Sunday, 29 March 2015

Iceland, March 2015

12th-17th March 2015, myself, Andre, Steve, Sean and Aidy went north
to look for Orcas off the west coast of Iceland. As always with trips like
this the weather plays a big part in how much birding you can do and
we lost some time with 160mph winds keeping us in for most of one day!
That said, we did "enjoy" some reasonable weather and made the most
of our time there.

Our time began at Keflavik, where we met up with local birder
Guomundur Hjortur, who immediately took us to look for the
White-winged Scoter that had been present for some time off
the coastline nearby. Before sighting the Scoter we were amazed to
see  huge numbers of  Fulmar, including several Blue birds. White-
winged Gulls numbered in their thousands too.

Blue Fulmar

After failing to see the Scoter we came across this superb immature Gyrfalcon
by the roadside. It was very confiding and these shots below were taken with
just a 300mm lens!


Still dizzy from the Gyr' we caught up with the yank duck and it was close
inshore when we arrived.

White-winged Scoter

From a Britsh birders' point of view, Iceland is a superb place for White-winged
Gulls, there are thousands to be seen in winter, with Iceland Gulls out-numbering
the Glaucous as they pass through. During our visit we saw several thousand
birds with small numbers of Kumlien's type birds in most groups we encountered.

Iceland Gull

Day two and another close encounter with a Gyrfalcon-possibly the same as yesterday's 
bird was very welcome before locating a splendid drake King Eider.

 phone-scoped image

The Gyrfalcon taking flight

Unfortunately, the King Eider was too far out in the choppy water for an image.
A little dissapointing, as this was the first one i'd seen in over twenty years!
 Later, we drove east of the capital to twitch the Hooded Merganser that was present
on a small lake. Despite awful wind and sleet, we finally located it with a flock
of Tufted Duck.

Hooded Merganser

American and Eurasian Wigeons

A drake American Wigeon and White-tailed Eagle were good bonus birds too!
No Glaucous-winged Gull in Reykjavik harbour later that day for us, so we
set off for Snaefellness in ever-worsening weather.
The drive was hair-raising with strong winds, compacted ice and rain water,
all making for an interesting ride. Eventually we made it do Sudar Bar guest-
house, having first stopped off to wait for the storm to clear.

Next morning the weather was even worse! And we were being blown off our
feet going for breakfast by almost hurricane winds! Finally, by early afternoon, 
we headed out and that afternoon and the following day we had some memorable
sightings. Highlights were: another two American Wigeon, around ten Brunnich's
Guillemot, a hybrid King Eider, thousands of white-winged Gulls, 50+ Harlequins 
and of course, Orcas!!

On the road!

Hybrid Herring x Glaucous Gull

Feeding time

Iceland Gulls


Hybrid drake King x Northern Eider

Hybrid Gulls

Glaucous Gull

This Merlin was remarkably confiding!

Next morning, and the sun shines!! 
But only for a few hours. The landscape looked stunning.

Today we made our way to the end of the Snafellness peninsula, stopping to check
bays and harbours along the way. Finally, near the very tip, we came across
what we had searched for, Orcas!

Only one animal was close enough inshore for photographs and for around
forty minutes we watched it as it fed beyond the surf. Feeling elated, we then
searched the nearby Auk colony for Brunnich's Guillemot and Steve found 
one almost immediately on the sea, below the cliffs.
Still very choppy from the previous day's winds, we were well and truly taken
by surprise by the massive waves that spilled out over the cliff-tops soaking
my camera in the process.

After checking the large numbers of Razorbills and Guillemots, we found
possibly a dozen Brunnich's on the water. To our surprise one landed right
by where we were looking.

Brunich's and Common Guillemots.



On the morning of the 16th we drove back to Keflavik, stopping again to
check Reykjavik harbour for the awol Glaucous-winged Gull. Another
no show but reasonable numbers of other Gulls, allowed for some excellent
photo opportunites.

Hybrid Glauc x Herring

Later in the afternoon we checked the Ducks and Gulls north of Keflavik and
again, some excellent views and photos were obtained.


Two Kumlien's Gulls with an Iceland (left)

Kumlien's Gulls

Eider flock

With Guomundur 

All too soon it was the morning of the 17th and we left Iceland with blue
skies and sunshine. That evening, there was a great aurora, ah well...
we shall return...