Thursday, 25 June 2015

North Norway

A fresh burst of green opens over the northern Norway landscape as the birch leaves open

I'm in northern Norway for the second part of June, over mid-summer with twenty-four hour light. The main reason to be here is as part of a long-term study of breeding arctic waders, but there is so much wildlife activity, I thought I might add a general picture first.

There are high numbers of voles this year, especially grey-sided voles, and as such many predatory species are breeding. I saw a red fox the other day carrying a mouthful of voles back to its cubs. And other predators breeding include; rough-legged buzzard, hawk owl, short-eared owl, long-tailed skua and great grey shrike. Many people have heard of lemming population peaks, but they are not the only rodent in the arctic whose numbers fluctuate so dramatically, several vole species do also, and their numbers can influence the numbers of breeding animals too.

A Grey-sided Vole  Myodes rufocanus - an important food source for so many predators in Scandinavia

During the last peak in vole and lemming numbers a few years ago, I saw most of the usual predators breeding, but no great grey shrikes Lanius excubitor, that was because the rodents were in such high numbers over most of Scandinavia that the shrikes, which probably did not need to fly so far north to breed, stopped farther south where there were just as many if not even higher densities of rodents. However, this year there are shrikes breeding in the north and the nest illustrated held six chicks, of various sizes. They are all likely to fledge as the adults were bringing in plenty of food.

Six young shrikes lie quietly in their nest, some smaller than others,
 but all will likely fledge as there are so many voles about

As with great grey shrikes in winter, in summer they also spend most of their time perched high watching for prey, but the irony of these shots is that I photographed the vole directly below the nest tree while the birds were about twenty metres away. That was one very lucky vole, so far....

The adult shrikes sit on high perches in nearby trees

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