The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 733/An Account of the Birds met with during a short stay in East Finmark
AN ACCOUNT OF THE BIRDS MET WITH DURING
A SHORT STAY IN EAST FINMARK.
By N.F. Ticehurst, M.A., M.B.O.U., and
The planning of ornithological expeditions has always been a favourite pastime with us, but it was not till the summer of 1901 that the fitting together of different people's holidays would admit of the carrying out of one of our many plans. East Finmark has always been one of our goals, and, because of the ease with which it can now be reached, we finally decided on it as the scene of our explorations. It is quite true that there are no startling discoveries to be made there; but we thought that we should certainly meet with birds we had not yet come across at their breeding quarters, and should have a very pleasant time watching them at close range, in a place where they would be presumably tamer than at home here in England. We expected to be able to study the habits of the rarer waders—e.g. Phalaropes, Stints, &c.—where they were in tolerable plenty, and to make the acquaintance of such rarities as the Red-throated Pipit and Arctic Willow-Warbler. We may state here at once that we were disappointed; the birds were few and far between, and of the rarer waders, &c, we saw not one. In the first place, the year was an unfortunate one; during the first and second weeks in June there was over five feet of snow along the whole of the north coast of Norway, and the weather was so bad that the mail steamers were unable to touch at many of the villages along the coast. For this reason doubtless many of the birds, which had already arrived, were driven south again, and nested further in the interior. In the second place, we wanted to get right away from human habitation, and explore new ground, so did not keep near the coast, where doubtless we should have done better, although even there the avifauna was very scanty in comparison with what it was, as described by a friend a few years ago, at a more favourable time.
The particular ground we fixed on to explore was the valley of the Maskejok, a tributary of the Tana-elv, one of the great rivers, running north into the Arctic Ocean. As the object of this paper is to give a few notes on the birds we saw, we do not propose to go into the whole journey—the poling up the river, the shooting of the rapids, the heavy and fatiguing porterages, our life under canvas, and our struggles with the mosquitoes, "the demons of the place"—but to give a short description of the country from an ornithological point of view, and then to give short notes on each of the species of birds met with.
The Maskejok joins the Tana on its western side about four miles north of Seida, where the road from Tana mouth to Vadsö crosses the river and leaves the Tana Valley. The Maskejok Valley here widens out, and the river takes a very zigzag course, running into the main stream between high sand-banks, its mouth being guarded by a sand bar, which makes it very shallow, so much so, that when the river is low, canoes drawing only three or four inches have to be hauled across by hand. For the first few miles above its mouth the river runs almost due west, turning then south-west. For the whole of its course it runs in a well-defined valley, for the most part about a mile wide, the river ranging in width from forty to sixty yards. The banks are low on one side and high on the other, varying with the windings of the river; higher up, where there are fewer bends, both banks are for the most part uniformly low. For the first few miles, as has been said above, the course is zigzag, so much so, that after poling for half an hour the canoe is only fifty yards in a bee-line from where you started; here there are alternate stretches of deep, fairly still water, and short quick shallow runs, where the bottom changes from sand to gravel. Higher up the bottom gradually becomes more rocky, and some eight miles up the rapids begin. The first or long rapid is some five kilometres of rough, rushing water, with boulders of all sizes appearing above the surface, and for the most part only a foot or two deep; at the top of this the river makes a sharp bend round into the first pool; above this there are another two kilometres of rapids to the second pool, and then comes a succession of short rapids and pools about seven in number, with two long stretches of deep, still water intervening, till the last rapid is reached, above which is the lake. About a hundred yards from where the river runs out of the lake, the Dunkratelv runs in—this is a raging torrent with one or two small pools at long intervals, and is quite impassable for boats; at the upper end of the lake the continuation of the Maskejok runs in; it also is more or less of a torrent, and very shallow, so that boats can only be got up it to the lake beyond with infinite labour, when the river is high.
In the upper pools of the river are three or four small islets, and in the lake one, all covered with very dense willow scrub four to seven feet in height; on these an occasional Fieldfare, Redwing, or Common Sandpiper was seen.
