Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Iceland, 13th-16th February 2009 ,

Matt Andrews

In response to your request for updates to trip reports, may I add a few things to the already excellent and thorough Icelandic trip report filed by Steve Lister.  I spent only three nights there so birding was rather limited and I had to choose my locations fairly selectively to make the most of the short time available and grab as many of the speciality species as possible.

Weather was a mixed bag of Kodachrome blue skies and glaciers and heavy rain and mist.  Temperatures were above those in the UK, around 2 degrees to 5 degrees.  The best weather was definitely in the coldest areas so Reykjavik was under a permanent cloud blanket whilst the areas bordering the two main ice caps along the southern coast were largely cloud-free.

Hours of birding daylight were from 09.00hrs through to 18.00hrs, more than we expected.   I drove along the excellent Road Number One from Reykjavik to the iceberg lake over on the south coast about 30km west of Hofn and around 378 kilometres from Reykjavik.  The scenery along this route is truly stunning - superb cliffs and bluffs, glaciers, tundra and sea coast as well as waterfalls, both frozen and running.

The birds were a mixed bag.  In fairness, we did not catch up with many species.  Passerines were noticeably scarce - Meadow Pipits, Snow Buntings and Starlings in Reykjavik.  There were numerous small flocks of Snow Buntings along the coast as well as inland a little way, at Geysir and Gullfoss. Raven too were fairly numerous as Steve Lister described.

I caught up with a juvenile Gyr Falcon from Road Number 1 around 5km west of Eyvindarholar, 46km west of Vik.  This was on the coastal plains bordered by huge cliffs with literally thousands of  Fulmar wheeling around where there were also large numbers of Pink-footed Geese as well as numerous bays and inlets with Wigeon, Goosander and Mallard bobbing around.  There was also a Greenland white phase Gyr near to Reykjavik and another juvenile seen near to Selfoss.  Generally, I got the impression from some Icelandic birders we met that although fairly sparsely distributed, Gyrs were regular all along the coasts as well as inland too and it was a similar situation to looking for Peregrines here on the coast, luck and a bit of judgement.

The only other bird of prey of sorts was a Short-eared Owl on the road to Pingvallir from Mossbaer, just north of Reykjavik, where there are some grassy fields bordering the road where there are obvious street lights.   Up towards the glacier regions, the scenery is bleakly beautiful, here I saw very few birds, tracks of Arctic Fox and fifty plus Common Seals in the iceberg lake.

The harbour at Reykjavik was much as Steve Lister described, full of Eider, Long-tailed Ducks, Iceland Gulls and a few Glaucous Gulls.  Another interesting area is around to the south-west of the two main piers, here there is a circular concrete watch tower and there were good views out to sea as well as along the coast where there were Oystercatchers and Long-tailed Ducks.  Here too, in the direction of the piers, were Black Guillemots.

Barrow's Goldeneye were local and we found them on open fresh water only - they are not sea duck, away from the numerous frozen lakes.  The River Sog out flowing Lake Pingvallavatn just north of Selfoss held around fifty birds, mainly drakes, all of which were easily viewable from the road/track that runs along the west side, affording good scope views.  The best location was around 500 metres north of the junction with the road to Geysir from Selfoss and the track cum road just west of the bridge over the Sog. 

They are very nervous birds and as soon as I exited the car to get the scope, bearing in mind I was a good one hundred metres from the water's edge, they dived and paddled away from their locations.  Whooper Swans were also fairly numerous here too as were Red-breasted Mergansers and a few Mallard.

Further up at Geysir, around three hundred metres beyond on the road towards Gulfoss waterfall, there were easily viewable Ptarmigan - again, these birds can turn up anywhere but they were particularly accommodating here.

Finally, the last birds of note were of course, Harlequins.  From the concrete harbour wall at Hufnir, looking out north there were around thirty birds, roosting on the islets around a hundred metres from the wall as well as bobbing around on the sea on both sides of the wall.  They were very mobile, flying regularly from spot to spot.  Plenty of drakes and ducks too and again, more time at this location would have certainly afforded good photographic opportunities.    Here too were a couple of Scaup, one of the few locations in Iceland where they may be seen as well as Gt. Northern Diver, Long-tailed Ducks, Eider and Iceland Gulls.  

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?