Wednesday 20th June 2018
ICELAND – LAND OF FIRE AND ICE
Wednesday 20th – Wednesday 27th June 2018
We started out early to be at London Gatwick airport for our check in at 04.30hrs where we met up with guide Godfried Schreur who had arrived at London Gatwick on a flight from Lisbon.
Our flight took off slightly later than scheduled and took us northwards over Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis before crossing the Atlantic to Keflavik where we landed at 08.40hrs local time.
After getting our luggage we met up with Judy who had flown in from Los Angeles the previous day. Sorting out the vans was pretty painless and we were soon on our way towards the lighthouse at Gardur.
The conditions were fantastic with light winds and sunshine making searching for seabirds quite pleasant. Hundreds of alcids poured by at sea and mostly consisted of RAZORBILLS and ATLANTIC PUFFINS. The most common seabird was the NORTHERN FULMAR of which there were literally thousands as they passed through at close range.
COMMON EIDERS attended their ducklings on the shoreline but one was unexpectedly taken by an opportunist AMERICAN MINK that zipped out from the rocks. Other species included BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, GLAUCOUS GULLS and two ICELAND GULLS, a species which breeds in Greenland and a scarce summer visitor to the island.
Godfried located a small feeding flock of MANX SHEARWATERS offshore and although pretty distant, they were a good species to see. After a long day we tucked into lunch which was very welcome before starting our journey to the Snaelfellness peninsula.
REDWINGS, PARASITIC JAEGER, EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER, EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS, COMMON REDSHANK, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and WHIMBREL were all seen during the journey which took us through magnificent scenery.
We made a stop at the best place to see COMMON SHELDUCK on the island and good numbers were present plus around 50 WHOOPER SWANS. With a long journey ahead we stopped for coffee before continuing onwards.
As we reached the Snaefellness peninsular several stops were made at roadside pools where RED-THROATED and COMMON LOONS were seen plus HORNED GREBES, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, EURASIAN WIGEON and NORTHERN RAVEN.
Our hotel was not too far away and after checking in, we had some time before meeting for a superb evening meal which went down very well indeed after such a long day travelling.
Afterwards some of the group headed down to the coast where ARCTIC TERNS were very common and on the sea were up to five BLACK GUILLEMOTS bobbing around on the water.
Thursday 21st June 2018
The longest day of the year although the weather had deteriorated with brisk winds and rain, a complete contrast to the previous day.
On meeting for breakfast at 08.00hrs we tucked into a lovely spread which was enjoyed by all.
Afterwards we loaded up and headed off to spend the day exploring the Snaefelljokul area. The mountain is one of the most famous sites of Iceland, primarily due to the novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864)’ by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the centre of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.
Unfortunately our visit coincided with strong winds and rain that lasted throughout the whole day.
We hadn’t gone far when an ARCTIC FOX was seen close to the road although it quickly vanished behind a lava flow never to be seen again!
Conditions were not ideal for our visit to Ondverdarnes Lighthouse but we soldiered onwards noting a pair of WHIMBREL close to the track. Once at the lighthouse, we took the boardwalk down to a viewpoint overlooking the cliffs and through rain sodden optics we had good scope views of two THICK-BILLED MURRE (BRUNNICH’S GUILLEMOT) along with several RAZORBILL.
Further down the cliffs we noted a couple of BLACK GUILLEMOT whilst NORTHERN FULMAR, BLACK-LEGGED KITTWAKE and NORTHERN GANNETS flew over the choppy sea.
It was good to get back to the van and out of the wind and we then retraced our steps back along the track. We hadn’t got far when a lovely breeding plumaged PURPLE SANDPIPER was seen foraging on the rocks and a little further on, we found another.
Taking a clockwise route around the peninsula enabled us to see some of the specialities and after stopping for coffee and toilets we went to a small hide overlooking a large pool. RED-NECKED PHALAROPES were common and afforded good views as they fed in the sheltered channels whilst on the lake were RED-THROATED and COMMON LOONS plus COMMON EIDER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and TUFTED DUCKS.
It was then time for lunch and we visited a nearby café where we had the most delicious Fish soup and homemade Soda bread which went down a treat and left large smiles on our faces.
With the weather not improving we visited several sites where we could use the van for shelter (or attempt to!) and from the first we located several HARLEQUIN DUCKS, a new species for many on the tour. Although distant we had reasonable scope views and hoped that we would encounter some closer individuals.
