Friday, October 7, 2011

Geeking Out Abroad

(originally posted July 10, 2011)

Last week, I took my first international trip ever to the beautiful country of Norway. I have family that lives in Kongsvinger, and so being provided with a place to stay, home cooked meals, and a bilingual translator for a sister was a perfect way to ease into international travel. In addition to seeing my sister and her family, I was of course ecstatic over the opportunity to see the flora and fauna of a new country! Armed with my binoculars and birds of Europe field guide at all times, I was prepared to soak up as much of the natural culture as possible at any given moment.
That is some serious birder face right there.

Upon my arrival in Oslo, the very first bird I saw was not a new and exotic Scandinavian species (hey…Scandin-avian! Get it? Avian…
bird?), but instead a familiar feathered face to the Western United States, the black-billed magpie. In Norway they’re called the “common magpie,” or more familiarly, “skjære” in Norwegian. Although the species was identical to the one found in the United States, just like people from different parts of a country or the world, these magpies had their own dialect, sounding completely different from their American relatives. The tone quality was similar, but their calls were unique.

Throughout my visit, I was surrounded by birds that although unique to the region, were easily recognized as relatives to those found in the United States. There were swifts, identified by their rapid wing
The blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
beats and “flying cigar” shape; tits, which despite their interesting name, look nearly identical to our chickadees; jackdaws, sharing the same “bad boy” strut as our crows and ravens; and a frustrating bird that I’m positive is related to our American goldfinch by the sound of its song and call, but evaded my binoculars every single time I tried to identify it.

My experience with the plant life of Kongsvinger was also quite interesting. First off, stinging nettle is just as common there as it is here in Pennsylvania, if not more so—every single yard I saw had a patch of stinging nettle in it. Whether you speak English or Norwegian, stinging nettle’s painful effects transcends any language barrier and all know to steer far clear of it! 
How do you say "ouch" in Norwegian?
(Hua, Google Translate tells me it's "ouch." Whaddya know.)

It was also a mind-shift to go to a place where the Norway maple was native. Here in the northeastern United States, the Norway maple is a considered a horrible exotic invasive plant, out competing native maples, and shading out any plants that may attempt to grow beneath it. In Norway, other plants had evolved in the presence of these maples, and as a result, a lush green growth could be found beneath the shady branches.

I could easily go on and on about all of my experiences during my week in Norway, but to sum it up, the experience from a biological and geeky perspective was incredible. I look forward to visiting again someday and enjoying even more unique encounters with the flora and fauna of Scandinavia!

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