The hills on either side, rising more or less steeply from the river banks, are nowhere very high, the highest point being about nine hundred feet. Their sides, almost to their summits, are clothed with thick birch woods, which reach right to the very edge of the river, there being only a very few places along the banks which are clear of trees. Where a small stream comes in, transforming the bank into a swamp, the birches give way to willows, which form a tangled and almost impenetrable thicket six to seven feet high, hence walking up the banks of the river is a very laborious means of progression; all the gravelly points of the river are also clothed with this same scrub. The birches vary in height up to twenty or twenty-five feet, and the only other trees seen were a few small mountain ashes and the willows, though the alder is fairly common near the mouth, where also are the only clear grassy patches, which have been transformed into hay-fields around the one or two small farms. With this exception the valley is quite uninhabited, but the numerous turf huts of all ages and in all stages of decay met with along the banks, show that parties of Finns occasionally visit the river to fish it, while others further away nearer the fjeld are evidently the remains of Fjeld Lapp encampments, as the remains of Reindeer and Wolves and the shed antlers on the fjeld testify. From the south side of the lake a tolerably well-marked foot-track leads across the fjeld to Polmak, on the Tana; this is used by parties of Finns with pack-horses, who come to net the lake. That this is a fairly wild region is evidenced by the fact that during our stay there two Wolves were seen, fairly fresh Bear droppings were found near the river and on the fjeld, Reindeer spoor was seen in a wet place, so recent that the muddy water had not yet settled in the hoof marks.
The fjeld on either side above the level of the trees is quite bare, the only growth being Reindeer moss and creeping birch, with the small arctic plants and grasses. Here and there in the marshy hollows are a few scrub birches or willow, with rarely a larger patch of the same and a piece of tussocky bog. Of tarns there are very few, as a glance at the map indicates, until the region above and to the south of the lakes is reached; here the character of the fjeld changes, and from being flat or gently sloping becomes broken up into little hills and hollows, the ground becoming more bare and boulder-strewn; the hollows are occupied by small tarns, which are deep, rocky, and with boulder-strewn margins, devoid of any vegetation. A few Snow-Buntings breed among the boulders, and there are a fair number of Common Redshanks on the fjeld near, otherwise this region is practically devoid of bird life. This was disappointing, as from looking at the map this would appear to be a particularly favourable place for waders and Ducks of all kinds.
Along the river, a single pair of Ringed Plover, a few Common Sandpipers and Redshanks, Fieldfares and Redwings, with an occasional Merganser or Dipper, were practically the only birds seen.
In the woods, the only common bird was the Willow-Wren; Fieldfares, and Bramblings were fairly common, Redwings less so; White Wagtails, Blue-headed Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, and Blue-throats were seen occasionally, while the Siberian Jay, Great Grey Shrike, Osprey, and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were each seen once or twice.
On the fjeld, the commonest and most generally distributed birds were the Lapp Bunting and Golden Plover; while the Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Shore Lark, Whimbrel, and Redshank were locally fairly common, with here and there a single pair of Dotterel. In the willow scrub thickets the Mealy Redpoll, Redwing, Blue-throat, Lapp Bunting, and Red-throated Pipit were found, though none of them, anywhere, in any number.
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris).—In the birch woods of the Maskejok Valley we now and again saw a pair or two of these birds, but we do not think we ever saw more than four nests together; from the majority of the nests the young had flown by June 25th, but we managed to get a good series of eggs, though several clutches were very hard-set, and two to three eggs in the clutch the rule; so that probably those we got were a second laying.
It is a well-known fact that where the Fieldfares breed in colonies, other birds often build in or on the outskirts of the colony; and it has been thought that advantage is taken of the Fieldfares' wariness, and their loud alarm-notes serve to warn the others of any threatening danger. Now, although so far north as this, we never found more than three to four Fieldfares' nests together, and often they were nesting singly; we found that it was generally worth while to search the neighbouring trees, &c., and by so doing we several times found a Redwing's, Brambling's, or Redpoll's nest, which we otherwise might have missed. Most often, I think, we found a Fieldfare and a Redwing breeding in company. All the nests we found were in birches, and never more than ten feet up; in fact, nearly all could be reached without climbing at all. When incubating the old bird sits very tight, and on one occasion, the nest being favourably situated, we were able to take an excellent photograph of the old bird sitting at a distance of six feet, the whole operation of putting the camera together, &c., taking place in full view of the bird, not more than ten yards away. It was not until we almost touched her that she flew off.
