Sunday, March 25, 2018

The little things in Nature I miss living over here in Sweden

So let's be completely honest, there is one obvious thing I miss more than anything else, especially this time of year when darkness rules over Scandinavia with the  lack of sunshine along with the warmth and light that comes with it. Cold, damp, dark and rainy is just not my cup of tea. Although it's better than living in Bergen or Stavanger Norway where sucky weather rules as king most of the year. They even have a rain festival. In fact this past Summertime Temps at both places averaged 13C or 55F according to friends at both places when we meet in Oslo for conventions. Coming from a land where life is mostly lived and enjoyed outdoors, it's tough being confined within the concrete walls of a Soviet style housing project, otherwise known as Lägenhet. Other immigrants here from Africa, India, etc feel exactly the same way. You feel like a prisoner shackled to the dictates of this cold wet climate's environment for which you can do nothing about.
Our original two story home (10 years ago) and neighbourhood was pleasant in the sense we all had backyards with gardens, nice neighbours and we specifcally had a backyard which offered a view of nothing but meadows and forest. Trust me, for a city Sweden that's rare. We also had an elaborate hiking trail system in those same woods behind our house, but unlike where I come from in Southern California, these woodlands are devoid of a lot of various critters and their sounds. Also missing are the scents and fragrances of the coastal sage scrub plant community I was use to. Cold doesn't necessarily facilitate the movement of fragrant scent compounds, even more so if they don't really exist here in the first place.

My photo from 2013 in the trail network behind Biskopsgården

John C. Avise

Side Blotched Lizard
One thing did stand out as odd my first year here in Sweden. Prior to moving here to Sweden, for 50+ years when I went hiking on any trails in Nature, one of the most common things experienced was this continuous darting back and forth across trails of all kinds of lizards. I never thought about it really until I came to Sweden and suddenly noticed there was something missing while walking through Nature trails here. Over in the United States and elsewhere (Canary Islands, Greece, etc), whenever you hike, even in forests, there are always lizards everywhere. But here this new strange quietness and silence of a Swedish boreal forest was just different. I have at times seen a single Red Squirrel, a Nuthatch or two and the occasional Hare, but even they are rare. One summer we did experience an abundance of tiny recently morphed toads from a tadpole explosion, but that was just once. They were all over the trails. The only other thing I did experience (which wasn't pleasant), were zillions of mosquitoes. Boreal Forest environments are loaded with countless lakes, ponds and millions of bogs. You can't walk anywhere without wet or mosquitoes. This place has the perfect stagnant breeding grounds for the the Mosquito. But the major difference was the lack of bird sounds in the forest, with the exception of the Eurasian Blackbird males (Swedish 'Koltrast') whose song echoes loudly in the forest in Springtime. Most common birds you see here are large ones like Jackdaws, Magpies, various Seagulls and Pigeons (common city and forest wild types). Sparrows are here, but they are relatively few and only in city. Part of the problem is that most Swedish Forests I've experienced are these large unnatural industrial forestry plantations managed by in huge Timber Companies, even small woodlands owned by private individuals are dense and often impenetrable. 
Redheaded House Finch
picture by Charles Parker

This unfortunate mobile home fire tragedy took place at Starlight Mobile Home Park in El Cajon California. This was one of the properties I was assigned to maintain as head landscaper and this exact trailer space #128 and it's garden was territory of a Red Headed male House Finch who claimed his favourite perch on top of an old Peach tree behind this mobile home. This bird is another one of those birds I really miss as far as wild song birds. Every year in the Spring just after the blooming time of year this same House Finch would claim his perch at the top of that peach tree singing his heart out for hours. What I remember most is working there in the morning doing some sort of work with the lawn, it's irrigation system (which always needed maintaince) or doing something with the citrus trees. The Springs are idyllic there with crystal clear blue skies, perfect temperature (around 70 F or 21 C). Air was fresh and alive with all manner of fragrances of all sorts abundunt in the air (particularly citrus) and work was always pleasant and soothing with this bird's repetitive song playing over and over. To give you an idea of their song, here is a 14 minute video (audio really) of the male House Finch.

Western Meadowlarks
Kathy Munsel/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

This next bird sound comes from the Western Meadowlark which was once a common sound in San Diego county's interior valleys, but now a rarity there as well because of commercial housing development. Probably some of the last holdout habitats would be Ramona, Lakeside and maybe Otay Mesa. I'm sure there may be other pockets of grasslands scattered around, but it's the grasslands that are of most importance to this bird. But grasslands are generally on flat or rolling hills and those are perfect for development. The photo above would have been a common perch for such a bird on a Silver Sagebrush. Later when cattlemen came, the various fence posts would replace those shrubs. Shrubs would have been considered a curse to cattle operations in favour of grasses. So once removed, the fence post would have worked just fine. When I was growing up in the early 1960s, pockets of grasslands were everywhere with the largest being the San Diego River floodplain in the middle of Santee/Lakeside California. Santee still had many range cattle back then, but the Santee bedroom district building boom was in full steam ahead in late 60s thru 70s and gradually these habitats shrunk to almost nothing as have the meadowlarks. Listening to their songs makes me think of long warm summer days. 

Fragrances of  Coastal Sage Scrub

Image: Bert Wilson - Salvia 'Celestial Blue' Sage

Image - My photo 2014
The Sage variety above is 'Celestial Blue' Sage which was named by the founder of Las Pilitas nursery, Bert Wilson, for his wife Celeste and introduced into their California native plant nursery by him. It was a seedling that came from seed he collected collected in the Las Pilitas Nursery's demonstration garden.  Celestial Blue Sage is most likely a hybrid between Salvia clevelandii 'Alpine' and Salvia pachyphylla or a three way hybrid with 'Pozo Blue' which would add Salvia leucophylla into the mix. The fragrance of all California sages are wonderful, although White Sage is a bit more pungent. The one on the right here is 'Pozo Blue' Sage. The other addition to the fragrance is the ability of many coastal sage scrub plants to attract hummingbirds, Butterflies and various native bees. This is another thing one takes for granted when hummingbirds are so common where you come from. Move somewhere like Sweden where they do not exist and you notice their absence. Same with fragrances. Although on warm days here you may smell wild roses and Elderberry flowers when in bloom, but the absence of fragrances is more common in a colder climate.

Image - My Photo 2014
My mother's place across from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California. 'Canyon Sparkles' Manzanita, 'Pozo Blue' Sage, and Mexican Red Bird of Paradise Bush.
And Finally, Crickets & other Night Sounds
Frankly any sounds at night is another rarity for me here in Sweden. It struck me as odd that there were no night sounds here when I first came, especially crickets. Like the lizards on the trail which one takes for granted because they are so common and you are use to their presence, but then suddenly you realize their absence when they are not around. The lack of cricket sounds was also immediately noticed by me. Imagine no sounds at all on summer evenings. Not even owls or frogs. Well, maybe Mosquitoes. Click on the Youtube audio below and imagine nighttime scenarios with no sounds. Funny how one can notice the absence of things.

To be fair to Sweden, they do have the 'Koltrast' (common Blackbird) song

One pretty sound that is common here in this part of Sweden that is pleasant when walking through a tall Boreal Forest (that's not an industrial forestry plantation) in the Springtime is listening to the 'Koltrast' which is just a larger common blackbird than what I'm use to seeing in SoCal. The males are the singers and their songs echo loudly within the forest, not like when there is more open urban environment. At least they don't have 'Silent Spring' yet. Here is another Youtube link to sights and sounds of both male and female Blackbirds or Koltrasts. 
Song and calls of the Blackbird

Maybe later if I think of something more, I'll add it to the list 😉

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