Iceland


Birds of the northern climes, many seldom seen elsewhere, spend the summer and breed in enormous numbers on Iceland and its surrounding cliffs and islets.

Gyrfalcons and rare white-tailed eagles, each Europe’s largest of its kind, have strongholds here. Three monumental cliffs rising sheer nearly 1,650 feet (500 m) from the sea can be covered in summer with guillemots, Brunnich’s guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, and kittiwakes. One of them, Látrabjarg (1,467 feet/441 m) holds probably Europe’s largest seabird colony with a million or more auks, including confiding little Atlantic puffins, which seem almost to enjoy photographers, and the world’s largest razorbill colony (400,000 pairs, a third of the world population).

Myvatim—translated: “Lake of Midges” which this 14-square-mile (37-km2) combination of shallow water, lava formations, and sulphur pools definitely is—is Europe’s greatest duck breeding center. Some 50,000 pairs of 15 species nest on dozens of islands and islets and along its deeply indented shores, including Barrow’s goldeneyes, long-tailed, tufted, and harlequin ducks, goosanders, scoters, plus Slavonian grebes, whimbrels, red-necked phalaropes, golden plovers, wheatears, snow buntings, merlins, ptarmigans, and others.

Large, graceful whooper swans raise cygnets in southern lowlands at the Ölfus river estuary and marshes of the Flói Wildfowl Reserve, with large colonies of black-tailed godwits and dunlins, as well as graceful red-throated and great northern divers.

The Vestmann Islands off the southwest coast have some of the world’s most spectacular cliff colonies with huge numbers of puffins and other auks, including Brunnich’s guillemots, great crowds of gannets, Manx shearwaters, and the world’s largest Leach’s petrel colony (hard to see because of their nocturnal habits).

Auks in enormous numbers breed on Grimsey Island off the northeast—Brunnich’s guillemots, razorbills, puffins, also a large fulmar colony. Little auks are no longer here, perhaps driven away by warmer climate.

Even the center of Reykjavik has breeding birds on Lake Tjörnin—graylags, gadwalls, scaup, eiders, and arctic terns, and the city boasts an excellent salmon river, the Ellioaár, on its eastern outskirts.

White-tailed eagles and gyrfalcons are strictly protected from disturbance while breeding, as are high-density waterfowl areas during hatching. Otherwise most places are accessible by road or ferry.

Large, graceful whooper swans raise cygnets in southern lowlands at the Ölfus river estuary and marshes of the Flói Wildfowl Reserve, with large colonies of black-tailed godwits and dunlins, as well as graceful red-throated and great northern divers.

The Vestmann Islands off the southwest coast have some of the world’s most spectacular cliff colonies with huge numbers of puffins and other auks, including Brunnich’s guillemots, great crowds of gannets, Manx shearwaters, and the world’s largest Leach’s petrel colony (hard to see because of their nocturnal habits).

Auks in enormous numbers breed on Grimsey Island off the northeast—Brunnich’s guillemots, razorbills, puffins, also a large fulmar colony. Little auks are no longer here, perhaps driven away by warmer climate.

Even the center of Reykjavik has breeding birds on Lake Tjörnin—graylags, gadwalls, scaup, eiders, and arctic terns, and the city boasts an excellent salmon river, the Ellioaár, on its eastern outskirts.

White-tailed eagles and gyrfalcons are strictly protected from disturbance while breeding, as are high-density waterfowl areas during hatching. Otherwise most places are accessible by road or ferry.

Chief environmental threats include a proposed Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric power plant which is likely to put at risk thousands of pairs of pink-footed geese, of which Iceland has 90 percent of the world summer population. It would turn their main breeding grounds near Mount Snæfell into a hydroelectric power reservoir. There has been fierce debate also over plans to dredge its muddy bottom, on which the wildlife depends, for diatomaceous material. Overgrazing by sheep remains a contributor to serious erosion problems.

Surprisingly, though Iceland has more than 80 nature reserves, many of the main bird areas have no formal protected status.

Keflavík airport near the capital, Reykjavík, has daily flights to many east coast U.S. cities as well as London and Scandinavia. Lodging, also vehicle and motorbike rental are available throughout the country (it’s also possible to get around in some places on the engaging little Icelandic horses, still a pure breed, which probably came here with ninth-century Vikings).

 Guillemots spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to nest—but when they do, they come in tens of thousands, crowding together on rocky islands and sea cliffs on both sides of the North Atlantic—60,000 on Scotland’s St. Kilda alone. Each pair lays a single egg which is pointed or pyriform in shape so it won’t roll off narrow cliff edges, since they use no nesting material. They are—like other members of the auk family—sometimes known as penguins of the northern hemisphere, black and white with bolt-upright posture, rear-end legs that make them awkward on land but swiftly graceful at sea, where they literally “fly underwater.”

Guillemots spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to nest—but when they do, they come in tens of thousands, crowding together on rocky islands and sea cliffs on both sides of the North Atlantic—60,000 on Scotland’s St. Kilda alone. Each pair lays a single egg which is pointed or pyriform in shape so it won’t roll off narrow cliff edges, since they use no nesting material. They are—like other members of the auk family—sometimes known as penguins of the northern hemisphere, black and white with bolt-upright posture, rear-end legs that make them awkward on land but swiftly graceful at sea, where they literally “fly underwater.”

 Clownish little puffins with outsize multihued bills nest at the end of tunnels up to 16 feet (5 m) long in rock crevices or on cliffs at the edge of the sea, where they lay one egg—then raise their chick in total darkness. After it hatches, they feed it silvery small fish, bringing as many as 30 at once in bills ridged so when they catch one, they can tuck it back and catch another until they reach capacity. Adults drop these at the burrow, feeding the chick up to its weight in fish daily, finally stopping, at which point the youngster totters out and off the cliff-edge into the sea, where it must fend for itself. Four years later, if all goes well, it will return, find a lifelong mate and nest here itself. Atlantic puffins nest on both sides of the North Atlantic, with huge colonies on Iceland and the Faroes and Scottish islands.

Clownish little puffins with outsize multihued bills nest at the end of tunnels up to 16 feet (5 m) long in rock crevices or on cliffs at the edge of the sea, where they lay one egg—then raise their chick in total darkness. After it hatches, they feed it silvery small fish, bringing as many as 30 at once in bills ridged so when they catch one, they can tuck it back and catch another until they reach capacity. Adults drop these at the burrow, feeding the chick up to its weight in fish daily, finally stopping, at which point the youngster totters out and off the cliff-edge into the sea, where it must fend for itself. Four years later, if all goes well, it will return, find a lifelong mate and nest here itself. Atlantic puffins nest on both sides of the North Atlantic, with huge colonies on Iceland and the Faroes and Scottish islands.

Click on image for description.


Visit Tripadvisor®

for lodging information about this Reserve


ICELAND as well as...

Látrabjarg

Myvatim

Ölfus River Estuary

Flói Wildfowl Reserve

Vestmann Islands

Grimsey Island

Lake Tjörnin

Advertisement