Redwing (T. iliacus).—By no means common, but generally distributed, breeding in the small swamps in the woods or near the river, and on the hills where the trees begin to merge into scrub. One nest we found was on the high fjeld, in a large patch of scrub willow; but as high as this the birds were distinctly rare. All the nests were near the ground, the highest being 2½ ft. from it, built in scrub willow on an island in the river. A favourite situation was a dead birch-stump, about six inches high, or in the fork where two or three stems of equal size sprung from the same root; while another nest was on a pile of tree-loppings, where some wood-cutters had been at work. Most of the nests contained young by June 26th, but the nest on the high fjeld had five fresh eggs on June 28th; this nest was absolutely on the ground, at the foot of a dwarf willow, and the bird was nearly trodden on by one of us before she flew off with loud chatterings. A few addled eggs were got from other nests. We found the Redwings every bit as noisy and bold when they had young as the Fieldfares, and though from their situation the nests were not quite so easy to find, by hunting where the birds made most noise they did not give much trouble. We found that the cocks stopped singing as soon as the young were hatched, and joined the hens in tending the brood, and doing their best to drive off intruders. The song of the Redwing is quite short, and consists of only a few notes; but when near enough for one to hear the softer notes, it is by no means devoid of sweetness, and personally, hearing it for the first time, we thought it almost beautiful. Certainly it is repeated with deadly monotony, and on several occasions, when trying to get to sleep in the bright light of the midnight sun, we heartily cursed an old Redwing who, from the top of a birch tree, was pouring out his song about six or eight times a minute, hour after hour, the whole night through.
Wheatear (Saxicola œnanthe).—The Maskejok Valley was quite un suited to the Wheatear, being all birch forest, and even on the open fjeld these birds were quite rare; only one was seen.
Bluethroat (Cyanecula suecica).—Met with constantly in the marshy willow scrub in the valley, and almost every marshy bottom on the high fjeld, if it contained willow scrub, held its pair or two of Bluethroats. Its song was constantly heard, and for variety and beauty beats any other song I have yet heard. Now and then we would hear some strange new song, and would spend some time carefully stalking the singer, only to find it was our little friend the Bluethroat again. When the young are hatched the cock, like our Nightingale, stops singing, and utters a harsh churring note.
Both parents feed the brood, and at this time are much bolder and less skulking than usual. The nests, we believe, are very hard to find, and certainly we have found them so in other parts of Norway; so we must consider ourselves very lucky in having found three. A fourth we spent several hours over, watching the birds going backwards and forwards with food; but owing to the dense scrub on the banks of a stream, into which they disappeared, we could never successfully watch them on. Two of our nests were found by sheer luck, the hens flying off at our feet when walking through swampy scrub. The first was a neat round nest, built in the ground, of coarse flat grass-stems, and well concealed among grass some ten inches high; it contained six eggs about a week incubated on July 3rd. The second was built in the roots of a scrub willow, about 4 ft. high in a very wet swamp, and contained five young about a week old, and a single addled egg of a pale blue colour without any markings. The third nest we found by beating the side of a deep pit, over which we had heard the cock persistently singing; the hen flew out from a hole in the side of the pit, in which was the nest well concealed by hanging grasses; it was somewhat larger than the other two, and was made of fine grass, with a little moss outside, and in every way, except the lining, resembled a Robin's nest at home; it contained (July 9th) five eggs about a week incubated.
