresh and overcast, and as we crossed the Arctic Circle the snow-patches became more numerous. Arctic Terns passed us beating up the channel, as we neared the seaward front of the lion-like Rödö. Skuas were seen at frequent intervals, and I watched the amusing performance so often described by visitors to this coast. Screams of a Common Gull drew my attention: a Skua was hot in chase. Its tail was spread kestrel-wise, showing the projecting middle tail-feathers. It swooped and grappled, putting down its feet to tackle the Gull. The latter settled on the water, but the Skua kept making feints at it, till a Lesser Black-back joined in and chased the two. Finally the Gull reached a rock, and its persecutor sheered off.
As we steered to seaward to round the promontory of Kunnen, I heard a Whimbrel, and three Scoters flew past in company with Eiders. Numerous Puffins rose before the vessel. The islands just outside Bödö were swarming with Eiders. With them were Oystercatchers, Gulls of two or three species, and a pair of Red-throated Divers. As we anchored off the little town of Bödö, with its wharves and shipping, a Raven flew past. About 2 p.m. we saw the wild Matterhorn peaks of Kjaerring, outposts of the grand district of the Folden Fjord. The vessel steered through the Gissund, a narrow strait with clear green water. Here were whole fleets of Eiders, at least one of the old birds followed by young ones. Oystercatchers ran over the stones and seaweed; a White-tailed Eagle rose from the rocky shore, and flapped slowly past our stern. It was an immature bird, its back splashed with lighter colour, and its tail not yet white. We now steered out into the Vest Fjord, and tossed and rolled over thirty miles of open water to Svolvaer in the Lofotens. Black-backs and a Skua followed the vessel. A short run ashore added only one species, the Wheatear, to our list. Later in the evening, as we skirted this lofty coast, Herring Gulls appeared. They seem to avoid the more land-locked waters farther south, where the vessel was followed by Common Gulls and Lesser Black-backs only.
On the morning of the 12th, as we neared Tromsö, the savage mountains gave place to gentle slopes green with grass and feathery birch wood. We had seen nothing so verdant for hundreds of miles. There was moss-fjeld with melting snow patches aloft. A flock of Arctic Terns was fishing in the channel, and a Skua in mottled plumage passed us. In the course of the morning we landed at Tromsö, after just a week of travelling. Ten days were spent there, three of them being occupied by a trip to the Lyngen Fjord, where ice-clad mountains, separated by glaciers and snow-filled gorges, rise from the water's edge to a height of between five and six thousand feet. The small hours of an extremely wet morning were spent on shore at Lyngseidet; while, by taking advantage of the fact that the boat calls twice at Skjervö, we were able to spend rather more than twelve hours upon that island, which lies just north of lat. 70°. On July 21st we left Tromsö in the 'Röst.' Next day we got two or three hours ashore at Stokmarknaes while stopping to coal. The Raftsund, grandest of the Lofoten straits, was traversed, and Svolvaer reached on the evening of the 22nd. Three days were spent in making excursions in the neighbourhood of Svolvaer, and we finally left for Trondhjem and Bergen on the 26th. Much time was lost in steamboat travelling, or the following list might have been somewhat extended.
Cyanecula suecica.—We met with the Red-spotted Bluethroat frequently in the willow swamps. Apart from the slight difference in plumage, it appeared to be the counterpart of the whitespotted form which I had met with on the Rhine, though, as the males had ceased singing, I had no opportunity of comparing the songs of the two species. The females showed themselves more freely than those of C. wolfi, which, in my experience, are given to skulking. Skjervö appeared well suited to this species, as in moist hollows amongst willows and birches on the rocky slopes beyond the village we saw representatives of three pairs. On July 15th, in the Tromsdal, some distance below the Lapp encampment, a pair of Bluethroats scolded from willows by the stream. With them were the young ones, which had not long left the nest. They reminded one of young Stonechats or Robins, but were more richly coloured. On the 24th we saw a similar family amongst birch scrub a short distance inland from Svolvaer.
Ruticilla phœnicurus.—We only once identified the Redstart, in the lower part of the Tromsdal, to wit, on July 15th.
Erithacus rubecala.—The Robin seems to be a shy woodland bird in Norway. Several were singing at Lyngseidet about 1 a.m. on the 17th, as the dull morning light strengthened.
Saxicola œnanthe.—A pair of Wheatears, with their brood, on rough ground below the birch woods, were amongst the first birds that we saw at Tromsö. Two days later another pair upon the rocky shore of Grindö had young just flying. On July 23rd we met with this species on an islet off Store Molle, in the Lofotens.
Turdus iliacus.—Our first day at Tromso, spent in the birch woods in pouring rain, introduced us to the Redwing's song of a few whistling or piping notes. Sometimes a young bird which had left the nest would bustle out of the top of a birch tree with a chuckle. The old birds which had young were exceedingly fussy. Thus on the 13th, in the woods at the base of Flöifjeld, a Redwing clucked and scolded persistently like a Song Thrush as it flew round us, but we could find nothing. A second pair, in a great state of excitement, led to a search, with the result that we put up some of their young ones just flying. Two or three Redwings were singing in the woods at Lyngseidet in heavy rain early on the morning of the 17th. Owing to its shyness, or to its habit of not breeding in colonies, this species appears to be far less numerous than the Fieldfare, but such can hardly be the case in reality, judging from the numbers which visit us in winter. While the Fieldfare sits boldly, the Redwing slips off its nest at the approach of an intruder; so that its eggs are not easily identified. A nest found on July 19th on the far side of the island was attributed to this species. The eggs, which were warm, were not to be distinguished with certainty from Fieldfares', but, though we watched for some time, no Fieldfare appeared to lay claim to them, while the Redwings were close at hand and vociferous.
T. pilaris.—We met with Fieldfares in every locality visited, even on Skjervö, where the birches were very small; but in Lofoten, where wood was scanty and of low growth, we only came across them upon one occasion. A first day in the woods at Tromsö, in steady rain, had yielded little, when the excited scolding of a pair of Fieldfares called attention to their nest with three eggs, about seven feet from the ground against the trunk of a small birch. Several pairs were breeding in birches beside the track which led through the woods to Sandnaes, but in this and other cases the pairs were too few and too scattered to deserve the name of a colony. One bird was sitting upon three eggs, while two more were built into the bottom of the nest. Next day (July 13th), in the large woods at the base of Flöifjeld, we met with nests the contents of which varied from a single fresh egg to young birds which flew as we knocked the trunk of the tree. In one nest the four eggs were all above the usual size, one of them very decidedly so, measuring 1·35 by ·95 in.; while the average dimensions, as given by Howard Saunders, are 1·2 by ·85 in. But most of the nests were empty, probably in consequence of an earlier raid by collectors. Next day, upon Grindö, we found a nest with two fresh eggs. In the Tromsdal, on the 15th, leaving the track, which was thronged with tourists making for the Lapp encampment, we found a large colony of Fieldfares, but the birches were very awkward to climb, many of them being mere poles about thirty feet in height, and too slender to support a man's weight. On the 19th, on the far side of the island, nests still contained eggs or young in various stages of growth. Eggs from the same nest often showed very varied degrees of incubation, and sometimes no two young ones of a brood were of the same size. One nest was not more than 3 ft. 9 in. from the ground. Many birds, having finished breeding, were scattered over the clearings, feeding upon berries. On July 22nd, at Stokmarknaes, we climbed to many nests, but all were empty with the exception of a single one, which contained four well-fledged young. A few old birds were noisy, but many young ones were flying, and the breeding season was evidently over. I should much doubt whether in these latitudes the Fieldfare attempts two broods; it was difficult to form an opinion on the point at Tromsö, owing to the probability of the birds having been disturbed.
