Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Iceland - 30 January to 2 February 2014

The 8.35pm flight got us to Keflavik for just after 11.30pm to find that the first snowfall of the winter in the Reykjavik area had been falling all day. The rental car was completely iced up and, as we made out way to the Arctic Comfort Hotel in Reykjavik it was interesting, to say the least, since all the road signs were still covered with snow (and too high to be cleared  - we did try), still we negotiated the snowy conditions to arrive, some how, at our hotel at around 2am. The sky was completely clouded up with no chance of seeing the Aurora Borialis - one of our main reasons for making the trip.

Day one

We began the day before there was any light and drove from the capital eastwards. We noticed a Buzzard, a species very well known to us, sitting upon a lamp post. At the time we didn't realise its significance but on returning home we found that there were only four previous records.
It was only just beginning to get light by 9.30am.

Winter wonderland

We began the day with a run to a garden centre where an American rarity, a Lincoln Sparrow, had been present. We parked up and walked into the garden centre where it had regularly been seen at a bird table.

Lincoln Sparrow

The table was busy with Snow Buntings and Blackbirds coming for seed and scraps in the harsh conditions. A few Starlings were also present, with a single Common Redpoll, a fly over Common Crossbill and a pair of Ravens.


We watched the visiting birds as the light came up and when the staff eventually arrived were offered hot drinks, although time constraints meant that we couldn't accept their hospitality.

We returned to the car with snow covered jeans and boot laces frozen solid then travelled to Harnarfjordur to look at the birds in the harbour. We found good numbers of gulls, mostly Iceland, one group of about 30, with a single Kumelins Gull and a bird showing characteristics of Thayers Gull, a few Glaucous, Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls. Ducks were represented by Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Goosanders and a few Long-tailed Ducks, with three Wigeon and Mallard also present. Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were also seen, and wader represented by Oysterchatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper. A couple of Greylags flew over and a single Guillemot was seen

Access was refreshingly simple. No problems getting to the water's edge, as you are just able to drive around the various dock and waterfront areas, as we found at all the sites we visited.


  Iceland Gulls

 Kumelins Gull

Thayers Gull?

We joined the Whale Watching boat and left Reykjakic at 1pm, hoping that the next three hours may bring views of Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, Orca, Dolphins and Porpoises.The Harbour before departure held the usual mix we had seen earlier with the addition of Black Guillemots, Shags mostly rather than the Cormorants seen at Harnarfjordur, and Black-headed Gull, along with a few Commons.

Black Guillemot

Red-breasted Merganser


 Reykjavic from the sea

Stunning views of the rugged coastline


We looked, and looked, and looked but not a single cetatean put in an appearance, although there were plenty of Fulmars and an odd couple of Gannets.

That night we drove away from the city and hoped to find shimmering Northern Lights but had no joy, though succeeded in flushing three Ptarmigan from the roadside, giving a wierd view of three white birds disappearing in the headlights.

Day two

Before heading East we stopped at the frozen Tjornin lake in the town centre. Just a small area remained free of ice, holding ducks, geese, gulls and Whooper Swans.

sole Pink-footed Goose

Common Gull

Iceland Gull

Whooper Swan

We took a look at Reykjavic harbour again.


Black Guillemot

Glaucous Gull

We then headed towards the Geyser and Gullfoss area via Helluvtan lake where there was a female Hooded Marganser. Also in the area were a few Whoopers, a single Scaup, a Common Goldeneye and a few Tufted Ducks.

 Hooded Merganser - just, really.

 We then travelled to Pingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir), taking in the lack of birds (apart from Ravens that periodically punctuated the hinterland).


 The lake at Thingvellir.

We visited Geyser to see, hear and smell the geothermal activity.

The Great Geyser only erupts every 6 hours or so and we weren't lucky. Strokkur, however is more reliable and went off every 5 to 10 minutes. Stokkur reaches a height of 30 metres.

The water reaches tempertures between 80 and 100 degrees C.

We completed our tour of the Golden Circle by visiting Gullfoss.

Gullfoss, meaning Golden Falls

On the way back at Olfusa we had a group of around 15 Barrow's Goldeneyes, all female/juveniles.

Day three

Our final day we headed off to Grindavik, but on route stopped off at Krisuvik geothermal pools

Grindavik again had a simliar selection of species as expected in an Icelandic harbour, but we also managed to pick up four Halequin Ducks (two males), three Kittiwakes and a Grey Heron. We failed to find any of the Gyrs reported in the aera.

Great Northern Diver

 Iceland Gull

Glaucous Gull

Final stop off at Njardvik found the other side of the peninsula very windy making viewing difficult and we failed to find the American White-winged Scoter that had been in the area, just picking up the expected mix of Ducks and Gulls.

Glaucous Gull 


Our last chance of viewing the Northern Lights disappeared as we flew south to the UK. Perhaps we'll be lucky another time.