Willow-Wren (Phylloscopus trochilus).—Quite the commonest bird in the whole valley—in fact, the only bird that was really common. The cocks were heard singing from the tops of the birches both by day and night. We were always on the look-out for a new note, having constantly in mind that we might discover the Arctic Willow-Wren, but never once did we hear a note different from that of the common species; and, though we took the trouble to shoot the birds from nests we got, they proved to be the common Willow-Wren only. It was astonishing how difficult these little birds were to see in the leafy tops of the birches, and, though they might be singing all round one, it was only by standing quite still and trying to locate the song that it was possible to see the birds at all. Our first nest was placed under a rock, and consequently had no dome to it, the rock above furnishing all necessary cover. The others were all situated in the ground, as our Willow-Wrens at home build, and were warmly lined with Willow-Grouse feathers. The eggs or young were invariably six in number, and the former were thickly speckled all over with small reddish spots, being quite different to any I had previously taken. The latest clutch on July 10th were almost hatching, while young a day or two old were found on the same day. We found later that P. borealis has occurred in this neighbourhood, as there is a bird (a young one just able to fly) in the Tromsö Museum, though whether it was obtained in the valley or on the Tana, at the mouth of the Maskejok, the label does not state.
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba).—At the mouth of the river this Wagtail was fairly common about the farm-buildings and hay-fields, but up the valley only a few scattered pairs were seen. A nest was found on June 26th containing six very incubated eggs. It was situated behind a loose board inside a ruined turf-hut in thick wood some thirty yards from the river's bank. A second nest, on July 2nd, had five nearly fresh eggs, with darker and heavier markings than the first; this nest was under a rock about half-way up the river-bank, at a spot where it was some thirty feet high, and formed of gravel and sand.
Blue-headed Wagtail (M. flava).—This species, of the darker-headed variety without any eye-stripe, was commoner on the Maskejok than the preceding. It was, however, only present in isolated pairs, at long distances apart, by the river-bank and on the bogs. They seemed to be earlier breeders there than the White Wagtails, as every pair we saw were busily collecting mosquitoes and other insects for their young. We found them very shy, and so long as we were near they would not go to the nest. The only nest we found was empty; it was built of fine grass, and well concealed under a grass-tussock—in fact, it was the only tussock big enough to conceal a nest anywhere near, as at that particular spot there had been a forest fire, and for a mile or more in every direction there was nothing but blackened birch-stumps, and a few flowering plants which were just beginning to recover from the general devastation.
Meadow-Pipit (Anthus pratensis).—Not a single Pipit of any species was seen in the valley, and very few on the fjeld, where the Meadow-Pipit was almost entirely replaced by the next species. A nest found in a clearing in a wood on the far side of the fjeld on July 8th was probably of this species; it contained five well-grown young.
Red-throated Pipit (A. cervinus).—We were much disappointed at finding so few of these birds. On the fjeld we found them in scattered pairs along the edge of the tree limit, and in the islands of scrub in the hollows. A patch of birch and willows a square mile or so in extent would contain perhaps as many as three pairs. The cocks, often accompanied by their mates, were to be seen taking long flights, high in the air, singing all the time. They would stay in the air for quite a considerable time, and then descend swiftly in a slanting direction to settle in the lower boughs of some willow bush, where they were immediately hidden by the thick foliage, amongst which it was only by carefully following their call-notes that they could be discovered. They were distinctly wild, and would flash out of the opposite side of the bush to another farther off often before we had discovered them sitting. I fancy that most of them were feeding their young, but they gave no indication of the whereabouts of the nest, and hunt as we would in this sea of scrub, which was in places shoulder-high, we could never find one.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).—Next to the Willow-Wren and the Fieldfare, the commonest bird in the birch woods was the Brambling. The cocks were not often seen, except when looked for carefully, as the foliage of the birches was thick enough to hide them somewhat effectually; but their persistent song, if song it can be called, was always in evidence. We spoke above of the Redwing's persistent song, but it was not a patch on the Brambling's for annoyance. A pair had their nest within thirty yards of our tents, and for the fortnight we stayed in that place that bird never ceased from uttering its rasping note for more than half an hour at a time, even after we had taken the nest! All the nests we found, except one, which was built in a tree that had partially fallen down, were situated from ten to fifteen feet from the ground, and generally in the main fork of a birch. They were all extremely neatly and prettily built of fine grass, moss, lichens, and feathers, almost felted together, and lined with white reindeer-hair, which was to be had in plenty on the fjeld, where the deer had been dropping their winter coats, or rubbing the velvet from their horns. This species had only just begun to lay by June 25th, and we got fresh eggs up till July 10th; though on July 8th we found a nest containing five well-grown young, the only nest of young we saw. The normal number of eggs would seem to be four, though some had only three, and one contained six.
