Saturday, 5 July 2014

North Norway

I have recently returned from a trip to north Norway, well within the arctic circle, but still within the northern treeline. The higher hills are above the altitudinal treeline have long-lying snowbeds and where the snow has melted are covered with heath.The lower ground is largely covered with birch forest, only a few metres tall, with other areas covered with dwarf birch and willow scrub less than a metre tall.  The dominant ground cover in the heath and forest floor is lichen, often referred to collectively as reindeer lichen as that is the traditional food of the vast herds of semi-domestic reindeer that are held the there.  

The landscape as a whole is a complex mosaic of birch woodland, scrub, heath, mires and lakes. The winter snow is late to thaw and a cold north wind held the spring growth back this year.

The sky was often grey, but carried very little rain, most of it falling as showers, the clouds lit pink in the low midnight sun.

And midnight rainbows ran over the horizon.

Then as the wind turned to the south the air warmed and cleared, and the low sun cast soft backlight through the birches.

Although much of the lichen-heath has been heavily grazed by reindeer, there are still some carpets of reasonable size and depth, and they give a hint of the thick intricate growth of numerous species of lichen which should cover most of the dry ground.

The lichens are fragile, and crunch when trodden upon, it seems tragic to destroy so much art.

But the lichens are prolific and do grow back, to spread over twigs, leaves, branches and cast reindeer antlers.

Even a reindeer skull.

So when, or if ever, the reindeer herds are reduced enough, the lichens will return their former glory.

However, attractive as the woodlands and lichens are, I was there to study birds like this male Bar-tailed Godwit and other species of wader which come to these lands for a few months each year to raise their young. More of which I shall describe in further posts.

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