Tuesday 5 May 2020

Lockdown Day 43 - Remembering birds in Iceland Part 2

This is the second half of a piece about some of the birds we saw on our trips to Iceland back in 2009 and 2010, the first bit of which can be found here

By the last houses opposite the road to the airport from the town centre of Akureyri are some lagoons and, despite being overlooked by what was essentially suburbia, had some lovely birds to see. These are a pair of Red-Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) from a family of ducks known as "sawbills" as they have serrated edges to their bills for gripping fish, their main prey. They are related to Goosanders which are more commonly found on rivers in upland Britain although Red-Breasted Mergansers are found in parts of Scotland all year round and along coasts in winter. These type of ducks dive a lot and I have found when trying to photograph them that they usually dive just as you have focused the camera on them!

On the same lagoon, at the airport end, were a group of Red-Necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). These beautiful birds feed on insects and spin around catching them which makes them look as if they are performing a pirouette dance on water. 

These birds are a bit more common in Iceland than in the UK, in fact you have to go to the Shetland Islands to see breeding pairs of these birds and there are, according to the RSPB, only 22 breeding pairs there, and it takes considerable effort to see them. All we did was go for a walk one evening about twenty minutes from the house we had rented in Akureyri and there they were!

This isn't a great photo unfortunately of a Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) as I was facing into the light on the northern shore of Myvatn, a large lake surrounded by volcanic activity, hot springs and mud pools. These birds, again only rare breeders in Scotland, are easily recognisable by the golden stripes on each side of the head. Also on Myvatn were Great Northern Divers, Whimbrel, Barrow's Goldeneye and at the Laxa river which feeds the lake Harlequin Ducks flew over. The latter two species are more typically from North America and Iceland is the furthest east they breed. One or two accidentally end up in the UK from time to time, typically in the west and north of Scotland.

Finally in this section is the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). These little birds are, at least in Iceland, reasonably unafraid of people, and feed on seeds and invertebrates. This one was on Grímsey, an island off the north coast of Iceland that is the only bit of Icelandic territory that is on the Arctic Circle (which, incidentally, is gradually moving up the island and will be to the north of the island by 2050!). Also here were a large number of very aggressive Arctic Terns, one of which hit my head and I felt the soft feathers of the underwing brush along my hair!

Part One of this piece can be found here 

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