Snow-Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis).—At one place on the fjeld, where the top consisted of masses of tumbled boulders and small tarns, we came across a few pairs of Snow-Buntings. They were breeding amongst the boulders on the edges of the tarns. No difficulty was experienced in watching one bird to her nest, as she was busy carrying food to her young every few minutes, quite regardless of our presence. We had to remove quite a number of large boulders before coming to the nest, which was in a cranny about four feet from the surface, and contained seven well-fledged young.
Lapp Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus).—Without doubt this was the commonest bird on the high fjeld, where alone it was seen, and where it was generally distributed. They seemed to mostly frequent the swampy hollows, particularly where the scrub willow and birch grew, although they were frequently seen on the bare fjeld, if the ground was tussocky. The cocks were always to be seen in their handsome breeding dress, sitting about on the tussocks or scrub, or flying in the air somewhat like a Sky-Lark, repeatedly uttering their call-notes. The hens were not nearly so commonly seen, and were doubtless for the most part sitting; but, in spite of days of hunting, we never succeeded in putting one off the nest.
Mealy Redpoll (Acanthis linaria).—We did not see this bird in the valley, except in the woods at the lower end; possibly in the vast tracts of birch forest their presence was overlooked; but out on the fjeld we came across several scattered and isolated pairs breeding in low birch bushes about two feet from the ground. One nest, on June 28th, contained a single egg, as also did another on the following day. On visiting these two again on July 4th the first contained another fresh egg, and the second three eggs, a day or so incubated: in spite of the fact that, not knowing whether we should ever find them again, we had taken the first two eggs. The nests were all lined with Willow-Grouse feathers and willow-down. In the Tana Valley the bird was much commoner, and one of the nests being situated near a farm was lined entirely with chickens' feathers.
Shore-Lark (Otocorys alpestris).—The only place where we met the Shore-Lark was on the bare boulder-strewn tops of the fjeld on the south side of the valley. Here, on the highest tops only, they were in scattered pairs or family parties. On July 4th we obtained a young bird in its first plumage, perfectly feathered. It is possible that some of them were sitting for a second time, but prolonged searching and watching failed to discover a nest.
Dipper (Cinclus melanogaster).—A pair were seen on June 26th, about half-way up the long rapid, and a single bird higher up on July 4th. There was a nest in rather a curious situation at one of the upper pools; it was built on the end of a birch-bough overhanging the river, and, owing to the length and thinness of the bough, it was impossible to get at it except from a boat.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus minor).—On June 27th, while walking through the woods not far from camp, our attention was suddenly arrested by a loud and clamorous alarm-note; on looking round we found it proceeded from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, with her bill full of grubs. In a minute or two she was joined by her mate, who added his voice to the chattering. A short search revealed the small round nest-hole, situated about ten feet from the ground in a decayed birch. The birds were most anxious to drive us away, and kept running up and down the naked boughs of some neighbouring dead trees, constantly uttering their loud notes. On our retiring a few yards they settled by turns just beneath the hole, and fed their young by putting their heads alone into the nest. We often saw them afterwards in the early morning collecting grubs off the dead trees right in our camp. This is the only pair of Woodpeckers we saw, although we found many old holes, and one or two quite new ones, which, however, had not been used.
