ICELAND a photo tour in the land of ice and fire
1â€“10 June 2017 1 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Red Phalarope is one of Icelandâ€™s rarest birds and we were delighted to get close to this female on Flatey (Mike Watson). Cover photo: A drake Harlequin Duck shoots the rapids of the LaxĂĄ in Northeast Iceland (Mike Watson).
Guide: Mike Watson, Group Members: John Drakeley, George Dyne, Andreas Jarl, Gareth Rees and Martin Robinson. 2 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Our first Wild Images Photo Tour of Iceland was a tremendous success and despite the variable weather (this is Iceland remember!) we all managed some great photos. There were many great opportunities in the stunning volcanic landscape and one outstanding highlight was our stay on Flatey (‘Flat Island’) in Breiðafjörður, which was rammed with tame shorebirds and close encounters with the cameras included: Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and particularly Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. Other Flatey highlights included singing Snow Buntings, Black Guillemots and nesting Icelandic Redwings. The ferry journey was much windier than usual and produced some great eye-level Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Next up, the wonderful Snaefellsnes Peninsula was bathed in sunshine and we had some very nice light on Thick-billed Murres (or Brünnich’s Guillemots) nesting on the basalt cliffs there as well as close encounters with Rock Ptarmigan and Arctic Fox. The Sanderling on the black volcanic sand beach at Blönduos was another highlight. We spent four full days in the northeast of the country and again, during gaps in the rain (and snow at times!), we had some superb encounters. The sessions with
drake Harlequin Ducks in the whitewater of the Laxá (‘Salmon River’) and the visit to the Great Skua breeding area were both very special. We also had a great session on the shore of Lake Myvatn when bad weather had forced many otherwise more wary ducks close inshore including Barrow’s Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck. In the surrounding woodland we had some close-ups of Icelandic Wren and Brambling (Iceland’s only breeding pair). Húsavík whale watching produced plenty of Humpback Whales, albeit in rather dull grey light as well as lots of Atlantic Puffins. Although it did not allow close approach one of our most exciting moments was finding a Snowy Owl at a previously unknown location and we saw some other good birds that stayed a little out of DSLR range including Long-tailed Skua, Gyrfalcon and Common Crane. We included some of the many non-avian wonders of this incredible island, a landscape photographer’s delight including: Goðafoss (‘Falls of God’); Dettifoss (Europe’s most powerful waterfall by volume of water); Gullfoss (or the ‘golden falls’) and Geysir (the site of the origin of the word of geyser, where the impressive ‘Strokkur’ was blowing regularly during our visit). Did I mention the delicious seafood and wonderful people? Or the single mosquito on the entire trip (and I think that may have been misidentified)?
One of the tour highlights was this Snowy Owl ‘in the middle of nowhere’ (Gareth Rees).
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Away from the hustle and bustle of the incredibly busy Keflavik Airport at last we started our long journey to our accommodation in the tiny port of Stykkisholmur in Breiðafjörður. The overwhelming first impression of the Icelandic landscape on the Reykjanes Peninsula at this time of year is of a rugged tree-less countryside, covered by ancient lichen-clad lava flows with gaudy patches of blue Nootka Lupins. A little further north, towards the capital Reykjavik the lava flows give way to birch and willow trees on the outskirts of the city. The soft southwest was the first part of Iceland to be permanently settled, by the Vikings in AD871 (+/- 2 as the exact date is uncertain). The slightly milder climate here allowed trees and crops to grow and within a hundred years or so all the original woodland cover around Reykjavik had been cleared either for fuel or use as agricultural land. We did not have time to pause on our way to Stykkish but in a howling wind and heavy rain
this would have been pointless. As we drove west, green pastures and marshes flew by with shaggy maned Icelandic ponies here and there, overlooked by towering escarpments. Of course there were some birds too. In fact it is impossible to get away from shorebirds at this time of year in Iceland. Eurasian Whimbrels, Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and European Golden Plovers were commonly seen throughout the tour and it was particularly nice to hear their songs for a change. The drumming flights of Common Snipe were almost always heard as soon as we got out of the van 24/7, no matter where we were. We also saw our first birds like Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Northern Fulmars wheeled around over fjords next to their breeding cliffs (another common sight in coastal Iceland), an Arctic Skua (or Parasitic Jaeger) patrolled roadside meadows and a pair of Harlequin Ducks was in a small river leading to the sea.
