On Sunday the 18th of October we left to drive towards Helsinki quite early in the morning. There was no reason to stop on the way so finally we were a little bit early Helsinki-Vantaa airway-station carrying our luggage.
Our flight to Iceland left on time and I fell asleep almost immediately. Hanna woke me up a couple of times when she was taking pictures of amazing Turku islands, then Skandic Mountains and finally glaciers in Iceland. We even saw Jökulsárlón pretty well from plane.
We landed to Keflavik international airport about 30 minutes early and soon found our luggage. Then we took some money from ATM and tried to find a man from our rental-car company. After a half an hour waiting a man came to pick us up to the office and after he had given a car first to an Asiatic couple, he showed us our VW Caddy and gave us introduction how everything worked as this car had bed, cooker, refrigerator, tap and so on.
Soon we were ready to hit the road and first we stopped in a shop in Keflavik and then even though the sun was already setting stopped on the coast of Njarðvík, so we could plan a little bit how to start checking the coast-line on the next morning. Of course we hoped to find a White-winged Scoter that had already overwintered twice on the coast of Njarðvík and had been seen again some days before the first time for this autumn.
We managed to find some Eiders, Great Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Glaucous Gulls and Kittiwakes and a Black Guillemot before it came too dark. While searching for a good place to stay overnight, we still saw a flock of Starlings and finally decided to stop to a big parking area on the coast, right behind the shopping street. There we arranged the beds and as it came very dark very soon, we were ready to sleep already at 8 p.m.
On the coast of Reykjanesbær
On the 19th of October we woke up a couple of times too early to realize that it was still completely dark. Finally we started to pack everything ready, changed birding clothes and after a quick breakfast we were ready start birding. While packing we had already seen Herring Gulls, some Gannets and a flock of Turnstones.
We decided to go to start by the pools that we had seen last evening and after we had parked to the parking place we saw the signs that told that these Njarðvíkurfitjum pools really were a birding place. We found immediately a big flock of gulls with Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. Also Eurasian Wigeons, Mallards and a Shelduck were found and then Hanna found a male American Wigeon. I had read that there had been an American Wigeon somewhere in Iceland but I hadn’t checked the place at all. Later we found out that this was exactly the bird.
On the sea we saw some Cormorants, but then it started to rain so we decided to start searching for the White-winged Scoter. I had got a map-point from Yann Kolbeisson that showed the area where the bird had usually been seen. So we planned to start driving towards north and stop many times and then continue to Garður.
Anyway I still decided to make a stop in a harbor and check the sea there as we could see the southern part of the big bay there. First I found a Razorbill and then a very distant darkish bird with Eiders. The flock was maybe 4 kilometers from us, but I could see that the bill-shape was strange. After some waiting the rain stopped for some seconds and we could see that it was a velvet scoter species with big white streak under the eye and strange looking bill. We had no idea if there were any Velvet Scoters in Iceland so we had to see the bird better.
So we planned to drive to the other side of the bay where we saw a bright yellow house. Birds looked to be quite close to that house. It was a long drive around the bay and while getting close to the yellow house, we a pool with some Mallard and Wigeons but also a big flock of Golden Plovers on the grasses around the pool. Of course we had to check the flock for American Golden Plover but only other bird we saw was a Meadow Pipit.
When we finally got to close to that yellow house we found a track that was on the shore. Soon Hanna found the scoter and it really was the White-winged Scoter! It wasn’t far but again it was raining pretty hard so we couldn’t get very good pictures. It was very active diver too. We also saw a Red-throated and a Great Northern Diver while watching this lifer duck. Also a Wren was hiding and calling a little bit on the walls.
Finally the scoter had swum further and started to sleep so we decided to start driving towards Garður. Now we didn’t make so many stops on the way, so soon we were closing the town where we saw first flocks of Greylag Geese. One flock was feeding on the grass of one house.
We had got tips to some birding place from Yann and soon we found the pools in Garður.There were lots of Wigeons and Mallards, a couple of Teals and a couple of hundreds Golden Plovers with a single Ruff. While I was scanning the flock in quite heavy rain again, a man with a dog came and flushed all the birds. The plovers landed behind the grassy hills, so we gave up and continued to the northern tip to Garðskagi lighthouse. Later we heard that someone had seen on the very same day an American Golden Plover in the flock that we had missed.
