Sunday 3 May 2020

Lockdown Day 41 - Remembering birds in Iceland - Part 1

In both 2009 and 2010 we undertook trips to Iceland. Both holidays started and finished in Rekjavik however in 2009 we spent several days next the south coast overlooking the Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands)  and in 2010 we spent time in the north, basing ourselves in Akureyri. These were real adventure trips, we hired a 4*4 each time so we could explore some of the sights off the main roads. In Iceland a lot of roads are gravel rather than tarmac and to be honest the road to Dettifoss in the north was an organised trail of rocks!

I have already done a post about the blue whale we saw off Husavik but we also saw plenty of unusual (for us) birds on both trips, some even on Tjörnin right in the city centre of Reykjavik (Tjörnin means "the lake" or "the pond", very original!)

On the first trip in early April 2009, we visited Þingvellir which is where the North Atlantic Ridge - the separation between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates - cuts through and is visible in a chasm with two walls of rock on either side with the path down through the middle. So you get to walk between continents! 

Whilst we were there it was still quite cold, with plenty of snow about and on one day we woke up to about six inches of snow. However, this didn't deter the winter plumage Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) we saw munching at the vegetation by the side of the path. It was not perturbed by our presence and it was possible to take some really nice photos of it. During the summer months Ptarmigan lose the pure white plumage that keeps them camouflaged in the snow and take on a mottled white and brown appearance, we saw a summer plumage one crossing the road during our June 2010 holiday (they are as lacking in road sense as pheasants here in the UK!) 

One day when driving along the south coast we had stopped off to admire one of the many tumbling waterfalls on the road towards Vík (famous for the black volcanic beach) when we saw a large flock of Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) in a nearby field. These birds visit the UK in winter, and many gather in the Lower Derwent Valley near where I live, however they breed in Iceland. This group (over 30 individuals in all) took off and made a spectacular sight!

This photo of another Whooper Swan was taken on Tjörnin in Reykjavik. The main difference between this swan and the Mute Swan which is much more common in the UK is the colour of the beak, with the Mute Swan having an orange beak and as you can see the Whooper Swan having a yellow and black one. 

Another common bird in Iceland but quite rare in many parts of the UK even in winter is the Scaup (Aythya marila). This one was one of many pairs of these ducks on Tjörnin in Reykjavik. They are similar to Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) which are on most lakes here in the UK. This one is the male duck with the females being brown and grey with a white patch just above the bill. 

In part 2 I will show some of the birds we saw in the north of Iceland in 2010 around Akureyri, Mývatn and Grímsey

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