Trip report: Iceland (June 2016)

Guided by Keith Barnes. This was a set departure tour.

Iceland is famous for its postcard scenery–the celebrated land of fire and ice. But it is equally stunning as a naturalist’s retreat, with approachable tundra birds everywhere from the time you step off the plane at Tropical Birding Trip Report Keflavik Airport, all the way till you return, and some of the finest oceanic cetacean‐watching on Earth! Iceland is ancient, both in terms of its people and its very nature. Sitting just below the Arctic Circle, it is a spectacularly beautiful land of rugged cliffs, serene fjords, cascading waterfalls, apocalyptic-looking lava fields, and magma‐spilling volcanoes. And, it is a land with a tremendous wealth of wildlife. Though species numbers were low, (as is typical of near‐Arctic regions), the quality is superb. During our 6‐night jaunt across this splendid land we were blessed with many encounters with elegant Red‐necked Phalaropes, rivers full of Harlequin Ducks and amorous Barrow’s Goldeneye, and one incredible encounter with a fearsome Gyrfalcon. The whale‐watching tours also not only delivered a full compliment of alcids including Atlantic Puffin and Black Guillemot, but incredibly close encounters with Minke and Humpback Whales, and Harbor Porpoise. Lake Myvatn impressed as both one of the finest waterfowl havens in Europe as well as a land that is being ripped in two as we were able to visit many geological sites of interest with fumaroles, vents spewing steam, boiling mud pots and giant craters that were only a few thousand years old. All in all, a stunningly beautiful land. For the photographer this region was amazing from both a landscape and wildlife photography perspective, with both apocalyptic scenery and ducks and other waterfowl on tap! From here, we made our way across the scenic north, encountering a lone White‐tailed Eagle en route to the beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The weather here had other ideas in store for us, but we still managed to visit impressive seabird cliffs, home to Thick-­‐billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot) and comical Atlantic Puffins. We also visited a variety of magical waterfalls on our day around Snaefellsness. Our second last day included visiting the famous tourist circuit‘Golden Circle’, a route filled with thermal baths, geysers, the Mid‐Atlantic Ridge, an extinct volcano crater, enormous waterfalls and Earth’s first parliament which the Viking‐related ancestors established to govern this icy world. At the end of the tour I think all participants admitted that they had high expectations from Iceland, and that somehow the country had still managed to exceed them with extraordinary scenery, super birds as well as whales and dolphins. We had seen some remarkable sights in this unique and volcanic land of fire and ice. Also, I think everyone was simply blown away by the quality of the food. Although Iceland is not well­‐known as a ‘foodie’ destination we managed a week without anyone having a meal that didn’t really like. For anyone looking for a quick getaway, to work their cameras on some new birds, and hoping to clean-­‐up on the birds, this short 7‐day tour fits the bill perfectly. Also Air Iceland now offers a ‘free’ stopover for anyone flying across the Atlantic, so if you combine this tour with Scotland and Ireland it is possible to get the airfare to Iceland for free!

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