Northern Fulmar is known as ‘Storm Bird’ in Icelandic. They certainly don’t mind bad weather! (Mike Watson). 4 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Eye-level Northern Fulmar from the Ferry Baldur (Mike Watson).
Eventually we reached our accommodation for the night in Stykkish, the rather swanky Fosshotel, overlooking the striking church, with its tower shaped like a Viking ship’s bow, the Seaman’s Mission and Breiðafjörður (‘Broad Fjord’) itself. It was time to draw the curtains (although it was still broad daylight outside) and get some sleep. Next came one of our most enjoyable moments in Iceland, our overnight stay on delightful Flatey (‘Flat Island’). The rain had now passed and after a rather stunning breakfast buffet we boarded the Ferry Baldur (‘Baldy’), which passed by numerous small skerries in Breiðafjörður dotted with eiders, shags, puffins and Black Guillemots. The very cold north wind resulted in a much bumpier than usual crossing and some great updrafts around the ferry, which were enjoyed by the fulmars and kittiwakes and therefore us as well, trying to keep a steady footing and photograph them. Barely off the quay on Flatey, the first Red-necked Phalaropes greeted us. They were everywhere all over the island, in every tiny little marsh and ditch and were ultra tame as usual. We spent some hours at point blank range with them in nice light.
Continuing further, Snow Buntings were singing from the rooftops of the pretty wooden houses and smart Icelandic Redwings were busy collecting worms for hungry mouths. Common Redshanks and Arctic Terns scolded us as we passed through their territories. Squabbles broke out between Common Eiders and Common Ringed Plovers, Dunlins and Blacktailed Godwits were also in evidence. Flatey is only two kilometres long and one at its widest and in the summer it is a retreat of artists, writers and wealthy bohemians as well as a number of original families. In fact money cannot buy you a house on the island, you can only acquire one by marrying into an island family or through inheritance. Its small church was built in 1926 and has an incredible mural painted on the ceiling featuring island life. Flatey has a winter population of only five people and is also the setting for Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson’s 2012 acclaimed novel ‘The Flatey Enigma’, which refers to the Flatey Book, an important medieval manuscript written between 1387 and 1394 by the monks who lived at the monastery. Then we began our search for our own ‘Flatey Enigma’, Red Phalarope. Within seconds of reaching one of the main van-
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tage points to watch for this bird, which breeds in the closed bird sanctuary at the northern end of the island, we had a couple fly past us including a stunning brick-red female. Amazingly Andreas managed to get it in the frame, although not as sharp as he had hoped for. We had a great morning and afternoon on Flatey but by evening clouds had gathered and the rain started to pour down again in a cold wind. I went out in the late evening to see if anything was happening with the Red Phalaropes and although there was some activity they were mostly in flight, distant or in terrible light. Next morning the skies began to clear again and eventually the sun even came out. Despite an invasion of Hurtigruten cruise-goers, clad in bright red parkas, the birds continued to oblige and just before we were due to leave, a beaming Andreas gave the thumbs up that he had nailed a female Red Phalarope. Happily it soon returned for all to do the same, feeding in seaweed close to the shore.
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Red-necked Phalaropes were a constant delight, the females outnumbered the males and chased them around constantly, staking their claims. Fights broke out frequently. They could be found feeding along the shore in bad weather or picking tiny insects from dandylion flowers along the paths when the sun came out. It seemed that every tiny marshy pool or ditch had a pair of phalaropes and we could even see them from our bedroom windows in the HĂłtel Flatey, which is only a stoneâ€™s throw from the shore and one of the best phalarope pools. They would even walk along the main path between the houses by the hotel itself. Incredible stuff! Roles are reversed in phalaropes, with the males incubating the eggs and tending the young, long after the females have departed, maybe to lay eggs in another nest somewhere? Our tour coincided with their mating and we managed to get some shots of this action too.
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Red-necked Phalarope action (Mike Watson).
Flatey is also the place to get close to Red-necked Phalaropes! (Mike Watson).
We all took thousands of photos on Flatey and it was easily the single most productive place that we visited. The peace and quiet (until the friendly Hurtigruten invasion half way through the second morning) was delightful and we could all have spent much more time there. Sadly, all too soon it was time to catch the early afternoon ferry to the mainland and start the next leg of our journey. A trip to the phalarope island of Flatey is a must for anyone with an interest in wildlife visiting Iceland and we were very happy to have been able to stay there, photographing the tame birds, hanging out in the hotel and watching the world go byâ€Ś and by the way, did I mention the delicious food? We will certainly be back!