Great Grey Shrike (Lanius major).—On June 30th, a short way above camp, an unfamiliar note was heard, something like that of our Jay; it turned out to be the "schak schak" of a very excited pair of Shrikes, which evidently had young. A short search revealed the nest, situated at the top of a birch tree about twenty feet high; it was a large nest, composed of small twigs and fine rootlets, lined with Willow-Grouse feathers. It was much flattened out by the young, of which one that could just fly was still in the nest; while scattered in the trees close by were the other three rather stronger young birds. Under the tree in which the nest was situated we picked up several pellets, which chiefly consisted of the remains of beetles and moths. Both parents continually fed the young, bringing food from across the river about forty yards away. They were very wary, flying straight up to the young one whose turn it was with loud cries, to which the young responded, feeding him, and at once departing across the river for a further supply, the whole operation only taking a few seconds.
Magpie (Pica rustica).—Only seen at the mouth of the valley near the farms.
Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus).—A family party were seen working their way up stream in the birch trees, close to the river-bank, on June 28th; not seen again.
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix).—Up the valley we only saw about two pairs, though there were several down at the mouth. A pair visited our camp nearly every night, scavenging for scraps. They seemed to come up the river from some distance, and used to arrive regularly from 3 to 5 a.m. We were several times awakened by their raucous voices, and, on lifting up the lower edge of the tent, could see them within a few yards, picking about amongst the pots and pans.
Osprey (Pandion haliaëtus).—On June 26th an Osprey was seen circling over the river, and through the glasses the light-coloured "hackles" at the back of his head were visible, so that he was probably an old bird. A short distance further up we came across a nest in a commanding situation at the top of a dead birch, on a point at the bend of the river. It was a large nest made of sticks, with a few pieces of earth inside it; there were no indications of its having been used that year, and it was in bad repair. This nest was well known to the Finns as that of an Osprey, and they said it had been in use for many years. A second bird was seen later flying over the lake, mobbed by about a dozen Arctic Terns.
Merlin (Falco æsalon).—A small Hawk seen near the lakes on July 3rd was probably of this species, though it was too far off for certain determination.
Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca).—The remains of a beautiful old bird were picked up on the fjeld on June 29th; the feathers were scattered over a wide area, and the bones had been gnawed by Foxes, but the wings and feet were left intact, and the latter we were able to preserve as trophies. It had probably been there since the previous autumn, and possibly had died of old age; for, judging by the feathers we gathered, it must have been almost spotlessly white.
Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus).—There were two pairs of these Geese nesting somewhere near the river, and the two ganders were seen in the river for three days in succession. Both banks were searched diligently by all of our party at different times, and for a considerable distance above and below where they were seen, but without result; however, on July 3rd, we found the two broods of young, with all the old birds, feeding in the river under the bank. The young had been hatched only a very short time, and were easily caught. The old birds were very bold, and flew by our canoe several times, within twenty yards, when it was quite easy to make out their small size, darkly barred under parts, with the white frontal blaze, and their bright orange-yellow legs. There seemed about six young in each brood. One of these young ones was kept by one of the Finns, and reared by hand on bits of grass; it became quite tame, and throve well. One or two pairs of these Geese were seen by the side of the mountain tarns, but always flew away together when we approached, nor could we find any signs of other nests or young. Some of them were beginning to drop their primaries, a fact which was well known to the Finns, who remarked that they would now very soon be incapable of flight.
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator).—This was the only Duck of which we saw more than one pair in the valley. As we poled up the river we put up several pairs or single birds. At one place a bird rose out of a patch of thick willow scrub on a point of land, and on going to the spot we found the nest, which contained nine eggs in an advanced stage of incubation. After blowing them we handed over the remains to the Finns, who boiled them, and ate the bits on bread with great gusto!
Long-tailed Duck (Harelda glacialis).—On walking up to a small tarn on July 1st a pair of Long-tailed Ducks flew up and settled on the water. We immediately hid ourselves and watched, but they only fed, and then went to sleep, taking not the slightest notice of us. The hen had probably been brought off to feed by the drake from the nest some distance away, as a prolonged search round the tarn failed to reveal any trace of a nest. We did not see the birds on revisiting the place some days later, and these were the only Long-tails we saw.
Common Scoter (Œdemia nigra).—A pair of these Ducks were flying over the lake when we first arrived, quacking and somewhat excited. We made sure that they had a nest on the island, but were unable to find it either there or round the margin of the lake. We did not see them there again. A single drake flew down the river past our camp one evening.