Further along the road were around nine more HARLEQUIN DUCKS but a gentle reminder from a passing Police car on the rules of stopping along a main road encouraged us to move onwards!
Another stop was made in the town of Olafsvik where the sea was alive with GLAUCOUS GULLS which we estimated to be around 500 birds and made a fine sight. NORTHERN FULMARS fed on fish scraps from the nearby fish processing factory and plenty of photographs were taken.
At our last site of the day we had much better views of at least three HARLEQUIN DUCKS plus a couple of very confiding RED-NECKED PHALAROPES.
With the weather not improving we opted to head back to base where we had time to dry off our gear before heading to the restaurant for our evening meal of Mushroom soup followed by a lovely piece of Cod, cooked to perfection!
We headed back to our rooms with it still raining and we hoped that it would improve by the morning.
Friday 22nd June 2018
With a busy day ahead we met for breakfast at the earlier time of 06.45hrs and left soon afterwards as we had a ferry to catch at Stykkishólmur over to Flatey Island.
After sorting out tickets we grabbed our gear and boarded the vessel ready for our 90 minute crossing. In the harbour we watched NORTHERN FULMARS and GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS gliding overhead and once we had left the sheltered waters of the harbour, several RED-THROATED LOONS were seen in flight.
Reasonable numbers of ATLANTIC PUFFINS were both in flight and on the water along with EUROPEAN SHAG, GREAT CORMORANT, COMMON MURRE, BLACK GUILLEMOT and RAZORBILL before we reached the tiny Flatey Island.
Our main target here was Red Phalarope but windy conditions really hampered viewing and despite a thorough search of the best areas, we drew a blank. We did however have amazing views of plenty of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, some of which were just feet away!
Out in a sheltered bay we found a small party of RED KNOT in varying plumages whilst ARCTIC TERNS spent most of their time trying to peck and encourage the local sheep to move on.
COMMON REDSHANKS, COMMON SNIPE and EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER were incredibly common and were on most parts of the island. REDWINGS perched on buildings and a singing bird was tracked down to be a male SNOW BUNTING which looked pretty smart in breeding plumage.
Our time on the island was short so we retraced our steps noting more SNOW BUNTINGS, BLACK GUILLEMOTS and yet more RED-NECKED PHALAROPES on the way to the jetty.
The ferry came in and after boarding we headed straight down for lunch in the restaurant which went down well after the chilly morning.
The crossing was rather quiet and once on the mainland, we drove to an area of Lava fields where Moss Campion, Arctic Poppy and Mossy Saxifrage were growing in the amazing habitats and further along we came across two pairs of GREATER SCAUP.
Back on the main road we stopped off in a sheltered bay where around 300 COMMON EIDER were present and it was fantastic when we found a fine drake KING EIDER amongst them. At first it was not easy to pick out from the flock but we all enjoyed good views of this visitor from the high arctic.
Our last site was where we had seen HARLEQUIN DUCK the previous day and this time the weather was far better and over the thirty minutes we spent, the birds showed really well.
DUNLIN, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE and GREATER SCAUP were also present which rounded off the day nicely.
It was back to base for a quick change before meeting for our evening meal which went down a treat, especially the Icelandic Salmon which was really scrummy and enjoyed by all.
Saturday 23rd June 2018
Breakfast was at 07.30hrs and some of the group wandered around the grounds beforehand. We heard at breakfast that after our evening meal the previous evening, two of the group had gone out and found a BASKING SHARK offshore.
So after breakfast and loading the van, we headed down to the cliffs in the remote chance that it was still there. Unbelievably, it was! Over the next 15 minutes we had good views of this scarce visitor to western Iceland and we estimated this individual to be around 25 feet long.
Other goodies here included HARLEQUIN DUCK, NORTHERN GANNET, BLACK GUILLEMOT, GLAUCOUS GULLS and more.
With a long drive ahead we drove eastwards but didn’t get far as a fine ROCK PTARMIGAN was spotted perched on a roadside rock. It allowed good scope views and was a new species for the tour list. We headed off and made a stop in Borganes for coffee before continuing onwards to our lunch stop in the town of Blonduos. Along the way we had brief sightings of two MERLIN but road conditions made it impossible to stop.
After a great lunch we drove down to the river and a small hide produced two RED-THROATED LOONS plus GLAUCOUS and ICELAND GULLS, GREYLAG GEESE and two ARCTIC SKUA. Three COMMON REDPOLLS flew over and REDWINGS were plentiful in the area.