T. torquatus.—The Ring Ouzel was seen at Skjervö, about the high rocky part of the island, where, amongst crowberry and heather, Gulls were breeding. While waiting for a view of the midnight sun, we noticed that for about half an hour birds were silent. Immediately after twelve the light improved, and the "tack tack" of a Ring Ouzel was heard. The influence of continuous daylight upon the routine of bird-life in the far north is worthy of further study. On July 25th we noted the Ring Ouzel on the top of a rocky bluff near Svolvaer.
Phylloscopus trochilus.—We share Mr. Aplin's view as to the Willow Wren being the most numerous bird at Tromsö. In mid-July many pairs were feeding young which had just left the nest. But the song was to be heard daily all through the month, while in this country the bird is silent for about three weeks before recommencing with its quiet summer song early in August. Thus I noted that the Willow Wren was still singing at Svolvaer on July 25th, and again at Bergen on the 30th.
Sylvia atricapilla.—On July 13th a Blackcap was singing in a sheltered gully on the lower slopes of Flöifjeld. Its presence seemed in keeping with the luxuriant vegetation of this favoured spot. Birch and mountain-ash hung from the steep banks of the little ravine, where water from the melting snow-patches above trickled over sheets of moss, amongst which grew Parnassia, Geum rivale, and quantities of that delicate and beautiful fern, Cystopteris montana. There were patches of a tall white-flowered umbellifer, and the rest was a rank jungle of meadow-sweet, wood-cranesbill, great valerian, and the blue alpine sow-thistle. The only sound beside the Blackcap's song was the note of a Northern Marsh Tit, which was busily investigating the rotten birch-stumps, some of which showed the marks of its bill. And all this in the latitude of Disco Island, and far north of Iceland! On the morning of the 17th I heard another Blackcap at Lyngseidet.
Parus borealis.—The Northern Marsh Tit was ranging the woods in family parties. The usual call is the familiar "chee chee chee" of our own bird, but on Grindö one puzzled me for a time by making use of a fresh note. In many places this species had been pecking and digging into the old birch-stumps.
Muscicapa atricapilla.—I saw a male Pied Flycatcher perched on a rail at Lyngseidet early on the morning of the 17th.
M. grisola.—Its note called my attention to a Spotted Flycatcher at the same time and place as the last. Lyngseidet would appear to be a favourite locality with the smaller birds.
Motacilla alba.—The White Wagtail was not very numerous at Tromsö, though on July 20th we noted eight roosting side by side on a sloop at anchor in the strait. There were several about the shore at Lyngseidet; two were seen at Skjervö, and one at Svolvaer.
M. borealis.—The Northern Yellow Wagtail was noted the day after our arrival, when one rose from the willow scrub by the shore of the strait near Storstennaes. Next day we saw several on Grindö. One much-excited pair led us to make a search, with the result that we caught a young one just able to fly, and saw another.
Anthus pratensis.—The satisfactory determination of Norwegian Pipits is well known to be a matter of no small difficulty. I examined some scores with the field-glass upon the bogs and crowberry "barrens" in the hope of detecting the Red-throated Pipit, but all appeared to be of the present species. Some Meadow Pipits were feeding young, but the majority had eggs, doubtless a second brood; and so numerous were they that in the Tromsdal we stumbled across three nests in the course of about half an hour. Upon Grindö a boy showed us a nest with six eggs in a clump of moss and Empetrum. We watched for the return of the bird, much bitten by Mosquitoes the while, and, though she did not turn out to be the wished-for Red-throated Pipit, it was interesting to note the artless and unconcerned manner in which the bird, under pretence of feeding, stole up to the nest.
A. obscurus rupestris.—The Norwegian Rock-Pipit cannot be numerous in the part of the Nordland which we visited, as, though constantly upon the look-out for it and frequently about rocky shores well suited to its requirements, I only met with it at Svolvaer.
