Land of Ice and Fire

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Last week we spent a few days in Iceland with brother Rob and his wife Gi from Australia and Bob and Sue, our long time birding buddies. We flew easyJet from Luton and stayed in two places – the excellent guesthouse and cafe of Vogafjos, on the shores of Lake Myvatn (Lake of the midges!) and the hotel at Stykkisholmur  –  location for some of the filming of the recently released Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Iceland has a pretty limited resident bird population, which is augmented by a range of summer migrants. Our ‘not to be missed’ list included the ‘big three’ Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Brunnich’s Guillemot – which mostly have their only European breeding presence in Iceland. We did see sixty or so species in the five days we were there but missed out on Gyr Falcon and Red (Grey) Phalarope – oh well, gives us a reason to return. By way of compensation though was the spectacular scenery – volcanos, waterfalls and fumerals.

First though the birds, starting naturally with the water birds. Fourteen species of duck breed on Lake Myvatn, the main reason being the abundant food supply, as can be seen in this photo of a male Wigeon..

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.. and from this shot. They aren’t the biting kind of midge, like you get in Scotland, but boy there are a lot of them and they get everywhere – making birding impossible at times!

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Long-tailed Duck are present in small numbers – males in breeding plumage are difficult to beat

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First of the ‘big three’ Barrow’s Goldeneye – two males with three females. Myvatn is the principal location for this rarest of breeding nearctic ducks in Europe

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Slavonian Grebe is the only member of this genus which breeds in Iceland – just gorgeous

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Second of the ‘big three’ is the stupendous Harlequin Duck, which move from the icy, fast flowing streams to the flood plains of the Laxa river for just two months of the year to breed

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Red-necked Phalarope are just about everywhere in Iceland!

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A couple of other species which are surprisingly common, Snow Bunting and Redwing (of the Icelandic race)

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Now for the sea birds, first Arctic Skua..

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.. which prey on the abundant Arctic Tern

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Glaucous Gull, rather than Iceland Gull, are surprisingly the only breeding ‘white wingers’ on Iceland

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Last of the ‘big three’ – Brunnich’s Guillemot, a rare Arctic breeder – last seen at Portland Dorset in December 2013!

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and Black Guillemot or ‘Tystie’, as it’s known in Scotland

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An added bonus at these seabird cliffs was the small group of Orca – Killer Whale, hunting off-shore

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Now some of that spectacular scenery I was telling you about

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Finally, the iconic church at Stykkisholmur – watch out for it in the movie!

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