Anser Birding Iceland 10-16 June 2008

Anser Birding Iceland 10-16 June 2008


MJM and Non-biting midges at Myvatn image by JJSquire

Summary; I organised this tour for a Gloucestershire based party of six accompanied by J.J. Squire also coming along and kindly sharing some driving. The aims were to spend time with key species that find their only breeding grounds within Europe enjoy the breeding waders and experience a decent sample of Iceland’s geothermal and volcanic activity, Glaciers and sheer beauty. I think it fair to say that all the above was achieved and I had some very positive feedback, thank you to all who contacted me.


We travelled overnight birding as we went to Lake Myvatn in N. Iceland where we stayed for two nights (S of Reykjalid); we then worked our way back toward Reykjavik via the Snaefellsnses Peninsula. Two nights were spent SW of Blonduos (Daeli) and one between here and Borgarnes (Hraunsnef). Accommodation was in rural locations to provide extra birding opportunities for very keen birders. This worked well as is gave plenty of viewing and digi-scoping to those who wanted to keep going. A comprehensive selection of what can be achieved by keen digi-scopers is represented by Richard Tyler’s excellent presentation of images, they capture the trip well.


Weather; Dry and sunny for most of the week, some cooler winds at altitude or near the coast and a few showers on day six but only affecting our birding for 10 minutes all week. I actually wore a t-shirt on a number of occasions.


The midges of Myvatn (they dance in columns, a magnificent spectacle, we found them at the south end of Lake Myvatn on the last morning).


Duncan gives up but Dave eats a few more


Itinerary day one; I took my car with seven aboard to Heathrow for a 2110 departure; we arrived in good time leaving Whitminster at 1430 and picking up en-route via Cheltenham. We met Jeremy at the airport and relaxed before a comfortable flight to Keflavik. After collecting bags, bus and sorting a few things out we were on our way. We took in Seltjarnarnes Peninsula and thoroughly checked Bakkatjorn and nearby wetlands. We were looking for an American White-winged Scoter that had been present. With no luck on this bird we took the N1 and headed N stopping for birds and coffee eventually arriving at Myvatn for 1630. We had stopped at Godafoss falls and a few other sites. We ate in the cowshed restaurant during our stay watching the milking process while we ate!


I offered a post dinner look around the geothermal mud pools and a chance to see the N American/ European tectonic plates, views of the volcano’s and pseudo craters. Everyone came along and we had glorious sunshine to watch the sun think about setting but it did not.


Day two; after breakfast we explored Myvatn, the Laxa to Godafoss and then headed up the valley alongside Skjalfandafljot to the spectacular Aldeyjarfoss falls. Later we drove near to Husavik and then back over the mountains to Myvatn. After dinner we all visited the Myvatn Nature Baths with its lovely 38-40 Celsius pools to swim and unwind.


Day three; more birding around Myvatn, we were fortunate enough to experience why it is the lake of Midges and why it is so good for ducks. Columns of flies were present at the S end of the lake and it was almost impossible to see through the cloud of insects. We transferred via Akueyri stopping to watch birds but missing the ferry to Hrisey and then onto Daeli near Blonduos and stopped at many sites along the way including the River Island of Hrutey.


Day Four We stopped at a placid and tranquil breeding site for Great Northern Diver and then headed to the Skagafjordur valley. We spent all day birding around the coast, rivers and wetlands before heading back to Daeli for the evening.


Day Five We left early to get in a full day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and to take the ferry to Flatey. After eating a meal in Stykkisholmsur we set off and arrived late back at Hraunsnef for the night. I unwound by having a midnight outdoor hot-tub watching Fulmar and Whooper Swan at our inland site.


Day Six; a later start at 1000 due our long day yesterday. We made our way toward Reykjavik and stopped off at a few sites before catching our flight home.


 MJM watching a Gyrfalcon image by SJDark.

Bird List


1. Red-throated Diver

Seen on the nest on small pools on Holtavorduheidi, between Borgarnes and Kolbeinsstadir and on the sea at Skagafjordur (plus flight views carrying fish). A few other flight views were also noted from other sites or more distant views on the sea.


2. Great Northern Diver

Seen on the nest near Blonduos and seen very well at Myvatn. More views of these magnificent birds were made on the sea including a non-breeding plumaged bird on 11th and seen from the bus on a few occasions.


3. Slavonian Grebe

Breeding plumaged birds seen well at Myvatn (30) on 11/12/13th and Skagafjordur (12) on 13th


4. Fulmar Thousands seen most days from coastal and inland areas.


5. Manx Shearwater Around 100 noted passing Gardur on 16th.


6. Gannet Noted from N coastal sites and c50 off Gardur on 16th.


7. Cormorant Noted from a few sites with plenty around Snaefellsnes on 15th and Reykjavik/Gardur 16th.


8. Shag A few seen at coastal sites.


9. Whooper Swan Common in most areas and seen breeding at all altitudes and wetland habitats. Cygnets were seen in many places.


10. Pink-footed Goose magnificent views in the sunshine as they flew over calling in a skein at Myvatn and at Skjalfandafljot. A pair nesting in a sheer cliff with a drop of hundreds of feet into wild water below was at Aldeyarfoss.