Wigeon (Mareca penelope).—On one or two occasions we saw a single Wigeon in the river, and on July 3rd we found near the same place the Duck swimming with her brood of about eight young. We never saw them again.
Common Teal (Querquedula crecca).—One was seen by a pool near the river, and a feather, probably belonging to a bird of this species, was picked up near another tarn.
Willow-Grouse (Lagopus albus).—Considering how hard these birds are to put up without a dog, and that at this time of year they were solitary or in pairs, there must have been a very fair sprinkling of them both in the woods and in the scrub on the fjeld. Hardly a day passed without we put up one or more in the course of our rambles. Two nests of seven and ten eggs respectively were brought in by the Finns, and we came across a nest of eleven eggs on July 1st. It was simply a hollow scratched out of the dead leaves under a fallen birch, and the hen ran off on our approach with dropping wings and excited duckings; she ran along in front of us for some distance, and could not be made to fly. All the eggs were considerably incubated.
Dotterel (Eudromias morinellus).—We came across in all about four pairs of these delightful little birds, scattered in single pairs over a vast expanse of fjeld. One pair which we saw several times at about the same place possibly had young, though they never took much notice of us, and ran about or went to sleep on one leg quite unconcernedly within a few yards of us. Having found one of these birds that is certainly nesting, there is no bird of this group whose nest is easier to find. This was illustrated very well by the first nest we found. On June 26th, while walking over the fjeld, we topped a small rise, and immediately caught sight of a Dotterel running, with drooping wings and head straight out in front, directly away from us at about twenty yards distance. A short search failing to reveal the nest, we retired below the rise again, and almost immediately saw the bird fly back to the point where we had first seen her; giving her five minutes to settle down, we walked towards the place; she at once ran off as before, but this time, being able to mark the spot more accurately, we were able to find the nest without any difficulty. It was a mere depression in the reindeer-moss, and contained three partially incubated eggs; they were of the light stone-coloured variety, with bold markings of dark brown. While so easy to find by marking the bird, the nest would be next to impossible to discover by merely searching the ground, so well do the eggs harmonise with the moss and dead leaves. We must therefore be accounted specially fortunate in finding another nest, which we did on July 8th, while walking over the fjeld; one of us nearly trod on the eggs before seeing them. There did not appear to be any bird about, though probably she had only just run off, as the eggs were on the point of hatching. These eggs were of the same type as the first.
Ringed Plover (Ægialitis hiaticula).—One pair were seen, and were probably breeding, on a shingly point in one of the lower reaches of the river. We did not stop to look for the nest, as we were then poling up stream, and were disinclined to waste time over nests we did not want. They were the only pair seen in the valley.
Golden Plover (Charadrius pluvialis).—Fairly common all over the fjeld, and nearly all of them had young. We found them most difficult birds to watch, except from quite a short distance, so well did their plumage match the yellows and greys of the reindeer-moss. Often, when we heard one whistling, it was only by catching a momentary glimpse of the white stripe along the side of the black breast that we could find the bird at all. They were a great nuisance to us on the fjeld, as they seemed to think our only object in coming up there was to find their young; they would fly all round us, and then settle on a tussock, piping the whole time, and each pair seemed to escort us a mile or more, until it could hand us over to the attentions of its neighbours. Several times flocks of six or eight were seen, and were possibly non-breeders, as they did not seem to affect any particular tract of country, though all were in full plumage. On July 4th we found a nest of four eggs, all on the point of hatching. The behaviour of this bird was very different to that of any of the others, rising straight off the nest about thirty yards in front of us; she flew low and perfectly silently for about three hundred yards, and then settled on a tussock and commenced piping. On July 8th we found a young one about three days old; we caught sight of it first running on the bare moss, and on this occasion the old birds behaved in a precisely similar way to all the others.
Snipe (Gallinago sp.?).—One was seen on June 28th. It was drumming over a marsh on the fjeld along way off.
Common Sandpiper (Totanus hypoleucus).—There were several pairs of these birds nesting at intervals along the banks of the river the whole way up. A nest of three eggs was found by one of the Finns under a willow bush on June 28th, but on our return to camp we found that he had boiled and eaten them, hard-set as they were!