The scenery was simply amazing as we drove east and just before Iceland’s second largest town after Reykjavík we came to an abrupt stop as on the hillside perched an immature GYR FALCON!
We parked safely and had good but distant scope views of this bird as it was mobbed by the local WHIMBRELS who took a dislike to it being in their nesting area.
After a while the bird flew off to a quieter perch where we left it in peace and carried on. Eventually we reached our new hotel for the next three nights and after time to unpack and change, we headed down for a buffet dinner which went down very well with everyone.
After completing the bird list some of the group headed out for a walk before retiring for the night. From the hotel we could see SNOW BUNTING, COMMON LOON with young, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES and plenty of COMMON SNIPE.
Sunday 24th June 2018
The weather had again improved no end and after a good breakfast, we headed around the lake in a clockwise direction making several stops along the way. Hundreds of EURASIAN WIGEON were seen plus MALLARD, EURASIAN TEAL, TUFTED DUCK, GREATER SCAUP, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and GADWALL. Checking out a rocky outcrop for Gyr Falcon drew a blank but thousands of midges flying around were somewhat distracting. Although non-biting, we were glad we had our head-nets on!
We drove round to the bird museum where we parked at the entrance and spent time slowly birding the area which produced some interesting sightings including COMMON SCOTER, NORTHERN PINTAIL, PARASITIC JAEGER, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, COMMON REDSHANKS, WHIMBREL, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and lots of REDWINGS.
A female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE was seen distantly and we hoped to improve on views by moving around to the museum. We enjoyed coffee in the sunshine whilst watching HORNED GREBES and LONG-TAILED DUCKS amongst others before heading round to the edge of Reykjahlíð.
On the edge of the town we parked and wandered down to the edge of the lake where we found more female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE, one of which had 13 ducklings! Eventually we found a drake with another female although again it was a little distant.
A COMMON REDPOLL was much more obliging as it fed on Dandelion seeds close to the track whilst a REDWING nested in a nearby barn.
It was then time for lunch which we had in the town before heading round to the Geo-thermal area of Námafjall which is a high-temperature geo-thermal area with fumaroles and mud pots. It is one of the largest sulphur fields in Iceland and although rather smelly, we enjoyed exploring the area.
Another site for Gyr Falcon was visited but being an important geological site, it was busy with tourists, although we did see a MERLIN several times as it flew past with prey. Botanical highlights included SMALL WHITE ORCHID and BUTTERWORT.
It was good to get away from the crowds and head to a quieter spot where we took a walk through a small woodland that was absolutely alive with the songs of REDWING. Reaching a sheltered spot, we eventually located a EURASIAN WREN of the larger, darker islandic race which showed pretty well.
More BARROW’S GOLDENEYE were seen including several males which flew past and some females which were more obliging. A large bird of prey was seen in flight briefly and eventually we located it finding that it was a superb immature GYR FALCON!
We had really good scope views of this much sought after species as it sat on a rock preening. A family of NORTHERN RAVENS came to investigate but soon lost interest and flew off.
It was then back to base where we dropped some of the group off for an early shower whilst the others drove down to the Laxa river for a walk along the river bank.
A female HARLEQUIN DUCK showed superbly as she bathed in the fast flowing waters and further on we had outstanding views of five BARROW’S GOLDENEYE including a superb adult male at close range.
After getting our fill we wandered back noting several FROG ORCHIDS and a EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER that also gave good views.
After a hot shower we met for our evening meal which was very welcome after a long day in the field and afterwards, we completed the bird list in the bar before retiring for the evening.
Monday 25th June 2018
Overnight rain had passed through the area and some of the group went for a morning stroll which produced great views of the COMMON LOONS on the lake plus HORNED GREBE, WHOOPER SWANS and the usual RED-NECKED PHALAROPES.
After another hearty breakfast we headed up the east side of the lake, checking out a site for Short-eared Owl that we had been given by a member of the hotel staff.
Breezy conditions kept birds low so it was no surprise that the owl didn’t show, but a colour-ringed COMMON REDSHANK provided some diversion.
At a site further north we stopped off by the road, set up our scopes and there on a ledge were three juvenile GYR FALCONS! Two of the birds were flapping and looked pretty close to fledging but in the time we were there, there was no sign of the adult birds.