In Garðskagi we parked our car next to the lighthouse and soon were scanning the shore, rocks and of course the sea for birds. Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks and a Common Scoter were swimming on the sea, on the rocks we saw a Snow Bunting and some flocks of Purple Sandpipers and on the sea we saw plenty of Gannets, a couple of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers and 3 Fulmars. A couple of Wrens were hiding on the rocky wall again. Then the rain got harder again and we decided to continue along the western coast of the bay towards south. In Sandgerði pools we found again big flocks og gulls, but because of the rain the still weren’t photographed. The first Common Gull of the trip was also seen. From the shore behind the harbor we found some waders: Oystercatchers, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Redshank and a Dunlin.
On the way to Hafnir we saw the first Blackbird of the trip and in Hafnir we drove straight to harbor, where we got shelter from the heavy wind behind the rocky wall. There were lots of birds on the bay and almost immediately we found a flock of 13 Harlequin Ducks! Hanna got a lifer! Lots of Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks were seen but also 12 Great Northern Divers, 3 White-bellied Brent Geese, 2 very distant Slavonian Grebes, 2 Redshanks and a Great Skua that was migrating over the sea.
When the rain got worse again, we started to drive towards Njarðvik. There we went to see if the White-winged Scoter was still present. We found the bird again but it was much further. Anyway the rain had finally stopped, so we still took some pictures. We also saw the first Marlin of the trip.
The weather –forecast was really bad for the next day so we decided to have a museum-day. So we started to drive towards Reykjavik. On the way we saw the first Whooper Swans. But because of the museums were opening only at 10 a.m. we knew that we had some time for birding earlier in the morning. So we headed to Hrauntúnstjörn water-protection area where a Hooded Merganser had been seen in a couple of previous winters.
We checked the tiny lake already in the dark, but saw only a flock of Tufted Ducks. Then we cooked some dinner and while organizing the car again we heard some Redwings and a couple of Common Snipes and at 8 p.m. we were ready to sleep again – well I was still reading for an hour.
Museums and Blue Lagoon
On the 20th of October Hrauntúnstjörn was still without an American merganser, so we soon headed to Lake Elliðavatnin nearby. There were lots of Tufted Ducks with a couple of Scaups, but all the mergansers were Red-breasted Mergansers. .A Great Northern Diver was giving a shy call and the first Redpolls were heard too. Redwings seemed to be everywhere now!
At 10 a.m. we left towards Reykjavik and were surprised how easy the traffic was. Navigator guided us easily to a parking place near Settlement Museum and soon we were wondering this museum that had been built around a 1000th century Viking long-house. When we had seen everything and leaving, Hanna heard that our next target, National Museum was closed because of a strike. So instead we headed to Old Reykjavik where was a small lake with lots of birds. Mallards, Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Tufted Ducks, gulls and even a Pink-footed Goose were begging food there. Also some Feral Doves were seen there.
The weather that had been surprisingly good in the morning, was now getting really bad, so we headed to Saga Museum where we spent a half an hour listening to stories and Hanna of course watching old clothes. Then we visited a couple of shops, but as it still wasn’t too late, we decided to do still something. So we drove to Blue Lagoon!
Already the walk from the parking place to Blue Lagoon was giving as an idea what it would be. It was extremely windy and sleeting! Anyway Hanna was positive and said that at least we will get a good contrast!
The tickets to Blue Lagoon were quite expensive so we couldn’t just go for a short visit. So we tried to survive the weather and stayed quite some time on the pool, trying to find the hottest and least windy place. Finally we found a good spot and managed to even enjoy the warmth of the water. We of course had sauna too. So it was already evening when we were walking back to our car in a very heavy rain.
We went to stay night to Krysuvík to Seltún geotermic area where we had dinner and soon were ready to go to sleep, again too early.
Lots of amazing places
On the 21st day I woke up at 5 a.m. because I heard something rustling in the car. I woke up Hanna too and she said immediately that we had a mouse in our car. Anyway we made some noise to make the mouse to stop whatever it was doing and tried to sleep again. But soon it was really scrunching something, probably Hanna’s new bag. So we just had to get out, get everything out from the car and then try to catch the mouse. It didn’t take long to find this surprisingly big mouse that was now under the back seat. But catching it was a different thing. Finally Hanna managed to push it out from the door and then I drove immediately further before we carried everything back to the car. Anyway then it was already time to start preparing breakfast.
After the breakfast we walked a short track around Seltúnin hot pools. It was even 200 degrees hot under the surface. We also climbed up to the mountain where we found some new pools and nice colors on the ground. We also had a nice view to crater-lake Grænavatn.