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Above and next page Mike Watson, below George Dyne.
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Previous pages: Common Redshank (Martin Robinson), Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Redshank & this page: Birds and Man - Snow Buntings (Mike Watson) and Common Redshank (John Drakeley). 13 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Red-necked Phalarope (above) and a pair of Ruddy Turnstones, male on the right (Mike Watson). 14 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Arctic Tern (Martin Robinson) and Icelandic Redwing, gathering earthworms (Mike Watson). 15 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Flatey in b&w (Mike Watson). 16 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Flatey sheep (Mike Watson).
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Churches by Martin Robinson: Stykkisholmur (above) and Flatey (below).
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Off the ferry at last we made our way west along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the tiny fishing village of Grundafjordur. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is described as ‘Iceland in miniature’. It has a bit of everything: menacing volcano cones; reindeer moss-covered lava fields; snow-capped mountains; impressive basalt sea cliffs; dramatically styled modernist churches; pretty brightly painted buildings and the ubiquitous blue swathes of lupins. We began our exploration of the peninsula at the impressive bright orange Svörtuloft Lighthouse at Önðverdanes. A well-built viewpoint complete with safety railings etc overlooks some seabird cliff nesting ledges and a very convenient row at the top of the cliff contained Razorbill, Common Murre (or Guillemot) and the highly sought-after Thick-billed Murre (or Brünnich’s Guillemot). The latter high arctic breeders are at the southernmost limit of their range in Iceland but are still easy to find at Önðverdanes. However, a pair was incubating their massive blue speckled egg at another vantage
point and in an even nicer position and light. Inland from the basalt cliffs lie the immense lava fields emanating from snow-capped Snæfellsjökull (1446m). It is probably best known as the setting for French author Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ – “Whoever descends into the crater of Sneffels Yocul can reach the center of the earth”. Fancy living on a volcano, remembering that its 1100 known of years of dormancy is only the blink of an eye in geological time? Research has shown that the Snæfellsjökull system has erupted at least 25 times in the last 10,000 years. I wonder when the next one will be? Iceland continues to experience much seismic activity and some of its volcanoes do not give much warning of an eruption. For instance Hekla, the ‘Witch Volcano’ in Southern Iceland was considered to be the gates of hell until the 1800s. It ought to be feared as it is aseismic and there is sometimes a warning of only an hour or less of an eruption, eruptions can last for years and there have been 20-
Rock Ptarmigan, Snæfellsjökull National Park (Gareth Rees).
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Previous page: Thick-billed Murres. This page: Snaefellsjรถkull and basalt seabird cliffs at รnรฐverdanes (Mike Watson). 21 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Svörtuloft Lighthouse and ‘Guillemots in sight!’ (Martin Robinson). 22 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Arctic Foxes are widely persecuted in Iceland but are protected in National Parks (Mike Watson).
30 of them since the first documented in AD1104. Traces of its eruptions have been detected in Scottish bogs, while in Ireland up to a decade of negligible growth can be seen in tree rings, all making the 2010 eruption of the well-known Eyafjallajรถkull seem rather insignificant. Another reason to fear Hekla is that the longer a volcano remains dormant then the more violent the eventual eruption is expected to be. We will all be in big trouble if it blows in our lifetime. We spent some hours exploring the lava fields seeing at least 10 male Rock Ptarmigans, still wearing many white feathers of their winter plumage and allowing close approach, as well as a few Northern Wheatears and Snow Buntings. The lava fields are generally inhospitable and hold few species but European Golden Plover is one of the few shorebirds that appears to like them. We also enjoyed some very nice encounters with Arctic Foxes by the roadside, no doubt especially active when feeding their hungry cubs. A couple of young Iceland Gulls was amongst a roadside flock of Glau23 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
cous Gulls but otherwise variety was limited on the lava. We set off early next morning and spent two hours on the road without seeing a single vehicle! We stopped for breakfast at one of the ubiquitous N1 petrol stations, selling all kinds of souvenirs and clothing. The hats were quite popular with some of our guys who had either lost theirs already or brought a sun hat(!) instead. The long journey eastwards was livened up by a great photo session with a gorgeous breeding-plumaged Sanderling at the mouth of the Blรถnduos Estuary, running around on a black volcanic sand beach. Further east our first Pink-footed Geese, included a roadside colony where some adults allowed quite close approach and a little further on we started to see Harlequin Ducks on the fast-flowing braided rivers. After a couple of false starts we found some that stayed put and an impromptu photo session followed, trying to catch them in the whitewater. We could have done with a little sunshine though.
