Friday 19 April 2013

Iceland highlights

I promised I'd come back to my trip to Iceland, even though it was a couple of weeks ago now and the temperature here has finally started to get back to what we expect. But, to be honest, I wouldn't have bothered writing about this trip if it had been distinctly average. Some trips are you know; some places pass over me while others stick long and hard.

Iceland's one of those places - even the capital Rejkjavik has a decent vibe, and I reckon if you lived there it'd be the best capital to live in within Europe if on your lunch hour you wanted to pop out and find the odd yank or two. There's a pool at Bakkatjorn, just a couple of miles west of the centre of town, and at the end of the Seltjarnarnes peninsular that gets decent hauls of yank waders most autumns as well as the odd gull or two; including an adult Ring-billed Gull when I was there. However, I loved the showy Eiders that came to bread with the Mallards: -
But if there is one place that did it for me, it was the Snaefellsnes peninsular - a remote, rugged and beautiful area a couple of hours drive to the northwest of Rejkjavik. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in scenery and/or nature.

As you can see, we were blessed with beautiful weather. Set amongst this stunning backdrop, the wildlife was unbelievable too - sheer numbers of species that really get me going. You're talking high thousands of Fulmars, mid thousands of Glaucous Gulls and Kittiwakes and then low thousands of Eiders and Iceland Gulls. I'd not seen such a high concentration of birds anywhere to be honest. Here is a bucket load of wingers, inbetweeners and an argentatus Herrring Gull, with Fulmars and more white-winged gulls in the background.
The cliffs at the tip of the peninsular, and just to the south of the lighthouse, included several of these boys - Brunnich's Guillemots - and nice to see them in summer kit, as opposed to the lone individual in Lerwick a few years ago (the only one I'd seen previously).
And where you get high concentrations of birds, you're bound to get other wildlife too. I've been on a bit of a quest recently to see Killer Whales, failing in Washington last year and California earlier this year. So to say I got rather pumped up about the pod - at least seven of them - from land by the Öndverdarnes lighthouse was an understatement. The sea was like a dreamscape, flat as a millpond, and these handsome beasts were feeding close offshore. Killer Whales, looking stunning in the calm waters: -
Harlequin Ducks were around and about; seemingly paired or on the verge of pairing up. Some nice views could be had around the village of Grundarfjörður: -
Yann Kolbeinsson had been a true gent throughout the trip, supplying me with news and info. I always enjoy a bit of a Western Palearctic gripping yarn, and given that Yann's just a couple of years older than I am and having seen all those rares that you associate with Iceland (Cerulean and Palm Warblers, Least Flycatcher etc) I was enjoying his tales and visiting the sites of these mega rares. Not that I was likely to find any type of passerince really, but it's always good to put a visual to the names of Eyrarbakki and Stokseyri. But what he did say is when on Snaefellsnes check the pools near Rif, as they'd got past form including Wood Duck and Redhead. This I did, and with some patience, managed to find Iceland's first female Lesser Scaup: -
I'll be sure to return to Iceland in the not too distant future - one to add to the Azores and Ireland on the list of my favourite destinations. It's not as expensive as people make out, especially if you do an off season visit like this. The scenery is amazing and the birds are present in massive numbers. It's a good place for gull lovers to go scratch their heads too as, amongst the Glaucous (adult immediately below) and Iceland Gulls (near adult below) there are innumerable 'Viking Gulls', a hybrid swarm of Herring x Glaucous Gulls, much more numerous than I'd anticipated.

And, what's more, I always felt that there could be something lurking round the next corner. A thoroughly enjoyable trip. And the question that gets posed to you the most when you come back from Iceland 'did you see the Northern Lights?' - here's the evidence.

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