Once we were back in our car we continued along the coastal road towards our next target-place. In Hliðarvatn we saw Greylag Geese, 30Teals, 100 Tufted Ducks, 7 Scaups and a Merlin and pretty soon we got to parking place of Raufarholstellir. Very close to the parking place started a 1.3 km long cave where we went into wearing head-lamps. We walked some hundreds of meters inside the cave and it was really amazing experience! The colors on the rocky walls were amazing! Anyway we missed wearing helmets and there was also so much water dropping that Hanna started to get worried about her camera. We also had too much clothes, as it was very warm!
Next we headed to River Sog and Lake Úlfljótsvatn which Yann had told to be the best places to find Barrow’s Goldeneyes outside Myvatn of course. Hanna had planned our trip except the birding part, but luckily all the tips I had got were almost exactly on our route and also now we had only a short drive to Sog. Unfortunately the river was mostly pretty far from the road and we could check it only from the couple of places. Anyway we found a female Harlequin Duck and saw lots of Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese migrating against the mountains.
In Úlfljótsvatn we first checked the southern side driving up to the hills, where it was really good to scope all the birds. There were lots of Tufted Ducks, 14 Scaups, Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Great Northern Divers. Then we headed towards the northern part of the lake, but still found no Barrow’s Goldeneyes. I even sent an SMS to Yann and asked if there was some place better than the others ora ny other place to try and of course asked and got an answer that both ends of the lake are the best. Then we realized that we still hadn’t check the very northern end of the lake. And that was where we finally found a flock of Barrow’s Goldeneyes! When Hanna was getting her lifer, she first found a goldeneye that didn’t look quite what she had expected. She asked me to check the bird and it was a Common Goldeneye! Anyway there were 10 Barrow’s Goldeneye too, so Hanna got her lifer. We also saw 10 Goosanders and a Slavonian Grebe before headed towards Þingvellir aka Thingvellir National Park.
We had lost too much time while searching for the Barrow’s Goldeneyes, but finally got to Pingvelliri where European and American tectonic plates were moving away from each other. We walked a few kilometers taking pictures and reading stories from the signs. The place had been famous for a long time, already in Viking time. Only better birds we saw were a couple of Merlins.
As we had still time, we decided to continue on the Golden Circle and continued towards Geysir. But we had to make the first stop very soon when we found a male Barrow’s Goldeneye very close to the shore on Þingvallavatn. It was swimming further but anyway we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this species. The birds in Úlfljótsvatn had been far too distant.
After an hour driving we got to Geysir and walked straight to see active Strokkur Geyser. After a short wait Stokkur erupted very shy small bubble, but soon after that it erupted well towards the sky! Even though it was cold and windy we watched the geysir erupting about 10 times about every 8th or 10th minute and tried to take lots of pictures of eruptions. Some of the eruption were only very little but then the next one was even bigger than normally. A couple of times it erupted twice in a row pretty well. Of course we walked around the park and saw a big Geysir too but it erupts very rarely nowadays.
It was already getting darker when we decided to see the 3rd Golden Circle attraction Gullfoss waterfall. Luckily it was only 10 kilometers drive and soon we were watching this amazing big waterfall. Water was in the air and it was really getting dark, but still we managed to get nice picture of this 32 meters dropping waterfall-complex.
It was dark when we still drove back to Geysir for the best tourist-shop. Anyway we found nothing to buy and soon were ready to go somewhere. As we had been so active and managed to do so much already, we decided to do more – we planned to drive as far east as possible towards Skaftafell National Park. The weather for the next day looked promising and we had some Glaciers to see!
It was a long 309 kilometers drive to Skaftafell so we left immediately. In Reykholt we saw a Short-eared Owl in the head-lights and while Hanna was sleeping I drove as far as it was possible before we had to fill the tank with diesel. Luckily we managed to find a shop and buy something to eat too just before it was 8 p.m. and it was closing.
It was very tiring drive but I still had to stay focused as all the bridges were very narrow and there was room for only one car in time. Finally we managed to get to the parking place of Skaftafell National Park and soon we were ready to sleep.
On the 22nd of October we woke up when it was raining very hard! It had been raining whole night and it didn’t really look like getting any better soon. There was good place to make some breakfast under a roof while a Redwing was begging for food on the table just half a meter from us (really!) and also a Ptarmigan came to see us. When the rain got a little bit weaker, we left to walk towards a Svartifoss waterfall.
