My wife and I traveled to Iceland from Baltimore, landing at Keflavik early on May 26 and leaving June 5. We rented a car, spent two days in the Reykjavik area, then drove the Ring Road over the next six days, and finally spent the last three days again in the southwest.
In addition to viewing the incredible scenery, we logged the birds we saw, ending up with a list of 68 species (21 life birds). The only disappointment from a birding standpoint was that despite a good effort, we did not see any Gyrfalcons, or even Merlins for that matter.
Here is our basic itinerary:
May 26 – We took care of necessary details and explored Reykjavik. Tjorn Lake in center city was teeming with birds, several of which were life birds for us. Birds on the lake included Whooper Swan, Tufted Duck, Eider (Common), Arctic Tern, Greylag Goose, Common Ringed Plover, Herring Gull, Mallard, Pigeon (Rock), Starling, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Black-headed Gull and Raven (Common).
May 27 – Reykjanes Peninsula. We started at Gardur lighthouse, which was alive with shorebirds: Golden Plover (European), Oystercatcher (Eurasian), Gannet (Northern), Turnstone (Ruddy), Brent goose (Brant), Great Black-backed Gull, Great Cormorant, Dunlin, Knot (Redknot), Sanderling, Whimbrel, Redshank (Common) and Wheatear (Northern). We also saw more eiders, black-headed gulls and arctic terns.
We took the 40-minute walk to Hafnaberg Cliffs, picking up Snipe (Common) along the way. The cliffs had Kittiwake (Black-legged), Razorbill, Guillemot (Common Murre), Black Guillemot, Brunnich’s Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre), and Meadow Pipit. We had a Pomarine Skua (Jaeger) fly by on the walk back to the car.
After a stop at the bridge over the continental rift, we drove the dirt road to Reykjanesta lighthouse, where we saw more nesting seabirds, more snipe and picked up Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger).
Before returning to our apartment in Reykjavik, we stopped for a refreshing dip in the Blue Lagoon.
May 28 – We drove to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, adding a Rook, Black-tailed Godwit and a Short-eared Owl (being harassed over the highway by another bird). We arrived at Stykkisholmur and took the nature tour around the islands of Breidafjordur Bay on the Seatours boat. Our main purpose in taking this trip was the White-tailed Eagle. After checking their traditional nesting spot and being told that the birds had not started nesting yet, we were beginning to lose hope when, upon turning the corner of an island, we came upon a pair sitting on a rock near the shore.
The boat trip also gave us close looks at nesting Fulmar (Northern), Shag, Puffin (Atlantic) and more kittiwakes. We also picked up White Wagtail and Glaucous Gull.
May 29 – We drove a long dirt road, stopped at the Leif Ericsson house, and made our way back to the Ring Road. Along the way we saw Great Skua, Redwing and Long-tailed Duck, and two white Ptarmigans (Rock) chasing each other. Continuing on the Ring Road we saw Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Red-necked Phalarope, Slavonian Grebe (Horned), and Teal (Green-winged).
Arriving at Akureyri, we took a walk at the Kjarnaskogur reforestation area, which had dozens of redwings and snipes, another ptarmigan, and we got Wigeon (Eurasian), Redpoll and Goosander (Common Merganser) at the nearby wetlands.
May 30 – We continued on the Ring Road, stopping at Godafoss falls. We stopped for another ptarmigan, which had landed on the road in front of us. At Myvatn Lake we added Barrow’s Goldeneye, Scaup (Greater), Pintail, Bohemian Waxwing, and Wren (Winter). A walk along the Laxa River picked up a large group of Harlequin Ducks. Displaying snipe and singing redwings were everywhere, and we had several flocks of golden plovers – one with 40-50 birds - landing in a field at our hotel.
May 31 – We drove to Egilsstadir, with a side trip to the port of Seydisfjordur. Along the way we saw a group of around 60 reindeer, the only wild mammal we were to see on the trip.
A walk through the Hallormsstadur reforestation area, largest forest in Iceland, resulted in another ptarmigan, plus Pink-footed Goose. Our guesthouse just outside of town had whimbrel, snipes, golden plovers, greylag geese in good numbers.
June 1 – We drove along the coast to Skaftafell National Park, with a stop at Hofn, picking up Snow Bunting and Lesser Black-backed Gull, along with the ever-present eiders and terns. The sand dune areas in the southeast produced many Arctic and Great Skuas.
June 2 – We drove the Ring Road toward Reykjavik, stopping at Dyrholaey bird area, but found it to be closed for the nesting season from May 1 to June 25. We stopped at Skogafoss falls, then continued on to the city. The only new bird of the day was a single Blackbird (Common).
June 3 – We drove the Golden Circle, visiting Thingvellir (six more ptarmigans and many redwings, snipes, wagtails and geese), and also Geysir and Gullfoss.
June 4 – We drove back southeast of the city to the Olfus Delta area and the Floi Nature Preserve. Here we saw three Red-throated Divers (Loons), along with good numbers of snipes, golden plovers, whimbrels, black-tailed godwits, oystercatchers and arctic skuas.