Red-throated Diver, Rif Lagoons (Gareth Rees).
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A Sanderling in breeding plumage, next stop Greenland? (Mike Watson).
Late in the day we eventually reached Húsavík (‘Bay of Houses’), population 2,237, which was the first place in Iceland to be settled by a Norse man, in AD870, when Viking Garðarr Svavarsson spent a winter here. According to history he owned land in Zealand (Denmark) and was married to a woman from the Hebrides. During a voyage to those isles to claim his inheritance from his father-in-law, he sailed into a storm, which pushed his ship far to the north until he reached the eastern coast of Iceland. Húsavík is an outlet for silica mined at Lake Myvatn and there is now a large silica processing plant being built just to the north of the town. However, its other sources of income are fishing and tourism (particularly whale-watching). We took two whale watching boat trips on this itinerary, spaced in the hope of at least one of them being in good weather. Well the weather in the northeast was generally pretty poor with a cold northerly airflow bringing frequent showers and sunny intervals were quite few. Otherwise the
whale watching trips were excellent. We received flawless narratives from the well-trained callers and even hot chocolate and cinnamon buns for the return dash to port. Sea conditions were fairly rough, which hindered cetacean observation but we did have numerous sightings of Humpback Whales, maybe eight or more, which were feeding more or less in the same area on each trip and we enjoyed some great surface action with these incredible creatures. The whale watching boats co-operate with each other so sightings are more or less guaranteed. I think the success rate is more than 95% for instance for a whale sighting of some sort and the later boats are particularly successful simply ‘taking the baton’ from the earlier ones. The waters of the bay are not so deep and the food is near the surface so the whales do not have to dive for long, surfacing every five minutes or so. Therefore we got a lot of views, albeit mostly just a blow from the nostrils, some back and dorsal find and tail
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Humpback Whale, Skjálfandi Bay, Húsavík. These whales migrate to northern Iceland from the Caribbean every summer! (Mike Watson). Next page: Skjálfandi Bay whale watching boat (Martin Robinson).
flukes to end each series of views. Some were pretty close to the boat and the sound of the blow was often the first sign of a whale surfacing nearby. We also saw a couple of distant but fast-moving as ever, Minke Whales and a couple of small pods of White-beaked Dolphins on the boat trips but these were far less obliging than the Humpbacks. Birds on the boat trips included Great and Arctic Skuas, Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre and Black Guillemot as well as many Northern Fulmars, Arctic Terns and Black-legged Kittiwakes. There were a few first summer birds amongst the mostly adults of the latter. However, bird photographic opportunities were rather poor on the small boat with a lot of wave movement and lots of other folks on board and in dull light. Excuses excuses but that’s how it goes sometimes. The light is everything. After the whale trips we stocked up with picnic food and headed off either to the Lake Myvatn area or the Tjörnes Peninsula.
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One evening I got a message from my friend, Húsavík birder, Gaukur Hjartason that there was a Red Phalarope just down the road. It was a surreal feeling going out birding at 2230 (10.30pm) but there it was, riding the surf below the fish farm at Kaldbakskot. No doubt a product of the ill northerly wind! It was still present the following day and while the guys were trying to photograph Common Loons I decided to try my luck with the phalarope and so made my way down the cliffs to the black sand beach and played chicken with the waves for a while. The seventh one got me a few times but happily only wet feet. The waves here do not have such a big fetch after all. The big red was feeding with several Red-necked Phalaropes, the size difference between them quite obvious in this plumage. They are also more common in northeast Greenland and especially even further north in Svalbard and this extremely cold spring saw record numbers in northern Norway for instance around the same time so maybe this was a High Arctic bird? The big red was gone next day when the weather cleared. Also along the desolate beach were several Harlequin Ducks, almost all drakes (most females were still upriver on nests). They had already started to return to the coast for the rest of the year! A pretty breeding plumaged Sanderling dropped in briefly but quickly moved on, presumably hurrying north for the Arctic Summer to Greenland (they are pretty scarce in Svalbard). I also noticed some Oysterplants or Sea Bluebells (Mertensia maritima) growing here, they are pioneers of bare ground, particularly beaches and one of the few plants of the Arctic with blue flowers. Red Phalarope, female at Húsavík and next page: Footsteps on Húsavik beach and Oysterplant (Mike Watson).