On the tenting area there were several Ptarmigans feeding on a grass, which wasn’t the biotope we had expected to find this species.
After some walking there was a sign that told that a normal track to Svartifoss was under construction and we had to take a smaller path. It was a longer way and the sign told that it would take at least 2 hours to get there and back. The rain was just getting worse but we kept on going. It took about an hour to get to Svartifoss which isn’t very big waterfall but the black basalt-walls are very impressive!
After we had taken lots of pictures, we continued along the path and the way back was a little bit further but of course now mostly downhill. And exactly after totally 2 hours walking, we were back in the parking area. We visited the information center where I managed to get internet connection and check the recent bird-sights and could see that there weren’t any other rarities than a Red-eyed Vireo that Yann had already sent a message about. We actually had been very close to the place where it had been found but only passing by on the previous evening. Luckily we weren’t on panic to see this species. I also bought an update of the Icelandic bird-book before we started to drive towards Jökulsárlón.
After 45 minutes driving we parked to Jökulsárlón and walked in a rain again to see this amazing glacier-lagoon with many ice-rifts moving towards the sea. It was a high tide so ice wasn’t going under the bridge. We walked on the shore of the lagoon and took lots of pictures of the ice with different shapes and colors.
We also visited the shore where smaller ice was melting on the black sand-beach and took some pictures towards the lagoon also on the southern side of it before started to drive back towards west.
We still turned a couple of times from the mainroad to photograph the glaciers on the mountainside and then turned towards Fjallsárlónin glacier-lagoon. We ewalked along the shore towards the glacier for more than a kilometer to get better pictures but unfortunately the mountains were still partly behind a fog. Then it started to rain harder again and we hurried back to our car and started along drive towards Reykjavik. Luckily our car had pretty good air-condition and we always managed to get our clothes dry while driving.
The weather forecast was very bad for the next day so we had planned to visit the National Museum in the morning. We had also got information that there had been a Lesser Scaup a week before in a small lake near the city, so we planned to go to sleep somewhere near the lake and once we found the lake from the map, we realized that it was very close to Hrauntúnstjörn and Hooded Merganser place, so we headed there.
While we were finally driving along the motorway towards Reykjavik it started to get cold outside and as our car had very much humidity inside because of our wet clothes, the windows started to get very badly misty. The road had absolutely too many poles and the lines very pretty narrow and there was nowhere to stop. I started to get worried as I could see only through a small hole but finally there was a gas-station where we could stop and wait the window to open. Finally after 370 kilometers driving from Jökulsárlón,, we parked to a familiar spot and were soon ready to sleep.
Museum and geese and more
On the 23rd day I started with checking that there were still nothing else than Tufted Ducks on the Hrauntúnstjörn. Then we drove 5 kilometers to Lake Rauðavatn. But the lake was empty. We were already leaving, when we saw a flock of 20 wigeons landing to the lake and of course checked them. Surprisingly one of them was a nice male American Wigeon! And of course we had to take some pictures of this self-found American duck.
Soon we were parking to the National Museum parking place and then watching all the Iron Age stuff there was. After more than an hour we had seen everything interesting and as the weather was again completely different than the forecast had told, we started to plan what to do next. And soon we were driving towards north and Hvanneyri as I had got some information from Yann about where to find one more interesting bird I wanted to see.
It took an hour to get close to Hvanneyri. On the way we drove under Hvalfjörður using a 6.3 kilometers long tunnel which cost 1000 krones to use. On the first really good looking area we stopped and started to scan the big open area for geese. And soon I found a flock of very distant Greenland White-fronted Geese. They seemed to be pretty close to the village, so we soon drove there and walked to get closer to the birds. But after some walking we realized that they were still too far from there too. But then we saw another flock of geese landing to the other side of the village. And there on the fields there were lots of them!
First we photographed one lonely goose on the grass of the church but then moved to the fields where we found altogether 1600 Greenland White-fronted Geese, 50 Pink-footed Geese and 10 Barnacle Geese. Many of the Greenland White-fronted Geese were wearing neck-rings. We took lots of pictures and some videos of these birds that may one day be a full species.
We were happy when we continued towards Grábrók volcanos that were onalu about 30 kiometers from Hvanneyri and along the main-road.
Grábrók volcanos aren’t really big but very classic example of volcanos with lava-fields. We climbed to the top of the closer mountain and got really nice pictures from there. Then we realized that we had done everything that we had planned and planned to do birding on the last day we still had. So we were soon driving towards Keflavik.
