Iceland, Summer 2000

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Christopher and Alison Hall

Even before our plane has landed, Arctic Terns are spotted. Next day we set sail across Breidafjördur bound for the island of Flatey. During the voyage we spot a Minke Whale beside the thousands of busy Fulmars, Puffins and Arctic Terns. Pulling into a small rocky islet we enjoy close views of 16 Common Seals and a resting group of some 20 Knot, still in nice red breeding plumage.

We arrive on Flatey in warm sunshine with many Snipe drumming overhead and male Snow Buntings in their black and white colours. Along the shore numerous Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots, Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers attract our attention. Scoping a variety of waders we pick out numerous Red necked Phalaropes and then a single rufous male Grey Phalarope, in the same view for comparison with the red necks. During an exciting return trip sprayed by white surf, we break our journey for superb close views of a pair of White tailed Eagles, both perched and in flight, plus their two eaglets.

Next day we are all at sea again, on a whale watching adventure. Pitching and rolling on the swell from a stiff breeze, whale spotting is difficult but we do manage several porpoising White beaked Dolphins and Minke Whales as well as a couple of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels at close range. Back on dry land we spot some 40 Turnstones and 75 Purple Sandpipers on rocks near Olafsvík, with hundreds of tawny looking Sanderlings scurrying along a nearby beach. Glaucous Gulls pose at the intriguing basalt rock formations at Arnarstapi while 6 male Harlequins ride the surf which pounds the rocks below. Further west along the beautiful Snaefellsnes peninsula, a short walk leads to cliffs covered in yet more Kittiwakes, Puffins and Razorbills plus Common and Brünnich's Guillemots side by side.

Moving east to Mývatn, we pass numerous Whooper Swans and a big raft of some 850 plus Greylag Geese in brilliant sunshine on Svínavatn. On Mývatn, the thousands of wildfowl dotted across the lake include many Wigeon, Scaup, Long tailed Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye and Slavonian Grebes. Inshore we have marvellous views of Red throated and magnificent Great Northern Divers with Whimbrels, Black tailed Godwits, Ptarmigan, Merlins, Short eared Owls and Gyr Falcons among the surrounding lava fields. All this on top of the marvels of an unearthly landscape of steaming lava, fumaroles, boiling mud and the awesome power of Dettifoss.

Crossing the uninhabited interior, we watch Snow Buntings while immersed in the geothermal water of a natural spring pool at Hveravellir. Deeper into this desolate no man's land, betwixt glaciers, a scan of a braided watercourse reveals up to 90 Pink footed Geese grazing their harsh summer land.

A final day on the trail of the "Golden Circle"; the amazing spouting Geysir, the spectacular Gullfoss, Thingvellir with its tectonic rift, and a dip into the heavenly warm water of the Blue Lagoon.

Once in Reykjavík its time to reflect on the highlights of this wonderful tour; the family of White tailed Eagles, Harlequins at close range, beautiful summer plumage Golden Plovers, a Gyr Falcon perched atop a lava crater, Short eared Owl in effortless silent flight, that raft of Greylag Geese and of course the very rare Grey Phalarope.

For more information on Iceland or other escorted birding please contact us on 01773 716550

Species seen:

Great Northern Diver, 1 pair on Snaefellsnes peninsula, 3 on Myvatn
Red throated Diver, 3 on Myvatn
Slavonian Grebe, many on Myvatn
Fulmar, Very common along the coast
Manx Shearwater, 2 on the whale watching trip
Storm Petrel, ditto
Gannet, several on the whale watching and Flatey island trips
Shag, common in Breidafjordur and on the Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whooper Swan, widespread on inland waters
Greylag Goose, c850+ on Svinavatn, small numbers elsewhere
Pink footed Goose, c90 near Hvitavatn
Mallard, very few on Myvatn, small numbers elsewhere
Teal, c20 on a pool at Laugar
Gadwall, only 2 pairs on Myvatn
Wigeon, thousands on Myvatn
Tufted Duck, ditto
Scaup, ditto
Eider, large numbers along the coast
Common Scoter, 2 families on Myvatn
Harlequin, 6 males at Arnarstapi, 16 females on the Laxa River
Long tailed Duck, hundreds on Myvatn
Barrow's Goldeneye, thousands on Myvatn
Red breasted Merganser, a few females with young (up to 16 ducklings) on Myvatn mainly
White tailed Eagle, 1 pair with 2 young in Breidafjordur
Gyr Falcon, 1 adult with 1 juvenile at Myvatn
Merlin, 2 females at Myvatn
Ptarmigan, a family of about 6 crossed the road at Myvatn
Oystercatcher, small numbers along the coast
Golden Plover, very common in vegetated areas
Ringed Plover, small numbers along the coast, occasional inland
Whimbrel, very common in vegetated areas
Black tailed Godwit, surprisingly scarce on Snaefellsnes peninsula and at Myvatn
Redshank, common along the coast and on inland waters
Snipe, common in vegetated areas, especially on Flatey
Purple Sandpiper, 20+ on Flatey, c75 near Olafsvik
Dunlin, small numbers on wetland sites like Flatey and Myvatn
Knot, 20+ on Breidafjordur, smaller numbers on Flatey
Sanderling, hundreds on a beach near Olafsvik
Turnstone, common along the coast, c40 near Olafsvik
Grey Phalarope, 1 male on Flatey
Red necked Phalarope, 20+ on Flatey, common at Myvatn
Arctic Skua, occasional inland and at sea
Common Gull, small numbers only near Akureyri
Lesser black backed Gull, common especially on Reykjanes peninsula
Great black backed Gull, common on Breidafjordur
Glaucous Gull, a few on Snaefellsnes peninsula, especially at Arnarstapi
Black headed Gull, common at Myvatn
Kittiwake, thousands on Breidafjordur and Snaefellsnes peninsula
Arctic Tern, ditto and elsewhere like Myvatn
Razorbill, common on Snaefellsnes peninsula
Brünnich's Guillemot, c25 at Malarrif on Snaefellsnes peninsula
Common Guillemot, common on Snaefellsnes peninsula
Black Guillemot, dozens on Breidafjordur and on Snaefellsnes peninsula
Puffin, thousands on Breidafjordur and on Snaefellsnes peninsula
Short eared Owl, 1 pair at Myvatn
Meadow Pipit, very common in vegetated areas
White Wagtail, common in vegetated areas
Wren, 1 heard at Myvatn
Wheatear, uncommon
Redwing, very common in vegetated areas
Snow Bunting, small numbers on Flatey and at Hveravellir
Redpoll, 4 in woods near Stykkisholmur, also heard at Laugar
Starling, a few at Stykkisholmur
Raven, widespread in small numbers