Saturday, 8 October 2011

Land of the Midnight Sun

In early June 1983 I was off to the land of ice and fire on a Wing Span tour with Tony Pym,we departed
from Heathrow by Icelandair and arrived  at Keflavik  early the next day.
The bus took us to our Youth Hostel in Reykjavik.I took a quick walk to the City Park Lake where I saw
my first Barrow's Goldeneye.Quickly I returned to the hostel where Tony Pym and Bjorgvin our biologist driver waited.
We headed south east to Selfoss,our first stop. A redwing was singing and two Whooper swans could be seen further up the river. Turning south we headed  for Stokkseyri and while driving  we saw two more Whoopers.Geysers sprouted at Hveregeldar and a White Wagtail was seen on the banks of the River Olfusa.The sub species of Golden Plover showed more black up the neck and a snipe flew of four eggs.I photographed  a Golden Plovers nest surrounded by sea weed while overhead  Glaucous gulls dropped shellfish on rocks below to break open and feed on.
Near Floi  magnificent Black tailed Godwits were in summer plumage,however our main reason for visiting Stokkseyri was to find Grey Phalarope,numbers of this species fluctuate and it is still rare in
Iceland needless to say we failed to see it.
Lunch was east of Stokkseyri,this was our first experience of the chuck wagon and Judith's cooking.
We camped at Sejalands next to waterfall witrh a view of the Westmann Isles.
Later in the evening we saw Ptarmigan in trans plumage,by a tributary feeding,it had red marks over its eyes ,mottled back,another bird possibly a female showed more summer plumage with its white wings in  flight and pigeon like stoop in fading light around 10 20 pm.
A peculiar noise is emitted from the Ptarmigan and its Icelandic name is Hrupa and when heard or imitated it sounds like someone passing wind.
On Saturday 4th of June I awoke cold in the early hours, I still had all my clothes on,this morning it is overcast and raining birds seen of note were Fulmar.
Left Sejalands at 0900hrs after breaking camp,breakfast in the rain,river water used for cooking and washing.Our next stop was Dyrholaey, a renowned  sea bird colony however it was closed for the breeding season.The cliffs near by  housed 2,000 Puffins,guillemot,razorbill were a spectacular sight on the Basalt rock formation.
Further on at Vik there was an Arctic tern colony at least 750 birds in diving territorial display.
Arrival at Thingvallavatn pronounced Ping showed 2 Harlequinn ducks and a Great Northern Diver on this huge lake.The night proved traumatic Jean Pierre Attonaty suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital.The next day I awoke at 07.00hrs it was overcast .I photographed  the local church and the lake.
The river Oxara (Axe)  ran nearby,eventually in to the lake where red necked phalaropes were taking insects of the water with a sweeping action of their bills.
We drove to Geysir  to see the spouting hot springs,the air was full of sulphur ,with bubbling  ,boiling
water everywhere.But Strokkur was impressive sending up towers of water with loud gushing noises.
At lunch we heard Snipe drumming,then on to Gullfoss,a large beautiful waterfall.The canyon below the falls is2,500 metres long and 70 metres deep.
On return to Thingvallvatn we saw 10 Harlequinn,teal,goosander, and red necked phalaropes the
icelanders call them Odin's chickens.
After dinner Ray found a Merlin's nest in a ravine near Thingvellir camp site,probably an old Ravens nest.We left Smyrill in peace and returned to camp at 21.15 hrs.
On Monday the 6th of June it was raining at breakfast I felt the  rain on my neck as I consumed my porridge while the ever present snipe drummed close by,after breakfast we drove on to Bogarnes passing Hunafloi( the bay of baby polar bears).
At Reynivellir a fertile valley holding Whooper swans,at Hunafloi our first Purple Sandpiper.
Lunch at Borganes three shags on a rock and lunch without rain.After lunch a long drive to Blonduos
where at least 66 Harlequinns were roosting in the estuary.
A change from camping was welcome,accommodation was arranged at the local hotel and gave everyone a chance to have a shower.
The following morning we were of to Akureyri,it was overcast with some sun before leaving we saw our first snow buntings on the beach in summer plumage.It was cold sea watching here at Blonduos,eiders were in a raft at sea,Arctic Skuas flew past showing great contrast  with markings on inner primaries,this whitish patch increases in Autumn.
On route along rugged terrain we saw a Raven attacked by Whimbrels,due to the fact  it had one of their eggs in its bill.
We stopped for lunch just outside Akureyri,the largest town in Northern Iceland c population 11,000, a small birch wood held singing Redpoll, we also found Snipe nesting,three Pintail on the marsh and
Artic Lupin was coming in to flower.
Later in the day the chuck wagon was bogged down in lava dust,half hour later we dug it out and
continued to Laugar for lunch where we saw 66 red necked phalaropes and a pair of Barrows Goldeneye  were displaying.
