Saturday, April 15, 2006

More photos

Friday, a week ago: the early afternoon sun coming into my office window meant I could actually strip down to a T-shirt! Remembering from previous experience that bright attractive weather can be gone within hours, I skipped off work for an hour to go for a walk. Here are a few pictures I took along the way...

This morning, at 6:40am, I was woken up by the sun reflecting off my bedroom window and into my eyes. Seven and a half days later, another clear sky. Remembering from previous experience that bright attractive weather can be gone within hours, I fell back to sleep for two hours, read my book, had a shower and ate breakfast. Lucky for me it was still clear and sunny four hours later, when I finally ventured outside for another walk.

I declare today to be the first day of spring at Grimsö. A couple of drizzly days have rid the ground of a lot of snow, and my stroll was comfortably taken without the use of a heavy jacket or thermal underwear.

I didn't bother going through the fences for the best camera angle. I can guess what this sign says...

The puddles on the road are particularly fun. First examining the patterns, then stepping on them and breaking the top layer of ice. This one is made of ice, water and air bubbles.

When the road sloped downwards I could see the air bubbles under the ice moving to allow the water to flow downhill.

Almost three weeks ago, I checked out the lake and admired the stream, which was still frozen on top. Now the water's gushing and brown.

But there's still a bit of snow up higher on the far side...

As I feared, the location of the barbeque is becoming somewhat watery.

Last time I walked along here, I could still follow the tracks that a snow mobile made. This time I was picking my way through mud, puddles, decomposing leaves and a few stray clumps of icy snow. The path wasn't so obvious...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Don't eat the yellow snow"

I'm told that this is the first piece of advice given to any military who are training in the arctic.

The spring snow melt uncovers all sorts of things. Near Johan and Johanna's house recently, Johan pointed out brownish mark in the ice on the road. It was roughly half a metre squared in area. "That's where I shot a hare last autumn!" Ergh.

Another sign of the season is the first reappearance of a lot of different birds in the area. Three times daily, all who are present at Grimsö take a 50-metre stroll to the manor for lunch or fika. For Johan and Jean-Michel, this has become a lengthy excursion requiring binoculars and incessant bird calls. They amuse each other, if not the local aves.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Monday, April 3

On day three I woke up at about 7am and looked out of the window. Fog. I couldn't make out the sea, which I knew was about 500 metres in front of me. Not a good sign for further birding. I packed my things and headed downstairs to find out the plan. Johan was keen on seeing the eiders once more. They usually migrate in the first clear hours of morning, so we'll see a lot as soon as the fog disappears, he argued. It sounded like rationalising from a desperate birder to me, and I don't know if Johanna was convinced either. Johan assured us that if the fog hadn't lifted by the time we reached his chosen spot, we'd head back to Grimsö.

So we said goodbye to Raggna and Carl-Gustav, and drove back to the first place we visited on Saturday. The first stretch of road was lined on both sides by tall leafless trees, and their dark grey silhouettes were the only thing I could see against the fog. Ten minutes later I could see the water vapour rolling off the fields of dirt to my right. In ten more minutes I was sure that the fog was receding and we'd be birding for a while. I made my first timid attempt at setting up a tripod and telescope (I was terrified of the consequences of dropping it), and Johanna left to take Astrid for a walk.

In those first 10 minutes Johan and I saw about 700 eiders and Johan received an alert for a king eider, again about 45-60 minutes away. We had sandwiches and coffee as soon as Johanna returned, to ensure that our hunger didn't interfere with the main event. In the meantime, many more common eiders were passing in this first clear hour of the morning. We hit the 45 minute mark. My feet were getting cold and I wandered around in circles to warm them up. I didn't want to stray too far. An hour. A couple of flocks had flown directly overhead, but the sun made it impossible to examine them carefully. More time passed. Johan admitted that we were unlikely to spot a king eider now. Maybe the alert was a misidentification? He didn't mention the possibility that it passed and we failed to detect it. Over the next half hour I got bored of the eiders, sat down and enjoyed the sun. The flocks were passing with less frequency. Eventually Johanna decided "That's it!" We packed up and began the drive back to Grimsö.

The last twitch of the weekend was a brief stop just outside of Örebro, where there are a lot of swans at this time of year. From the car I couldn't see them, just a huge field: half yellowed grass, half still covered in snow. "It's hard to see them, until you realise that some of the snow is actually swans", commented Johanna. Ah, now I could see them... hundreds of them! As soon as I opened the car door I could hear and smell them too. There were three species: the mute swan, which I saw plenty of on Öland, and then two very similar-looking species that Johan didn't know the English names for. Most of the yellow-beaked swans were one of these species, and Johan spent some time hunting for an example of the other. Eventually he found one and showed me with the telescope. I could barely detect the different beak shape that he was describing. I cannot imagine how he spotted that bird amongst the hundreds of others.

After spending the weekend sharing one of Johan's obsessions, I succeeded in a small reciprocal gesture: Johanna is now addicted to Sudoku, and spent several hours on the drive home doggedly completing her second one.