Accentor modularis.—The Hedge-Sparrow seems to be a shy bird in Norway, keeping to the cover of birch and willow. One was singing at Lyngseidet on the morning of July 17th, and another the same day at Skjervö. A third, heard in Lofoten on the 25th, was also singing in an unfrequented spot far from the village.
Pyrrhula major.—On July 12th, a wet day spent in a first exploration of Tromsö Island, I twice heard the low piping note of this species as we pushed through the birch woods.
Linota linaria.—We never failed to meet with the Mealy Redpoll wherever there was birch or willow cover of any but the most stunted growth. The first nest found, on July 13th, was thickly and warmly lined with feathers (fowls') and willow down. It contained six eggs, which were incubated; but two others, found the same day, each contained three fresh eggs. Willows seemed to be preferred, and in some cases the nest was only three or four feet from the ground. On July 15th a crowd of tourists from the Hamburg-American liner 'Auguste Victoria' visited the Lapp encampment. In passing through the woods many of them brushed past, and must almost have touched, a Mealy Redpoll's nest, placed shoulder-high in a birch tree beside the track. The five eggs were warm, though the bird was not sitting. At Skjervö, on the 18th, there were many Redpolls about the village, pecking at dandelions, or perched on fences, fish-rails, or path. One or two of the cocks were brilliant little fellows, with blood-red forehead and crimson breast.
L. flavirostris.—On July 23rd, landing upon an island off Svolvaer, we soon recognized Twites by their note. The locality seemed well suited to this moorland species, for, though there was only a scanty growth of heather, the peat soil was covered with berry-bearing plants—Vaccinium myrtillus and uliginosum, Arctostaphylos alpina, and, in wet spots, Rubus chamæmorus, yielding the luscious möltebaer.
Fringilla montifringilla.—At Tromsö one could not walk in any direction beyond the outskirts of the town without hearing the Brambling's drawling note. A nest found just after our first Fieldfares' on July 12th was some eight feet from the ground in the fork of a birch. It was an untidy nest, with Willow Grouse feathers worked into it. The bird fluttered off her four eggs, squealing and tumbling about. The cock bird then appeared; his note was a sharp "kip, kip," which, often heard subsequently, always reminded me of the Meadow-Pipit. Another nest, higher up than the first, was thick-walled and deep, made of moss, bents, and lichen, lined with hair and "rype" feathers. On the 15th the young had just left a nest near the Lapp camp, leaving an addled egg. Both the old birds were much excited. Our last nest, found on the 19th on the far side of the island, had small young ones and an egg, the latter probably hatching.
Passer domesticus.—As Mr. Aplin remarks, House Sparrows are scarce at Tromsö. On July 14th I noted one in the street. Three days later, as we touched at Havnaes on the Ulö, half a dozen Sparrows were chirping on the roof of a warehouse by the landing-stage, and next day we saw plenty at Skjervö. Both localities are farther north than Tromsö; so that the reason of their scarcity at the latter place does not appear.
Emberiza citrinella.—Several Yellow-hammers were singing at Lyngseidet as we landed, shortly after midnight on the morning of the 17th. On the 25th I saw one amongst the birches not far from Svolvaer.
E. schœniclus.—Young Reed-Buntings, not long out of the nest, were once or twice detected in hiding amongst the willow scrub. Thus, on the 15th, there were some just able to fly near the Lapp camp.