We arrived  at Lake Myvatn late evening. It looked beautiful but more ice and snow was around than
expected.While sorting out the camping we added Slavonian grebe to our list.
That evening we tried the Icelandic specialitie dish "rotting shark" followed by the drink called the
"Black Death".
On Wednesday the 8th it was a sunny day and there was a good view over Myvatn at Reykjahlid.
At 10.00hrs we travelled east to an extinct volcano  near Grjot in search of a Gyr falcons eyrie.
We entered a volcanic crater of considerable size and after some searching the eyrie was found,
deserted,only to find later that it had been robbed.
Both geese were heard in the area Greylag and Pinkfoot but not seen.
Moving on to Dimmobrgir  we found some Gyr pellets,we returned to the lake and found Common Scoter.
The next morning was much colder and raining and wigeon were calling 15 yards from  Derek and I
tent. 20 kilometres from Myvatn it started snowing,at Husavik  I bought a jumper and mitts now only
30 miles from the Arctic Circle. The Island of Grimsey off shore is the last breeding site of the Little Auk.
Moving on to Mara lighthouse thousand of puffins auks and fulmars showed along with Hooded crows at sea seals were taking fish.
After breakfast we visited Asybyrgi a geographical site,it is a depression with cliffs up to 10 metres high and its centre a large rock.The shape resembles a horeshoe and mythology has it that it was created by Odin's horse.We heard a Wren here.
Friday the 10th of June it was overcast and rain in the tent this morning,It was a free day so Frank King and I  decided to walk around Myvatn,we noted pre mating display of Barrows Goldeneye was similar to its European counterpart.However it was great to see two Harlequinns on the adjacent Laxa river.Moving on across the lava strewn landscape we found a Redshank's nest in the heather with four eggs.To end the day  a redwing and its mate dive bombed us the male having more red on the underwing,the female had worms in its bill, the nest was under the bonnet of a dumped car containing young.
That night  gale force winds,snow,rain all night,our tent  was flooded out so Derek and I slept on the bus,it was still cold on the bus,the following morning three other tents had succumbed.
We made Akureyri for lunch and Anton found a Redpolls nest,moving on to Blonduos  we stayed overnight ,it was cold sea watching the following morning and I saw a Blue faced Fulmar sometimes
called the Greenland Fulmar.At 05.30 hrs it was sleeting on the beach where I photographed a storm blown Guillemot,even wearing two jumpers it proved to cold to watch.
After breakfast we left for Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellness peninsula,on route we passed through Bru to Bordeyri just outside Stykkisholmur we passed a large fish drying rack with the heads of cod drying in the sunshine.We failed to find the chuck wagon again and at 18.40 hrs we were at the local hotel having cheese and biscuits tea or coffee it came to £53.00 for 15 of us things are expensive in
At 20.05 hrs we found  two White tailed Sea eagles,first seen in flight,pale white head,dark body and
conspicuous white tail which was fanned out by strong winds.
The birds were soaring and gliding this was Haforn in full glory.The eyrie was located on  a volcanic outcrop the female was feeding the young while the male hunted.The eaglet was moving its head constantly , the female tore the food  up which was in her talons with her beak.
At 22.15 hrs  it was sleeting  and by 22.30 hrs it was snowing we left the eagles.
It was Monday the 13th of June we left Styykisholmur in sunshine and travelled along the coast to the Snaefellness peninsula,at lunch we viewed the biggest ice cap in Europe.
Finally we made Londrangar,a limestone cliff face,its large lighthouse  was amongst a carpet of saxifrage. However ,it was the cliffs  that were a major interest with rows of Brunnich's Guillemots amongst its commoner cousins.
I found broken eggs everwhere,possibly Ravens work  also the head  and spine of a Guillemot may
have been a Gyr's kill,returning to Stykkisholmur via Olafsvik.
A boat trip  around Breidajiodur produced one Iceland Gull and 12 Glaucous..
On route to Reykjavik the whaling station was in full operation,the sight of a whale on the slipway being cu up while Lesser black backed gulls their yellow legs coated in blood while scavenging left its mark firmly in my mind,however the station is soon to be closed.
On arrival in Reykjavik it was a surprise to see John Pierre out of hospital,our last full day in Iceland was spent in the Westmann Isles we landed at  Heimaey the bird cliffs were outstanding,we had a ,boat trip on choppy seas.
We did not see any petrels but a raft of 200 nManx Shearwaters and  at least 3 Blue face Fulmars,back at the harbour amongst frozen fish another Iceland gull showed.On the last day  I visited the Natural History museum and a last look at the City lake.

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