Carrying onwards we pulled off the road close to a river and 25 BARROW’S GOLDENEYE were seen plus a lovely flock of around 50 NORTHERN PINTAIL. A few kilometres further on a MERLIN flew past the van although views were brief.
A coffee stop was made in the coastal town of Húsavík whilst we checked our booking for a whale watching tour. Due to sea conditions they were not sure if they would sail but hoped the weather would improve as the afternoon went on.
With this in mind we changed our booking to the 13.15hrs sailing which gave us time to drive out of town and visit a seabird colony on the north coast. It was quite sheltered on the cliffs which enabled us to have good scope views of ATLANTIC PUFFINS and NORTHERN FULMARS on the cliffs whilst a lone GREAT SKUA flew past which was a good bird to see.
It was then back to Húsavík where we got our tickets and strolled down to the boat where we donned thermal sailing suits and waterproofs before boarding.
Sea conditions were really choppy as we motored out of the harbour and headed straight towards the western side of the bay, where the skipper hoped for more sheltered conditions.
ATLANTIC PUFFINS, COMMON MURRE, NORTHERN FULMAR, ARCTIC TERN and PARASITIC JAEGER were all seen well and around 40 minutes after setting off, we saw our first HUMPBACK WHALE in front of the boat.
Over the next hour or so we had fantastic views of five individuals which were either feeding or sleeping in the fjord.
The wind really got up and most of us got a good soaking but it didn’t matter as the whales more than made up for the discomfort. Two MINKE WHALES were seen briefly but didn’t come close.
A few minutes later a female HUMPBACK WHALE with calf were spotted and we enjoyed point blank views of these marvellous mammals around 10 metres from the boat!
It was then time to head back to the harbour and once disembarked, we headed to a restaurant for a late lunch of fish and chips which were amazing and enjoyed by everyone.
The journey back to base wouldn’t have been complete without another stop at the GYR FALCON site and lo and behold, just as we had hoped, above the nest sat a full adult! After a while it flew off and joined another bird in the sky above us before they both flew back to the cliffs, where one bird showed well in the scope.
We had to leave as time was running away and after a hot shower to clean the salt off, we met for our evening meal which was great.
Afterwards the bird list was completed before we retired for the night after a brilliant day.
Tuesday 26th June 2018
Breakfast was once again at 07.00hrs and afterwards we loaded up the vans for our long journey back to Keflavik. Our first port of call was Godafoss Waterfalls and what a magnificent sight it was! Luckily our visit was in the early morning so there were not too many people. There were 11 HARLEQUIN DUCKS around the fast flowing water which showed beautifully in the sunshine.
We motored onwards through magnificent scenery and a couple of stops were made for landscape photos. Just west of Akureyri and not far from the site where we had seen our first Gyr Falcon, a superb SHORT-EARED OWL perched by the road and on positioning the vans, we had good views.
Our lunch stop was once again in Blonduos before moving on where we saw several more SHORT-EARED OWLS and a MERLIN.
After a coffee break we stopped off at Borgarfjörður where we immediately located an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE perched on an offshore rock, whilst another bird was seen further away.
Viewing from high ground enabled us to scan through the many GREYLAG GEESE, COMMON SHELDUCK and WHOOPER SWANS and this payed dividends with us finding a CANADA GOOSE, a good bird to see in Iceland!
We eventually reached Keflavik where we headed to our hotel close to the airport. Steve and Godfried drove to the airport to drop off the vehicles before meeting everyone at the hotel and a short walk later, we visited a local restaurant for our evening meal after a long day.
Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes to Godfried and thanked him for leading our superb tour to Iceland.
Wednesday 27th June 2018
We were up early for breakfast before heading to the airport for a 07.30hrs check in and along the way we saw our last COMMON SNIPE, COMMON REDSHANK, WHIMBREL, EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER and ARCTIC TERNS.
After saying goodbye to Judy who was flying back to the US later in the day we spent some time relaxing in the airport before boarding the plane.
Unfortunately, due to ground staff issues with baggage we missed our slot and took off an hour late. Luckily we made up some time and our flight took us down the west coast of the UK with superb clear views of a sunny Scotland and northern England before touching down at London Gatwick around 35 minutes behind schedule.
Baggage and passport control was painless and we said goodbye to everyone after what had been a superb tour with brilliant birding in a country where the word ‘Wow’ was used every day to describe the scenery!