Plectrophanes nivalis.—On July 13th we ascended the Flöifjeld, a hill lying opposite to Tromsö just across the strait. It rises to a height of about 2500 ft. Above the zone of creeping birch we met with a great variety of small herbaceous plants of arctic and alpine type, including almost all the characteristic species of our Highland and Lake District summits. An Arctic Hare, in blue grey summer dress, was seen for a moment as it stole away, and amongst the grass were the runs and droppings of the Lemmings. After gaining the shoulder of the hill, our way led over bare stony tracts of fjeld, with a very gradual rise towards the summit. We had just passed a herd of about sixty Reindeer, when, as we came to a more broken rocky part of the slope, the Snow Bunting's call-note drew attention to a male bird of this species perched upon a boulder. We soon discovered that there were about two families of them,— the old cocks in full black and white livery, hen birds, and young ones which had not long left the nest. It has been remarked that, to one who has only known him in winter in the south, to come across the Snow Bunting in his summer quarters is like making the acquaintance of a new bird. Again, on July 25th, after a fatiguing ascent of one of the mountains near Svolvaer, under an almost tropical sun and through jungles of lady fern six feet in height, as we at length gained the ridge and rested on its northern side, where in the shade several large snow patches still lay unmelted, a twittered call-note from the rocks below led to the identification of another pair of Snow Buntings.
Sturnus vulgaris.—At Lyngseidet, early in the morning of the 17th, several Starlings were passing to and fro, and just before we left Tromsö on the 21st, we noted a small party in trees close to the Museum.
Pica rustica.—Magpies were everywhere in evidence. They are more pert and familiar than with us. Thus at Lyngseidet, on the wet morning of the 17th, they were prying into fish-sheds, chattering on window-sills, gables, and church roof, tampering with the split Cod hung to dry on the fish-rails, and making mischief generally.
Corvus corax.—The Raven was seen so frequently that it must be a very common bird in the Nordland. It was often noted about the fishing villages as we came alongside in the coasting steamer. Four were seen near the top of Flöifjeld, and five came croaking overhead at Skjervö.
C. cornix.—The Hooded Crow was fairly numerous, and its large nests were sometimes seen in the birch woods. When the young had only recently flown, the old birds were very noisy, angry, and excited. At Skjervö there were Grey Crows about the houses and church.
Otocorys alpestris.—On July 14th, as we came down the Floifjeld, I heard an unfamiliar note. The field-glass showed a pair of birds, which, from their black moustaches and the ear-tufts of the male, were identified in a moment as Shore Larks. They were very quiet, and gave no indication of having a nest. A pair of birds which puzzled us earlier in the day were no doubt of this species.
Dendrocopus minor.—Woodpeckers are scarce at Tromsö, and none were seen. But on July 19th I noticed a birch stump which had apparently been worked by this species, a Northern Marsh Tit having nested in the hole subsequently.
Cuculus canorus.—The Cuckoo, which at home had been silent for three weeks or more, was calling in the woods at Tromsö on the day of our arrival, July 12th. Another was heard at Lyngseidet as we landed soon after midnight on July 17th.
Falco æsalon.—Of the smaller birds of prey, the Merlin was the only one met with, but it appeared to be fairly numerous. One passed over our boat off the southern end of Tromsö Island on the 14th. Three days later, when in the 'Lyngen' off Dybvik, one flew over, and we saw another early next morning at Skjervö. On the 24th, in a glen behind Svolvaer above the head of the lake, we again heard the shrill note of the Merlin. There appeared to be a whole family of them amongst the birches which covered the lower slopes of the grey granite peaks.
Haliaëtus albicilla.—On July 19th we saw a White-tailed Eagle on the far side of Tromsö Island. It was mobbed by Gulls.
Lagopus albus.—A first meeting with the Willow-Grouse during a walk through the birch woods at Tromsö on July 12th served to remind us that we were in northern latitudes. The white wings and white-tipped tail render it a much more showy bird than our own. A pair fluttered up out of the willow-scrub, pitched again, ran with their heads down, and scuffled in great excitement, as six or eight "cheepers" got up one after another, flew weakly, and dropped again into cover. On the 19th, at the spot from which a pair rose, we found a young one with its leg broken. It had probably been attacked by a Gull. The same day, in coming down from the higher part of the island over a bank deep in crowberry, we put up another pair with about thirteen cheepers, some of which flew, while others skulked. Several old birds and another brood were seen on Skjervö. When there were young, the tumbling and fluttering performance always occurred. On the 25th we climbed one of the peaks in the neighbourhood of Svolvaer. At about 1800 ft., while still struggling through the fern, something white appeared to fall from near our feet. It was a Willow Grouse tumbling down the hill-side. Two cheepers flew.