Now we drove around a long Hvalfjörður and saw lots of Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks and more than 200 Oystercatchers on the shore.
After a couple of hours driving we parked to Garðskagi lighthouse and started to prepare the car for the night. Surprisingly there was warm water on the small campsite building so cooking was easy. And soon we were again sleeping.
On the 24rd of October when we woke up it was very windy outside but big flocks of gulls, mostly Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were flying over us. After a quickly breakfast we were seawatching behind the shelter of the lighthouse. There were lots of birds moving: 80 Kittiwakes, about 100 auks which at least 20 I could identify as Common Guillemots, Gannets, 15 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Fulmar were seen. There were both Cormorants and Shags on the rocks and when we were already stopping I noticed 2 Sooty Shearwater disappearing behind the lighthouse. They weren’t far at all but somehow we couldn’t find them anymore. Luckily after some waiting we could find 2 more lonely Sooty Shearwaters which were much more distant.
Soon we got bored to too hard wind and also it was getting much quieter too. So we headed to Garður pools which were surprisingly empty. On.Sandgerði pools we found again lots of gulls and even more of them were found on the shore behind the buildings which was found to be a very good spot for seawatching too as the buildings sheltered perfectly from the wind. While Hanna was photographing the gulls, I saw a Shoveler flying over me and on the shore there were a Ruff and a Grey Plover. On the sea I saw a few Fulmars, 16 Great Northern Divers and so on. We had already earlier tried to find kumlieni-type of Iceland Gulls and seen a couple of good candidates but now we finally managed to find a couple of clear Kumlien’s Gulls.
From the harbor we found again some Oystercatchers, a Redshank and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, but now there was also a Curlew. In Hafnir the wind was too bad but anyway we managed to see a flock of 11 Harlequin Ducks.
Then we headed to Grindavik where had been some pretty good birds on the previous weeks and days like a Surf Scoter and a Canada Goose. We took the coastal road and on the way we found some interesting touristic places too. So we stopped in Miðlína where was a bridge between the continents and in Raykjanes lighthouse from where we could see an island of Eldey that once had Great Auks breeding and still had a huge colony of Gannets breeding. We also stopped to see Gunnuhver hot pools that really smelt bad before continuing to Grindavik.
In Grindavik we really didn’t know what to do. We checked the harbor-pools and found a Great Northern Diver that finally let us to take some pictures but nothing else. Then we couldn’t find out how we could see the bay behind the city well. One pool had a Barnacle Goose that had something wrong with its wing, but after some searching, we gave up and headed towards Blue Lagoon.
Anyway we didn’t go to Blue Lagoon to swim but to a spruce-forest nearby There we hoped to find almost any passerines but found only a Merlin, 2 Redpolls, which were the only ones we saw on the whole trip, a Wren and the last and our 65th trip-tick, a Goldcrest.
Then we drove to Njarðvík where we still visited the White-winged Scoter place but couldn’t find it and in Njarðvíkurfitjum but also the American Wigeon was gone. Then we went to pack everything to the parking place where we had been sleeping on the first night. And soon we drove to the car-rental office to leave our Caddy. From there we got a ride to Airport Hotel Smári where we had booked a room for the last night. It was good to have a warm shower, eat well on the restaurant and get to sleep on the soft bed.
On the 25th of October we woke up at 5 a.m. and a half an hour later we were having breakfast. Son we were carrying our luggage to the airport where was a big mess! All the flights seemed to leave early in the morning and every single person was queuing on one line! A stupid machine gave us the stamps for only one bag and after that we got misinformation and after all we were standing almost in the end of the huge line!
After more than an hour we finally managed to get rif of our big bags but then there was again everyone in one line on the security control! After 15 minutes queuing we had only 7 minutes to our flight and speakers were already calling for us! And of course they took my bag to a drug-test! I was cursing the whole airport and every single worker there as I had never been in an airport that was working so badly, and finally we had to run to catch our plane. After all there was still one couple behind us and once we got into the plane it took anyway 15 more minutes before it moved.
I was watching a movie and Hanna was reading a book on the flight as it was cloudy and no views under us. Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa and after we had found our luggage we took a bus to our car.
On the way to home we decided to drive to Hollola to twitch a Pied Wheatear. Luckily we managed to see the bird easily and very well, so it was easier to drive a little bit extra. Finally we were at home at 8 p.m.and on the next day we had to go to work again.