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Eurasian Whimbrel in Nootka Lupins (above) and European Golden Plover at HĂşsavĂk (Mike Watson). 30 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
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Picture a landscape of a rushing torrent, lined with marigolds, cascading through lush green marshes and heathland dotted with lovely wildflowers. Dark volcano cones loom and snow-covered mountains stretch into the distance under a suffocating blanket of leaden skies. This is Iceland, the domain of the Harlequin Duck. Just as attractive as the landscape, which it inhabits, this hardy little duck could well be the prettiest of all, depending on your favourite colour. Blue maybe? Finished with striking ivory white spots and stripes, as well as deep chestnut flanks and head markings drake Harlequins are masterpieces of natural design. We had hoped for some interesting light at the time of our visit to the Lake Myvatn area and after a stormy couple of days the weather was due to clear and maybe there might even be a little sunshine. I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye that I wanted to capture of a drake shooting the white water rapids on the Laxá. It was hard work to keep up, constantly metering from the vegeta-
tion on the banks of the river (automatic settings never get it quite right) but once you’ve set a shutter speed sufficient to freeze the action, all you need to do is to concentrate on focusing on the birds, which is another challenge, as they disappear momentarily behind standing waves in the white-water of the river or paddle frantically, opening their wings and half flying through the rapids. With plenty of time to spend close to the water’s edge (don’t fall in by the way!) we enjoyed a steady stream of birds coming and going and some superb action in the water. I think we got pretty close to what we wanted. This was a great time to catch the drakes. When the females have settled down to nest but the drakes have not yet disappeared downstream towards the coast. A week later and they were all but gone. Also along the gorgeous Laxá (‘Salmon River’) were Barrow’s Goldeneyes (a little flighty here though), Eurasian Whimbrels, Dunlin, European Golden Plover and Black-tailed Godwits.
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“It is, of course unthinkable that anyone should go to Iceland for birds without visiting Myvatn”. John Gooders 1970.
When I was a child I borrowed John Gooders’s 1970 book ‘Where to watch birds in Britain and Europe’ from the library numerous times. It has a chapter about Iceland and I remember reading about one site in particular, Lake Myvatn. He wrote “It is, of course unthinkable that anyone should go to Iceland for birds without visiting Myvatn”. Lake Myvatn is full of waterfowl, a magical area of crater lakes and marshes surrounded by volcano cones, root-less craters, historic lava flows and hot springs. Myvatn famously means ‘Fly Water’ but fortunately it was cold most of the time when we visited and therefore we were spared the dreaded swarms of insects. Amongst the throng of mostly Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall just smaller numbers of Tufted Ducks were Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser. Also on Myvatn’s main lake and its many smaller satellite lakes were nesting Horned Grebes and Red-necked Phalaropes.
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Smart Drake Barrow’s Goldeneyes were a feature of Lake Myvatn but they don’t always allow close views (Mike Watson).
The worst weather day in the north was really grim, one degree Celsius a cold north wind and snow! This was the sixth of June for goodness sake! We spent some time in the highlands thinking that snowflakes in the air might look nice in photos but there were so many the autofocus couldn’t see beyond them. OK so we had to get close to birds then. Even in horrible dull light some bird photography is still possible but it needs to be closeup. So we abandoned our plans and headed back down to the lake. The north wind was forcing a lot of waterfowl close to the shore of Myvatn and ducks were desperate to feed up before laying eggs and drakes did not want to leave their sides. So we enjoyed frame-filling views of Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Long-tailed Ducks today. The ducks were completely unconcerned at our presence and I haven’t seen this behavior here before. We didn’t see any flies at Myvatn on this tour owing to the cold weather. This changed the following week with the Birdquest group and we literally got a taste of the ‘Fly Water’ experience. There are so many in the air when this happens that photos are completely ruined, unless that is the effect you want!
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Previous pages: Long-tailed Ducks, Common Crane and Icelandic Wren. This page: Icelandic Redwing (above) and Brambling, female (Mike Watson). 42 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Feel the power of Dettifoss, with 193 cubic metres per second going over the falls! (Martin Robinson).