Numenius arquata.—The Curlew was sometimes heard about muddy or sandy shores, as at Lyngseidet on the 17th. On the 20th, when we landed on the large island of Kvalö, it appeared to be breeding on the moors in company with Golden Plover.
N. phæopus.—We heard the Whimbrel's rippling note coming from the muddy shore at Lyngseidet, where it was feeding in company with Curlews and Oystercatchers.
Totanus calidris.—Redshanks seemed to prefer the far side of Tromsö Island, where they piped excitedly or ran amongst the long grass just above the shore. One would sometimes perch on a tree. At Grindö, on the 14th, a boy gave us a "hard-sat" egg. On the 20th several were noisy about the Kvalö pools. I put up a young one just able to fly, and another swam out to avoid us.
T. hypoleucus.—The Common Sandpiper was seen on the stream in the Tromsdal above the Lapp encampment, and again on the 24th about the shores of the lake behind Svolvaer.
Tringa temmincki.—On July 20th we landed at Tisnaes, the point of the big island of Kvalö which is nearest to the southern end of Tromsö Island. Walking over the peat-bog where cloudberry showed its ripening fruit, we roused a small wader, which flew round with a trilling note, then settled on a lump of peat. It was presently joined by the other one; no doubt they had young hidden somewhere close at hand.
T. striata.—A Purple Sandpiper was seen on July 23rd on the rocky shore of an islet off Store Molle in the Lofotens. It was excessively tame.
T. alpina.—The Dunlin was seen on the 20th on the Kvalö moors, and was from its manner evidently breeding.
Phalaropus hyperboreus.—Walking over these moors, which strongly reminded me of Wales, we came to higher ground, and reached the series of small lakes of which we were in search. From a pool margined with sedge, a small wader got up and flew anxiously round, with a noise like "wick wick," then settled on the water. We watched both birds, one, probably the female, being rather the larger and brighter of the two. They swam high in the water, with the neck straight, head well up and nodding. Nothing of bird life in Norway pleased us more than this introduction to these trimly-built and confiding little waders. My friend half swam, half waded, out into the pool, and on a spongy islet found a slight hollow in the moss, the empty nest. We then in two places noticed something moving on the water as if a fly had fallen in. The glass showed that the appearance was due to a couple of nestling Phalaropes, which were swimming with scarcely more than their bills above water.
Charadrius pluvialis.—There were many pairs of Golden Plover about these barren uplands; in fact, I have never seen them so numerous on any moor.
Ægialitis hiaticula.—On July 14th a boy showed us a Ringed Plover's nest with four eggs on the shingle at Grindö. On the 20th there were several of these birds about the beach at Tisnaes.
Hæmatopus ostralegus.—Oystercatchers were very noisy about the rocky point at the north end of Grindö. They had made many nest hollows on the beach, which was here entirely composed of broken shell, with bits of coral and of calcareous sponges. On the 17th, near Lyngseidet, a vociferous pair must have had young ones hidden close at hand. Others were feeding with Curlew on the mud-flats. We saw Oystercatchers on the 23rd on a little island off Svolvaer.
Sterna macrura.—On July 16th, just before the 'Lyngen' touched at Finkroken, on the Reinö, we passed a little island upon which a large colony of Arctic Terns was nesting. They filled the air like snowflakes. Others were seen on the 23rd during a boating excursion off Svolvaer.
Larus marinus.—A few Great Black-backs were seen. On the 23rd I noted a pair about an æg-vaer, or Eider hatchery, off Svolvaer.
L. fuscus.—A few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were breeding in company with the next species about the far side of Tromsö Island. The higher part of Skjervö Island, very rough ground, all crowberry and rock, was a gullery of these two species. Here on the 17th we caught three young birds of different ages, two of them nearly ready to fly. Others had already gone down to the beach.
