15 March 2016

Iceland: 6th - 12th March

Just back from a six day trip to south-west Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis with Rachel and my parents. This was my second trip to Iceland (Rachel and I travelled around the whole island in 1999) but as this was a family sightseeing trip I didn't have many birding opportunities this time around, especially being winter.

The weather was very unsettled with heavy snow, rain, sleet, hail, strong winds, clear sky and sun all making appearances. However a partially clear sky with some hazy cloud and high aurora activity (Kp6) on the 6th produced a fantastic display directly overhead for a couple of hours at our remote hotel (Hotel Selid) near Keldur. I had seen the aurora once before, from a plane in 2003, but I had no idea what camera settings to use to photograph it. I thought I hadn't done too bad for a first attempt (below) until I saw these amazing pics taken the same night an hour's drive east along the coast where the sky was completely clear (grrr). We also saw the aurora twice more at Hotel Selid on 8th and 10th, but it was much fainter (Kp2) on both of these occasions.

Aurora Borealis over Hotel Selid near Keldur, 6 March 2016 - a superb light show for my mum's birthday

Aurora Borealis over Hotel Selid near Keldur, 6 March 2016

Being late winter, birds were thin on the ground. The exception being thousands of Northern Fulmar already back on the cliffs along the south coast and Common Raven that were frequently seen, even in towns. Iceland Gull, a winter visitor to Iceland, was also fairly common along parts of the coast. I was hoping to study some of the wintering redpolls and Snow Buntings that originate from Greenland but I didn't get a chance. 4 Redwing in Reykjavik old town were notable - early returning migrants or overwinterers?

Northern Fulmar, Skogafoss waterfall, 8 March 2016 - thousands are already back on their icy breeding cliffs all along the south coast

A lone Pink-footed Goose amongst the wildfowl at Lake Tjornin in Reykjavik, 11 March 2016 - why migrate to Norfolk when you can
get fed all winter at home?

Whooper Swan, Lake Tjornin, 11 March 2016 - you can't get much closer to wild Whoopers than you can here

1st-winter male Northern Pintail, Reykjavik City Hall pond, 11 March 2016. Never seen one like this before - presumably in arrested
moult?

2nd-winter Glaucous Gull, Reykjavik Harbour, 11 March 2016

Presumed Herring Gull x Glaucous Gull hybrid, Dyrholaey, 8 March 2016

Checklist of birds noted


Whopper Swan: 2 on water at Holtsos on 8th, 1 on pool from car beside route 1 near junction of route 219 on 8th, 12 at Dyrholaos Estuary on 8th, 14 over Hella on 9th, 3 near Holt on 10th, and c40 at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Pink-footed Goose: 1 at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Greylag Goose: Several at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Gadwall: 2m at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Mallard: 114 at Dyrholaos Estuary on 8th, c15 around the Secret Lagoon at Fludir on 9th, 9 on the pond at Reykjavik City Hall on 11th, and several at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Northern Pintail: 1 1st-winter male on the pond at Reykjavik City Hall on 11th.
Tufted Duck: 5 at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Eider: 40 (18m, 22f) at Reykjavik Harbour (mainly in the old harbour) on 11th.
Red-breasted Merganser: 1m at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Hybrid Pintail/Eurasian Wigeon: 1 on the pond at Reykjavik City Hall with 14 Mallard on 11th.
Ptarmigan: 2 in flight seen from the car on route 1 a few kilometres west of Hellisheidi Power Plant on 6th.
Northern Fulmar: Extremely common around cliffs all along the south coast, seen 7th - 10th.
White-tailed Eagle: 1 ad over Hotel selid near Keldur on 7th.
Black Guillemot: 1 ad in almost full summer plumage in Reykjavik Old Harbour on 11th.
Kittiwake: 1-2 ad feeding offshore at Dyrholaey on 8th.
Black-headed Gull: 1 1st-W at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Herring Gull: 2 ad and 1 3rd-W at Dyrholaey on 8th
Iceland Gull: Many of all ages feeding offshore at Dyrholaey on 8th.
Glaucous Gull: Many of all ages feeding offshore at Dyrholaey on 8th, several in Reykjavik Harbour on 11th.
Great Black-backed Gull: 1-2 ad at Dyrholaey on 8th.
Feral Pigeon: 1 at Kirkjubaejarklaustur on 7th, 2 at Lake Tjornin on 11th.
Merlin: 1 over Kerid crater briefly giving alarm call and stooping on 9th.
Common Raven: Very common, even in urban areas. 24 in the air together just north of Selfoss on route 35 (near route 1 junction) was the largest flock noted.
Common Starling: A small flock beside route 1 8km west of Selfoss on 11th, several in Reykjavik town centre on 11th.
Redwing: 4, including 1 singing, at Solvallagata in Reykjavik old town on 11th.
Redpoll sp. 1 heard over Fridheimar Farm at Reykholt on 9th.
Snow Bunting: c30 at Kirkjubaejarklaustur on 7th, 1 heard over Dyrholaos Estuary on 8th, a small flock beside route 1 8km west of Selfoss on 11th, and 2 flew off from the hire car car park at Keflavik International Airport on 11th.

Did the usual tourist stuff in this part of Iceland - Skaftafell waterfall, Skaftafellsjokull glacier, Dyrhólaey peninsula, Reynisfjara black beaches, Kerid crater, Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, Rekjavik.

Our base for the trip - Hotel Selid near Keldur, 6 March 2016

The view from our room at Hotel Selid, 10 March 2016

Dyrholaey, 8 March 2016 - hundreds of wing-wingers seen feeding offshore here

Kerid crater, 9 March 2016

Gullfoss, 9 March 2016

Cliffs near Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, 10 March 2016 - Northern Fulmars everywhere

After spending so much time in the tropics over the last few years I've forgotten how much I like the Arctic and Iceland in particular. I hope I don't leave it another 16 years until the next visit.

Many thanks Dave Appleton and Peter Alfrey for their views on the Pintail and some of the gulls.

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