The first of several flocks of Pink-footed Geese seen over the next few days headed north, apparently on their way to Greenland to moult! During our time in the Myvatn area we visited a lovely little birch wood with a carpet of Wood Crane’s-bill (Geranium sylvaticum) and Alpine Bartsia (Bartsia alpina) where we enjoyed some excellent views of a pair of Icelandic Wrens, as well as many Redwing parents doing the same. Great views were had of Icelandic Redpoll and we also caught up with Iceland’s only pair of breeding Bramblings. Several singing male Bramblings are seen in Iceland each spring but only this one seems to have found a mate. Our exploration in the area also produced a Common Crane, presumably one of Iceland’s only breeding pair of them too! Stocked up again with pastries we headed north this time around the Tjörnes Peninsula. We passed by impressive sea cliffs and pretty eutrophic lakes, many of which were created by subsidence during earthquakes, one large lake as recently as 1977 during the ‘Krafla volcano-tectonic episode’, its name Skjálfavatn meaning
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You can feel the rocks shaking as you get closer to Dettifoss! (Mike Watson).
‘Shaking Water’. We had a quick look at the mid-Atlantic ridge, which is actually a rift in northern Iceland. Iceland is growing by c2cm per year right here, with the Eurasian and North American plates being torn apart. Here Europe stands taller than America with a rift between them. We ended the day today at Dettifoss (‘Collapsing Waterfall’), Europe’s most powerful waterfall by volume with 193 cubic metres per second going over the 100m wide/45m high drop into the narrow canyon of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which is a glacial melt river of the Vatnajökull (‘Lakes Glacier’). It was a sound as well as a sight experience as the huge volume of brownish glacial water thundered over the falls making the rocks around it shake! The waterfall appeared in the 2012 sci-fi film ‘Prometheus’ as an alien planet landscape. This time we viewed it from the east, which despite being on the least accessible side of the river and the opposite side to the visitor centre (!?), has by far the best aspect.
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On another day we visited Goðafoss (‘God Falls’), which were so named when a local chieftain converted to Christianity and threw all the icons of his Norse gods over the falls. This is particularly lovely waterfall and very photogenic. Happily there is a café nearby too! The final leg of our journey was a very long driving day partly re-tracing our previous route but detouring for a pair of White-tailed Eagles again at the unlikeliest of sites for an eyrie. In Iceland they sometimes nest on tiny skerries in the fjords. They were ultra distant too so no photos. We passed Reykjavík, which does not feel like a city at all, with a population of 119,000. It is smaller than High Wycombe and would only just scrape into the top 60 largest towns and cities in the UK, ahead of Eastbourne but behind Accrington! The whole country’s population is only 322,900, significantly smaller even than Luxembourg, Malta or the Bahamas!
The lovely Goðafoss not far from Húsavík (Martin Robinson).
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Gullfoss. Thought by some to be the most magnificent waterfall of all but there are a lot of contenders for that title (Martin Robinson).
The final leg of the tour was simply some relaxing sightseeing, first the impressive Strokkur geysir at the small hamlet of Geysir – the origin of the word. This is the most active of Iceland’s geysers, erupting every few minutes and it even did a couple of double blows for us, something I had not seen before this year. The challenge is to capture a sequence including the surreal looking blue dome of water of the geyser, just before it bursts to send a steaming jet into the air. Next came the excellent Gullfoss (‘Golden Falls’), with its thundering staggered double step falls and deep canyon. The programme for the final morning of the tour was simply another of the ‘golden circle’ tourist attractions, Þingvellir, however, our wildlife-focused guys this time all opted to chase a Gyrfalcon sighting, which turned out to be a hoax, although we did get some very nice shots of whimbrel and ravens. All too soon though it was time to return to Keflavík International Airport, just over an hour away where our adventure ended.
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Everywhere we went we found the local people incredibly polite and friendly as always. This, combined with a good road network, spotlessly clean hotels, excellent food (especially soups and seafood) makes Iceland a very enjoyable country to travel in. After our 2700km road trip we felt like we had seen quite a lot of it. Finally thanks to our very enthusiastic group of photographers who made this photo tour so much fun, we had a lot of laughs! Thanks also to our friends in Iceland, Gaukur Hjartason, Yann Kolbeinsson and Edward Rickson, without whose help we would certainly have seen fewer birds.
We found ourselves on a remote barren plain, covered with tiny black lava pebbles, in the company of a pair of Great Skuas (or Bonxies). Fantastic stuff! (Mike Watson).
Mike Watson June 2017
47 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
48 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com
Things don’t always work out as planned. This is June in Iceland! A futile attempt to get some snowflakes in our photos in the highlands. “Was it worth it?’ Obviously not. (John Drakeley).
49 Wild Images Tour Report: Iceland 2017 www.wildimages-phototours.com