L. argentatus.—Herring Gulls were very numerous on the 17th at Lyngseidet, where in the early morning they were pilfering split fish from the drying rails. The shore was littered with cod-heads and backbones, the usual refuse of a Norwegian fishing village. On the 18th we touched at the whaling station of Skaarö. Eleven freshly-killed Whales were floating at anchor alongside, two or three ashore were being flensed, and about a dozen carcases which had been stripped were waiting to be made into fish-guano. The water was covered with oil and floating refuse, so that the place naturally had special attractions for Gulls, which were in countless numbers. At Tromsö we bought two Herring Gulls' eggs of the variety mentioned by Mr. Aplin. They are marked with red-brown and ash on a warm creamcoloured ground. The locality given was Musvaer, behind Tromsö, and report said that in the whole colony, a large one, only one nest contains these red eggs each year.
L. canus.—The Common Gull appeared to be generally distributed, breeding upon the "egg-holms" in the sounds, about small pools upon the bogs, and on rocky islets in the lakes. Wherever we went, a few pairs cackled overhead. At Skjervö, on the 17th, I waded across the softest of spring bogs to a nest with three eggs. At the Kvalö pools several old birds were noisy overhead, and we saw two young ones swimming. On the lake behind Svolvaer two or three pairs had young ones just flying on July 24th.
Stercorarius crepidatus.—Richardson's Skua was frequently seen about the sounds and channels in the neighbourhood of Tromsö. At Grindö, on the 14th, I watched one amusing itself with a Common Gull, threatening it playfully. On July 20th, landing at Tisnaes on the Kvalö, and walking inland, we soon reached the moors already mentioned in connection with the Golden Plover. A Skua appeared on the wing some distance in front of us. Its long pinions and hawk-like flight reminded one of the Kite. It was evidently excited. After some search amongst the lichen and crowberry, my friend picked up a nestling Skua in dark smoky down, its quills and mottled scapulars just showing. The bird, first seen, which was of the lighter variety, tumbled about. It was soon joined by another, wholly dark. Both showed their flight to perfection, and were rather noisy. The young one was not in the nest, but the latter must have been close at hand. On the 23rd we noted a Skua of the light variety flying over one of the islets off Svolvaer. Another was chasing an Arctic Tern.
Alca torda.—At Tromsö, Razorbills were constantly on the move up and down the channel.
Uria grylle.—The same remark applies to the Black Guillemot. Several were noted on the 14th when we rowed to Grindö. On the 22nd, in the 'Röst,' we ran into the Trold Fjord, an inlet of the Raftsund, with grand surroundings. Here a few pairs of Black Guillemots were evidently breeding. Next day many were noticed in the course of a boating excursion to the islands off Svolvaer. Landing on a large rocky islet off Store Molle, we scrambled along shore, and came to an inlet of blue-green water, framed by the scorched red granite rock, and with a dazzlingly white beach of broken shells and coral in places. The contrast of colours made a brilliant picture. Six or eight Black Guillemots were fishing, each one going off with its fish when caught to feed young. Others were certainly nesting on an islet upon which we were not allowed to land, as the wooden cross and watcher's hut proclaimed it an æg-vaer, or Eider hatchery. One of those seen was in the barred plumage; can it have been a last year's bird unusually late in assuming the adult dress?
Fratercula arctica.—Many Puffins were seen from the deck of the 'Lyngen' as we ran across from Kvitnaes on the Vannö to the mouth of Lyngen Fjord.