Driving the coastal road west toward Reykjanesfolkvangur, we caught a brief glimpse of what looked like a Grey Heron, but we could not be certain.
June 5 – Before returning to Keflavik airport, we visited the lighthouse area at Gardur again. The previously-seen shorebirds and waterfowl were present, and thanks to help from a friendly Brit birder, we got Purple Sandpiper, our last bird of the trip.
Iceland English Name - N.A Name - Comments
1. Great Northern Diver - Common Loon - A few
2. Red-throated Diver - Red-throated Loon - 3 at Floi Wetlands
3. Slavonian Grebe - Horned Grebe - Several , mainly Myvatn
4. Fulmar - Northern Fulmar - Hundreds on cliffs
5. Gannet - Northern Gannet - Many along shores
6. Cormorant - Great Cormorant - 1 at Gardur
7. Shag - European Shag - 1 at Gardur, several nesting at Breidafjordur
8. Whooper Swan - Whooper Swan - Many throughout
9. Greylag Goose - Greylag Goose - Many throughout
10. Pink-footed Goose - Pinkfooted Goose - Several, mainly southeast
11. Brent Goose – Brant - Several along coast
12. Mallard – Mallard - Everywhere
13. Wigeon - Eurasian Wigeon - Lots at Myvatn
14. Teal - Green-winged Teal - Several, mainly Myvatn
15. Pintail - Northern Pintail - 1 at Myvatn
16. Gadwall – Gadwall - Several at Myvatn
17. Scaup - Greater Scaup - Several at Myvatn
18. Tufted Duck - Tufted Duck - Many at Tjorn, Myvatn, others
19. Barrow’s Goldeneye - Barrow’s Goldeneye - Lots at Myvatn
20. Harlequin Duck - Harlequin Duck - Large group at Myvatn
21. Long-tailed Duck - Long-tailed Duck - Few at Myvatn
22. Eider - Common Eider - Everywhere along coasts
23. Goosander - Common Merganser - Few
24. Red-breasted Merganser - Red-breasted Merganser - Several
25. White-tailed Eagle - White-tailed Eagle - A pair on Eagle Island, Breidafjordur
26. Ptarmigan - Rock Ptarmigan - 13, many at Thingvellir
27. Oystercatcher - Eurasian Oystercatcher - Everywhere
28. Ringed Plover - Common Ringed Plover - Several, mainly Gardur
29. Golden Plover - European Golden Plover - Everywhere
30. Dunlin – Dunlin - Many at Gardur
31. Purple Sandpiper - Purple Sandpiper - 2 at Gardur
32. Knot - Red Knot - Many at Gardur
33. Sanderling – Sanderling - Many at Gardur
34. Snipe - Common Snipe - Everywhere, always displaying
35. Black-tailed Godwit - Black-tailed Godwit - Many at several places
36. Whimbrel – Whimbrel - Many at several places, singing
37. Redshank - Common Redshank - Everywhere in wetlands
38. Turnstone - Ruddy Turnstone - Many at Gardur
39. Red-necked Phalarope - Red-necked Phalarope – Dozens, mainly Myvatn
40. Great Skua - Great Skua - Several along southern coastal sands
41. Arctic Skua - Parasitic Jaeger - Many along coasts
42. Pomarine Skua - Pomarine Jaeger - 1 at Hafnaberg
43. Great Black-backed Gull - Great Black-backed Gull - Many
44. Glaucous Gull - Glaucous Gull - A few
45. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Lesser Black-backed Gull - Many
46. Herring Gull - Herring Gull - Many
47. Black-headed Gull - Common Black-headed Gull - Many
48. Kittiwake - Black-legged Kittiwake - Thousands on cliffs
49. Arctic Tern - Arctic Tern - Hundreds everywhere
50. Guillemot - Common Murre - Hundreds on cliffs
51. Brunnich’s Guillemot - Thick-billed Murre - A few on cliffs at Hafnaberg
52. Razorbill – Razorbill - A few on cliffs at Hafnaberg
53. Puffin - Atlantic Puffin - Many, various cliffs
54. Black Guillemot - Black Guillemot - Several at cliffs, elsewhere
55. Pigeon - Rock Pigeon - In Reykjavik
56. Short-eared Owl - Short-eared Owl - 1, being harassed by another bird
57. White Wagtail - White Wagtail - Common in meadows
58. Meadow Pipit - Meadow Pipit - Very common in meadows
59. Waxwing - Bohemian Waxwing - At Myvatn
60. Wren - Winter Wren - Many in birches
61. Redwing – Redwing – Everywhere, singing constantly
62. Blackbird - Common Blackbird - In Reykjavik
63. Wheatear - Northern Wheatear - Several in rocky meadows
64. Raven - Common Raven – Many seen, one on nest at Skaftafell
65. Rook – Rook - A few
66. Starling - European Starling - In Reykjavik
67. Redpoll - Common Redpoll - At Akureyri, Egilsstadir
68. Snow Bunting - Snow Bunting - Several in rocky meadows