11. Greylag Goose common in all lowland areas.

12. Mallard No counts but widespread.

13. Gadwall No counts but widespread.

14. Pintail seen at Myvatn.

15. Wigeon Common at Myvatn and seen at other sites


16. American Wigeon Jeremy and Richard spotted a male from the bus. It was on road 54 on the S side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula W of Vegamot.


American Wigeon image by M.J.McGill


17. Teal no counts but seen a number of sites including with ducklings.

18. Pochard a male was among thousands of diving duck a t Myvatn on 11th.

19. Scaup Widespread and common.

20. Tufted Duck Widepsread and common

21. Eider seen in huge flocks at coastal areas.


22. King Eider a male was with a very large flock of Eider at Kolgrafafjordur on 15th.


King Eider image by MJMcGill


23. Common Scoter breeding birds at and around Myvatn.


24. Long-tailed Duck a pleasure to see these birds displaying and calling at various sites with Myvatn being very productive.


25. Harlequin stunning views of these stunning birds on raging torrents and waterfalls on the Laxa, at Godafoss, Skjalfandafljot and Hrutey. Also seen on the sea off Blonduos, Snaefellsnes, the ferry Baldur and singles or small numbers elsewhere on our travels on estuaries, rivers and streams. It was apparent that males were more in evidence as many females would be incubating.


26. Barrow’s Goldeneye see n in numbers at Myvatn (100+), a pair were also viewed at close range on the Skjalfandafljot. What excellent birds and brilliant seeing them in the sunshine.


27. Goosander at least two males seen including one on the Skjalfandafljot.


28. Red-breasted Merganser fairly common in the North especially around Myvatn but very few males were in breeding plumage as they had already moulted into eclipse.


29.White-tailed Eagle a pair watched on the nest (locality withheld).


30. Merlin a few seen dashing along or on posts but not in evidence as much later in the year due to breeding.


31. Gyrfalcon an adult was watched killing and eating three Greylag Goslings in succession, a truly awesome falcon, very powerful. Also a very close and recently fledged juvenile gave us great views (sites withheld).


32. Ptarmigan gritting birds near Daeli were for those that did not want much sleep due to being seen 0500 in the morning.


33. Oystercatcher– common

34. Ringed Plover common and found nesting a number of sites, broken wing display noted.
35. Golden Plover breeding birds everywhere, tussocks grow atop the lava where lookout birds defecate daily. Eggs were found by the roadside.

36. Sanderling only one seen at Blonduos, it was in breeding plumage though.

37. Purple Sandpiper breeding plumage birds were at Akueyri (6) and Rif (3).

38. Turnstone a few seen in the South.

39. Dunlin very common on N estuaries, singing birds and pairs defending two chicks from a herd of horses were watched at close range.

40. Redshank delightfully common, on every other fence post.

41. Black tailed Godwit very common in lowland areas.

42. Whimbrel a common bird in many areas.

43. Snipe surpisingly common and confiding in many habitats.


44. Grey (Red) Phalarope one of the highlights on Flatey was watching at least five, possibly eight of these stunning birds. A male performed a broken leg/wing display to a Redshank and went onto a nest site? At least four females were seen feeding, preening and battling within the reserve area.


Grey Phalarope, Flatey image by M.J.McGill


45. Red-necked Phalarope seen wherever we went with some magical close up experiences. On Flatey they were very tame. Seen in their hundreds at Myvatn.


Red-necked Phalarope image by Martin J McGill


46.Great Skua only one seen in the Fjord near Akueyri.

47. Arctic Skua common and seen nearly everwhere.


48. Long-tailed Skua an adult flew low over at a site in the North (locality withheld).


49. Black-headed Gull– common.

50. Common Gull
51. Herring Gull
52. Lesser Black-backed Gull

53. Greater Black-backed Gull
54. Kittiwake


55. Glaucous Gull very common on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, seen in Skagafjordur, Gardur and around Reykjavik.


56. Iceland Gull three at Akueyri on 11th and one on 13th.


57. Arctic Tern thousands seen absolutely everywhere.

58. Puffin seen around the coast, Flatey and from ferry Baldur.

59. Black Guillemot seen around the coast but best views were on Flatey.

60. Guillemot nesting birds seen at a few sites around the coast.


61. Brunnich’s Guillemot seen in Skagafjordur but close views of nesting birds near the Ondverdarnes lighthouse, Snaefellsnes.


62. Razorbill as above.
63. Short-eared Owl one seen at 0200 in the morning near Hofsvik.

64. Meadow Pipit common.

65. White Wagtail– common

66. Wren– seen at Myvatn and Daeli in song.

67. Wheatear seen at a variety of sites but less than 20 sightings.

68. Redwing common

69. Raven common

70. Starling seen in small flock in the SW.

71. Redpoll common around birch scrub

72. Snow Bunting seen in many areas, singing males mostly but one male feeding young at Krafla, a female carrying food near Saudarkrokur and also seen around Keflavik airport.


73. Ring-billed Gull MJM picked out a first summer on the pools at Rif on 15th.


A pleasure spending time birding with all who came with me on this trip.


Martin J McGill

30 June 2008


Harlequin (male) on the River Laxa MJM

Cliff cave-nesting Pink-footed Goose MJM
(the goslings face a sheer drop to hundreds of feet into a raging torrent)

Icelandic Redpoll MJM
(very different to the Mealy and Lesser Redpoll we are used to in the UK)

Snow Bunting feeding young in lava crack nest hole MJM



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