Trip report: Iceland (May-June 2017)

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a set departure tour.

Iceland lies in the North Atlantic, just south of the Arctic Circle. Although it is biogeographically part of Europe, it serves as something of a steppingstone between North America and Europe, and has a mix of birds from both places. It is the only place in Europe where Common Loon, Harlequin Duck, and Barrow’s Goldeneye breed. Geologically, Iceland is where the European and North American plates meet. Although like most places in the far north, it is low in diversity, it has a great deal to offer birders. It’s a good place to see some Arctic specialties like Gyrfalcon and Rock Ptarmigan. It also hosts huge numbers of breeding waterfowl, alcids, and shorebirds. The latter are a particular draw, as it’s a real treat to see these birds in their breeding finery, singing and displaying, and often using very different habitats from those that they choose on migration and the wintering grounds.

Iceland is also one of the best places on Earth for whales, and this trip includes three whale-watching trips, though unfortunately on this set-departure, our Orca-watching trip was cancelled due to high winds. The landscapes of Iceland are a great draw in themselves. They range from birch forests to geysers and mudpots to quaint and verdant farms, to endless Tundra, glaciers, and snowfields. It’s a stunningly and bewitchingly beautiful country, from the moment that you step off the plane. Finally, Iceland is a relatively short and cheap flight away from both North America and the rest of Europe, and has excellent roads, charming and sparklingly clean hotels, and surprisingly wonderful food, including wonderful cheese and butter, succulent lamb, and world-class seafood.

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