Redshank (T.calidris).—There were several pairs of Redshanks on the upper reaches of the river, and also on some of the marshes on the fjeld, both to the north and south. They all, by their actions, had young, but we did not trouble to search for them.
Greenshank (T. canescens).—We saw altogether three pairs of Greenshanks in the valley, all near the lower end. Two pairs were together in a very wet marsh in the woods, and the third pair in a similar place, about a mile distant from the others. Of all the waders, except perhaps the Wood-Sandpiper, the Greenshank is the noisiest and most restless. All these pairs probably had young, and seemed to spend their whole time either flying round or sitting on the tops of dead birches, whistling and chattering continuously. When we were near they all joined in mobbing us; when we hid up they mobbed every passing Magpie or Crow, and, when there was no Magpie or Crow, each pair seemed to be mobbing the other. The young must have been squatting somewhere in the tussocks of the marsh, or in the wood near; but in the thick wood that surrounded the marsh on every side, it was impossible to keep the birds under observation for more than a few minutes at a time; while the mosquitoes that accompanied us in a grey cloud wherever we went immediately got to work in thousands directly we sat down, and made bird-watching an almost unbearable torture.
Whimbrel (Numenius phæopus).—On several occasions, when on the fjeld, a flock of six or eight Whimbrels flew up from a long distance off, and settled near us, feeding as often on the dry moss as in a wet place. Only once did we come across a single bird, and that was on July 3rd; she rose a good distance in front, but flew away silently and low, and settled some way off. Thinking she had risen from the nest, we marked the spot, and hid up behind some rocks about two hundred yards away; she was soon joined by her mate, who flew up, whistling loudly, from some distance off. Keeping our glasses constantly on her, we saw her run about for a long time, and then fly back to the place from which she rose first, but settled some way off, and then ran to the top of a ridge, where she stood for a quarter of an hour, with her neck stretched up to its fullest extent, keeping a careful watch for any signs of danger. When she had finally satisfied herself that all was right, she ran straight down the ridge towards us, and, much to our delight, we saw her settle down on the moss in almost the exact spot that we thought she had originally risen from. On rising, we had hardly taken two steps before she was off again, flying away exactly as she had done at first. The nest was merely a scrape in the reindeer-moss, about a dozen yards from a small pool of water. The three eggs were about half-incubated, and rather more distinctly marked than the usual type, with very little of the cloudy suffused markings.
Red-throated Diver (Colymbus septentrionalis).—On two occasions a pair of these birds were seen fishing in one of the upper pools of the river, and once a pair—probably the same—were seen on a tarn about a mile from the same place. There were no signs of a nest round the margin, and no Divers were seen on the lake or in any of the fjeld tarns.
Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus?).—One night on the fjeld two birds were seen flying some way off, which, through the glasses, were certainly Skuas, and, as their tails were noticeably long, they were possibly Buffon's Skuas.
Arctic Tern (Sterna macrura).—Every time we were on the lake we saw eight or ten Arctic Terns; they were always flying rather high up, and on one occasion they were mobbing an Osprey. They were possibly breeding on one of the further lakes, but, owing to the great difficulty of getting the canoes up the intervening streams, we never succeeded in penetrating so far.
Although the results of our small expedition were nothing out of the ordinary, and somewhat disappointing, the open life in a high latitude, and in the vast solitudes of forest and fjeld, was, with all its drawbacks—and those not inconsiderable ones of mosquitoes and other insect-pests—quite enjoyable, and one can look back at it now, far from its humming throng, as a delightful experience. It is possible that anyone enjoying a better season, and penetrating farther into the wilds than we did, would do much better. Two pieces of advice we would offer to anyone thinking of doing so: go prepared with plenty of "bugjuice," and with your minds made up for a perpetual mosquito war; and, secondly, take your canoes up lightly loaded, sending most of your equipment over the fjeld to the lake by pack-horses, and thus avoid many wearisome porterages.
This work was published before January 1, 1928 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.