Colymbus arcticus.—We rarely met with a lake or pool of any size that had not a pair of Divers upon it, usually followed by their two young ones in the down. On the 14th we saw three settle upon the Praestvand, the lake in the woods behind Tromsö which supplies the town with water. At Skjervö they were constantly passing to and fro, uttering harsh cries while on the wing. As we watched the midnight sun a fine pair of Black-throated Divers with their young floated upon a pool just below us. Probably a dozen places were found where trampled water-weeds and pieces of egg-shell showed that young had been hatched. One pair had bred at the Kvalö pools. Others were seen near Svolvaer; one pair near Oos on the 25th had well-grown young.
C. septentrionalis.—The Red-throated Diver was not less numerous. Three were wailing in the inner bay as we landed at Skjervö on the 17th. As we came to one of the small sheets of water amongst the birch-clad hills, a pair were much excited, barking and rushing about the pool. We took this as an indication of eggs or young, but on returning an hour later the birds were gone. On the 19th we came across a string of lakelets in the woods towards the northern end of Tromsö Island. Upon the uppermost one floated a fine pair of Red-throated Divers amongst the flowers of the small yellow water-lily (Nuphar pumilum). They must have had young, as before taking flight they swam up to within twenty yards of us, and we could not but wonder how long they would survive if guilty of such temerity in less unsophisticated latitudes. A pair had a single young one at the first of the Kvalö lakes; another pair had two young on the sedgy pool where the Red-necked Phalaropes were breeding.
Phalacrocorax carbo.—Cormorants were seen on July 23rd on the rocks and skerries off Svolvaer.
Anser cinereus.—We did not actually meet with Grey-lag Geese, but, to judge from their droppings, they frequent the boggy margins of the forest pools on Tromsö Island. The pinioned Grey-lags in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel at Tromsö are said to have come from Karlsö.
Anas boscas.—One seen at a pool on Skjervö, another at the Kvalö lakes. A duckling which we caught on the 19th close to the water-lily pool above mentioned was probably of this species.
Somateria mollissima.—Eiders were common about Tromsö and the neighbouring islands, but we saw only ducks with their young broods; the drakes appear to prefer more open water. On July 14th there were many off Grindö. One party numbered five old birds and about twenty young; another duck had five, and yet another four under her charge. On the rocky point at the northern end of the island we found two young in the down washed up; they may have been killed by the big Gulls. A maternal Eider grumbled "og og" as a Great Black-back settled beside her brood. There was a nest in a hollow amongst the rocks with the down still in it; others amongst the rocky knolls, or just within the birch wood, had been cleared out, and were now mere hollows. A boy showed us a nest by the shore; the bird was sitting in a little stone shelter, from which she bustled clumsily out. There were only two eggs; one taken was on the point of hatching. On the morning of the 17th, as we walked to a rocky point near Lyngseidet, many Eiders swam out from the shore with their broods. It was very common to see two old ducks with five young ones between them: very many had none. Next day, at Skjervö, I noted two old birds followed by fifteen young ones, no doubt the produce of a couple of nests which had not been discovered; we found one such still full of down on the less frequented side of the island. At Svolvaer semi-domesticated Eiders swam in the harbour amongst the boats, close under the hotel windows. When returning in the 'Sirius,' we lay to for some time at Kobberdal, on the island of Lökta, to take on board three hundred barrels of herrings. Close to us was a small islet completely covered with huts for the Eiders to nest in; they were made of slabs neatly roofed with turf.
Mergus merganser.—At Grindö, on the 14th, we saw a female or young Goosander in the channel just off the southern point of the island.
M. serrator.—The Red-breasted Merganser appeared to be numerous. On the 14th there were several off the southern end of Grindö. At Lyngseidet, in the early morning of the 17th, as we rounded a rocky point, a female Merganser plumped off a rock into the water, while nine young ones tumbled over after her, showing white under sides and fluttering paddles for a moment as they wriggled off a flat stone into the water. The same day, at Skjervö, four females, immature birds, were at rest on a rock in the inner harbour, and a pair rose from one of the Diver-frequented pools. On the 23rd, as we were exploring an islet off Store Molle, three alighted on the water near us, and next day there was a party of four on the lake behind Svolvaer.