A Song for July 26

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Nikkaluokta is above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. It is also the end of the road, and the starting point for the ascent of Kebnekeise (Sweden's highest peak), which everyone in Sweden has done, or is capable of, some on an annual basis. I was there to give it a try with my canoe buddies from North Carolina. We signed on for a descent of the Kalix River by canoe, and this ascent was spirited into the itinerary by our outfitter. From Nikkaluokta the peaks surrounding Kebnekaise look much higher than the 6000 feet they are supposed to be ("It's the same elevation as Mt. Mitchell," one wag said.), but I was thrilled to get to the Arctic, above the Circle, for the first time in my life, and so I arrived at Nikkaluokta two days early to get some birding in.

The vegetation at Nikkaluokta is all birch, and the birds are mostly Bramblings and redpolls. I was not familiar with either, but the young of the year were much in evidence and I quickly got to know them. The sounds above are considered calls, not songs, but the Brambling is singing them nonetheless. I'm not sure why he or she was singing at this season, with youngsters all around, and no hope of raising a family before the snow flies, but it seems purposeful. On July 25 I watched a male give a similar performance while a female watched intently, only a foot away. Perhaps he was auditioning to be her mate next year.

Bramblings are finches that nest in the Arctic birch zone all across Eurasia. I think of them as the juncos of Eurasia, although the analogy is far from exact. The European population is estimated at 30 million. No one has any idea of the number of Bramblings nesting in Asia, but it must be several times that number. They move south into the more populated areas in winter, as the juncos do in North America, and so are familiar to the Eurasian birders who never make it to their northern breeding grounds. I am pleased to have made it, and to see and hear them in their summer home.

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Nathan D. Pieplow. 2017. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nathan D. Pieplow. 2019. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin.