Iceland 4th to 9th of June 2010
In Finnish twitchers association (Bongariliitto) spring meeting I met my old friend Kalle Larsson. We were talking this and that and Kalle was also chosen as a new head of the association. But I also promised to join Kalle to an Iceland trip that he had been planning for June.
A famous Eyjafjallajökull with eruptions and some other things were causing us some problems so we really didn’t plan the trip enough until i was alsmost too late. Kalle had bought 2 very cheap flight tickets and it was also too late to change another of them to my name too, so just a couple of days before our trip Johanna Larsson was also joining us to the trip as the another ticket had her name on it. I had to buy a new ticket which was of course twice more expensive. We also changed a camper that we had rented to a bigger model.
On the last evening before the trip we made almost exactly similar route-plans for the trip with Kalle even though we had no time to call to each others. WE planned to drive the whole island around by main road 1 and try to visit as many birding places and other interesting sites as possible during our 4.5 days trip. The schedule was very tight and we had no idea how were the distances or roads in Iceland but we were already so full of energy that this kind of small things weren’t a problem at all!
On the 3rd of June I drove to Kirkkonummi and did 3 stops on the way: In Imatra Korvenkanta I twitched a singing Booted Warbler, in Helsinki Alppila a singing European Serin and in Espoo Tapiola Otsolahti a Red-breasted Goose.
The trip begins
On the 4th of June at 1 p.m. I parked to Helsinki-Vantaa airport parking hall and walked to the terminal where I did the last shopping before the trip. Kalle and Johanna came a little bit late but still we had to wait for a half an hour before the check in. But at 3.20 p.m. our Icelandair flight left right on time and we had good time to talk about the trip.
The plane was very good and with 3 euros we could by headphones so we could listen to music or watch new movies with sound. After some talking I chose Avatar and the rest of the flight was very pleasant.
Finally we could see Iceland on the horizon and so we saw huge glaciers. Before the landing the plane flew a round over the ocean and we could see the first birds of the trip: Fulmars, some Gannets and Kittiwakes. After a little bit more than 3 hours flight we landed to Keflavik airport that is situated in Reykjanes peninsula about a half an hour driving south-west from Reykjavik.
Once we had found our luggage we took some 40 000 krones (which really sounds a big amount of money – but really isn’t) from the atm and walked to the terminal where we found a Finnish made that had came to pick us up with our rental camper. We drove to Keflavik and on the way we saw some birds like Snow Buntings, Wheatears, and some other more common species. The air was full of dust from Eyjafjallajökull and everything was also covered with ash. We drove to the rental office where the car was checked far too carefully and the papers filled. We really lost hours while doing this and we almost had no time to go shopping at all because of all the shops were about to close at 7 p.m. Somehow we managed to buy enough in 10 minutes and then we still had to visit the office where we got the toilet chemical and signed some more papers before we were free to begin our journey to Iceland.
Hit the road
Finally we were on the road and we had a long drive ahead. We had planned to drive as close as possible to Myvatn which situated on the northern part of the island. The time was 3 hours behind the Finnish time so even though it was only about 8 p.m. we had had a long day.
Reykjavik was full of roundabout but after all we took only one turn wrong before we managed to get out of this pretty big city. Our map wasn’t very good and most of the roads seemed to be missing. But soon the views started to change and of course we started to see some birds. Common species near the coast were Redshanks, Arctic Terns, Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, Eiders, Greylag Geese, Golden Plovers, Whimbrels and Oystercatchers. In the rocky shoreline we also saw some more Wheatears and near Reykjavik we had plenty of Starlings and a small flock of Feral Pigeons. On small ponds and lakes we saw ducks, mostly Mallards and Tufted Ducks but also a female Pintail and some Teals. On our first stop we were near some small bushes and trees and we heard several Redwings and a couple of Redpolls. When we were getting north we saw more and more Snipes and some Meadow Pipits. We drove under Hvalfjördur by a long tunnel and over Borgarfjördur along the bridge. From the bridge we saw a distant Cormorant in flight.
Soon we turned to east and inland and we had our first Whooper Swans and islandica Black-tailed Godwits. I tried to check every single pond and river for new duck-species but the only new species were Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. Some Arctic Skuas were also seen and a couple of Rock Ptarmigans. The third Ptarmigan really tried to fly inside our car but luckily my window was closed and it managed to avoid the hit by centimetres.
An amazing lifer
The landscape seemed to change at least in every 100 kilometres we had driven so moving towards east was interesting but after all we started to feel very tired. From the ponds we found some Red-necked Phalaropes and a couple of Slavonian Grebes and a Pink-footed Goose was perched on one rocky shore of a river. The day changed while we were driving somewhere near Blönduós where we saw again the sea for a while but soon we turned to inland again. Kalle who had been driving all the time started to be extremely tired when I suddenly noticed a some interesting looking ducks on the rocks of Langidalur river. We stopped and turned around which wasn’t too easy on the thin road but soon we were out and watching through my telescope our first ever Harlequin Ducks! And what kind of birds they were! Even though the night was as dark as it came at 1 a.m. and the birds weren’t very close we could see the bright orange, lilac and white colours of the male ducks very well! Altogether we could find 3 pairs of these ducks. And we also saw an American Mink there on the rocky shore.
Kalle decided to go to rest to the back of the car and I continued driving. Soon we were driving high between the mountains and saw our first Scaups and Wigeons on the ponds and some Dunlins on the more boggy areas. I had been driving less than an hour when we passed the signs of Engimýir guesthouse which was between the villages of Hraun and Bakki when I saw a strange looking duck swimming on Öxnadalur river with a male Wigeon. I stopped quickly and told to Johanna to wake up Kalle but first I just anted to have alook at the bird that I had been identifying it right while driving. When I got out of the car I immediately tried to find the duck from the place where I had seen it but now there was only that Wigeon swimming. But luckily soon I found the right duck flying over the river and it really was a male Blue-winged Teal! I shouted to Kalle and he managed to run out and see the bird landing again to the river. I climbed back to the car and collected my cope and camera as I wanted to digiscope this rarity but when I got out again the bird was gone again and we never found it again. Soon we arrived at a big town of Akureyri where we got diesel and once we had driven through the city we started to try to find a good place to stop. And soon after the city we parked to a parking place from where we had a nice view to Skagafjörur and to Akureyri city that was on the other side of the fjord. I still had a quick look to the fjord where I saw some Common Gulls and a couple of Slavonian Grebes before I also had to go to get some sleep! It was already 4 a.m. so we had had an extremely long day!
And the driving continues
I slept only for a couple of hours as the Myvatn, a famous bird-lake, was already so close that it came into my dreams. I checked the fjord again and found a couple of Red-throated Divers and some Long-tailed Ducks and recorded the Wrens that were singing on the trees. The fog was swallowing the view and soon it was impossible to see the sea at all. Soon Larssons woke up too and while we were washing our hand and brushing our teeth along the stream nearby we could see a couple of Harlequin Ducks swimming on the sea-shore. Also the first Raven of the trip was flying over us. But soon we continued our way towards the inland and Myvatn. The first stop was made on the lake Ljósavatn which really looked perfect for a Great Northern Diver. We hadn’t even stopped yet when we saw a single bird swimming on near the shore! We took our cameras and rushed to the shore but there was already an American couple walking and they pushed the bird too far to get any good pictures. Then these people came to ask what the bird had been which had been swimming so close to them. Come on, these people should stay in America and run after Great Northern Diver there.
And the another lifer
A Ringed Plover and a the only Merlin of the trip were seen on the way before the another stop of the day was made in Godafoss waterfall, which was a nice wide waterfall. But pretty soon we continued towards Myvatn. Just a little bit before the lake we arrived at a place where a Laxa river was forming a wide lake kind of place where were quite good selection of birds. There we had the another lifer of the trip – a male and 2 female Barrow’s Goldeneys were swimming there with Greylag Geese and some common ducks. Some Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore so there were a lot to photograph. Unfortunately the place was impossible because of we couldn’t park the car anywhere and there was a lot of traffic now.
The next stop was made on the place where the Myvatn roads cross and the river Laxa runs fast under a bridge. This seems to be the number one place for Harlequin Ducks in the island. There were atleast 11 Harlequin Ducks and a male Barrow’s Goldeneye so we spent easily more than an hour photographing these marvellous birds. Harlequin Duck males were funny as they went crazy when I whistled to them; they started to swim fast towards me and called funnily. I managed to get many very good pictures while whistling to them. Meanwhile Kalle and Johanna were photographing other Harlequin Ducks from the bridge where these duck swam just under them. We also had our first White Wagtails and Gadwalls there. But while the weather heated up there started to be so many insects that it was impossible to breath without having nose and mouth full of them! Luckily I had a mosquito-net and while wearing that I could keep on photographing but after all we decided to keep on going to Myvatn.
A lot of birds in Myvatn
We really saw a lot of ducks and other birds like Red-necked Phalaropes in Myvatn. We started to drive around the lake by southern road and scanned the birds mostly from a car as it wasn’t easy to stop alongside the lake because of there was almost no parking paces. Tufted Ducks, Wigeons, Gadwalls, Mallards and Re-necked Phalaropes were near the shore while Scaups were swimming further on the lake. Pretty soon we stopped to a Icelandic horse-farm where Johanna went to ask if she could ride while we could keep on scanning the lake for next a couple of hours. But the farmer told that all horses in whole country were starving because of some kind of virus and it was impossible to ride anywhere t all. So we decided to scan the lake with scopes from the farm and we managed to find a male Pochard with numerous Tufted Ducks and Scaups and some Common Scoters, Slavonian Grebes and other common ducks before we heard a strange noise from the air above us and we could see an amazing big flock of some kind of insects coming straight towards us. And soon we had two kinds of insects, biting ones and other ones that were just flying everywhere we didn’t want them to fly. It was impossible to breathe or even be there still. There were millions of them! I still managed to scan the rest of the lake that was visible before I also had to run to the camper! At least we found out what the name Myvatn meant, its mosquito-lake.
We still stopped a couple of times in more windy parts of the lake and had a great pepper-steaks that Johanna cooked while we were photographing a tame male Barrow’s Goldeneye. Behind a small island we could see also a Great Northern Diver svimming. Not a bad place to have a good lunch!
To Húsavik and whalewatching
It was already afternoon when we decided to drive north to Húsavik and participate a whalewatching trip. The weather seemed to be so good that we wanted to go there as soon as possible as there had been several Blue Whales and Humpback Whales in last days. We tried to choose the fastest way to Húsavik but unfortunately the road we chose was not very good. We rang to North Sailing company and booked the trip and after all we were early enough in Húsavik harbour, but unfortunately the weather was very different on the coast than it had been inland. At 5 p.m. our trip started and it was extremely cold and foggy again on the sea. In the beginning we saw quite a few Black Guillemots and soon plenty of Fulmars a couple of Gannets, some Kittiwakes and on the sea lots of Puffins and Common Guillemots, some Razorbills and a couple of Brünnich’s Guillemots. Even though we had almost all our clothes on, we were already freezing.
Kalle tried to photograph Fulmars but somehow they weren’t following the boat like they normally do. Maybe we were moving too slowly for them? Soon the first Minke Whale was found and we were able to follow it for some time while it was always making some quick dives before the longer dive. We managed to find it a couple of times after a longer dive too, but soon we continued further to the sea. Soon we found 2 more Minke Whales but then the fog started to get thicker and thicker and it started to be very difficult to see anything anymore. We still tried very hard to find to find some bigger whales but the weather was too bad. After 2.5 hours we were absolutely freezing, luckily still some Harbour Porpoises were found on the way back to harbour.
At 8 p.m. we were back in Húsavik harbour where we met an Icelandic birder Yann Kolbeisson. We went to a local bar where we chatted for an hour with Yann and got a lot of interesting information about birding in Iceland. I had contacted Yann a couple of times before our trip and we knew each others from Facebook too. Soon we started to feel too tired so we said goodbye to Yann but before we left Húsavik we had to go to see the most interesting museum of the town – a penis museum. Well, what we wanted to see was that the museum really is true. Luckily it was closed on that time; otherwise I think we might have been too curious not to see what’s inside. When we were driving again toward Myvatn we started to be really tired. We had planned to drive until the lake but soon we just tried to reach the next parking place. Luckily the next one was next to a small lake Másvatn. It looked like a perfect lace for a Great Northern Diver. So I really dreamed of waking up when one is calling. When we parked our camper, it took only a couple of minutes and we all were sleeping.
An amazing morning
On the 6th of June I woke up before 6 a.m. when a Great Northern Diver was calling very close! I took my recording equipment, sandals and trousers and ran out. I didn’t realize at all that it was maybe +1 degrees and I was wearing only a t-shirt. Actually I took the first Great Northern Diver recordings before I had my trousers or sandals on either. The lake Másvatn was impossible to see at all because of thick fog but the bird seemed to be moving away from me following the shoreline, so I started to try to walk closer to it. I walked maybe 500 metres and took a couple of recordings before I saw the bird. And soon there was also another bird and then they both turned around and started to swim towards me. I decided to run back to camper and take my digiscoping equipment and once I ran back to a shore the birds were still coming towards me. I managed to photograph these amazing birds for some time and then I decided that I have to go to wake up Kalle too. Luckily Kalle managed to get some pictures too before the birds passed us and continued further still following the shoreline that now turned further from the road. Right then a Ptarmigan started to call next to our camper and we managed to get some pictures of it and I got some kind of recording too. What a perfect foggy morning we had!
Soon we drove again to Myvatn. We passed Laxa river where Harlequin Ducks were again swimming and continued now driving the northern side of the lake. The black beaches of Myvatn were again full of ducks but they seemed to be shy and flew away from the shore pretty easily. Again there weren’t many places where to stop either so after all we drove straight to Myvatn Bird museum which was still closed of course but tere it was good to scan to the lake. Kalle managed to get really good pictures of a Slavonian Grebe which was getting to the shore to its nest and also Red-necked Phalaropes that were making little phalaropes. A Great Northen Diver was swimming further on the lake and it called a couple of times. Tufted Ducks, Scaups and many other ducks were numerous. There were also some Barrow’s Goldeneyes but not that many than I had expected to see on Myvatn. When we were driving back to the bigger road I wondered how we hadn’t seen any Gyr Falcons yet, and right then I noticed a big bird perched on a telephone pole and a couple of Redwings were attacking it. There it was a pale Gyr Falcon! We all managed to see it by scope and I even took a couple of videos and a short video before there was a car coming and the bird flew away to the other side of the lake making all the ducks fly in panic on the way.
It was time to leave lake Myvatn and continue towards east where we stopped after a coupe of kilometres to Myvatn hot bath where we spent the next 2.5 hours relaxing and enjoying on hot turquoise water. At midday we continued to amazing Namafjall geothermic area where hot mud-pools and fumaroles were active. The landscape was just amazing, there were many colours on the ground and everything seemed to be boiling. It really was like from some other planet. Next stop was nearby in Krafla where a small active volcano was smoking very noisy. We also climbed to a bigger volcano where was a beautiful blue lake on the crater. A lonely Purple Sandpiper was flying away from the lake.
And again a long drive
Then we had a long way to drive again. First I drove east to Egilstadir, on the way we saw plenty of Pink-footed Geese. In Egistadir the main road 1 turned to south. If I had been driving long straight roads, now when Kalle started to drive, the roads changed much more interesting. In the beginning they were just narrow, then narrow and curvy mountain roads, and then narrow, curvy mountainous sand-roads. It was already getting late when we realized that we could make a shortcut and drive through Öx and shorten our way more than 80 kilometres. This shortcut was of course the worst part of the trip because of the road was very bad for a camper and the weather also changed radically and it was foggy again. In worst parts in mountains the visibility was something like 20 metres because of the fog. Johanna was sleeping on the bed on the back of the camper and we were laughing how on earth she stayed on the bed as the road was so bumpy. But luckily the road was only 20 kilometres and even though we now missed several fjords and maybe many birds it was worthy. We also saw our first Reindeers and photographed a Golden Plover and a Purple Sandpiper there.
Finally we drove down to Berufjördur where we saw the sea again. We ate there before we continued to town of Djúpivogur where we easily found a bird sanctuary, where supposed to be lots of different bird-species breeding. Right away we saw some Red-throated Divers, 17 adult and 10 very young Shelducks and 2 male Shovelers. In pools there were also lots of Redshanks, Oystercatshers and other common species and some Black-tailed Godwits.
After Djúpivogur we still continued south and when we were driving over Hamarsá river we saw a Grey Heron flying over us. It is a rare bird in Iceland in summer. We followed to shore and saw again many different kind of views, interesting ones were long and narrow necks of land that closed some fjords almost lakes. Again we drove as far as we just could before we were too tired to continue. At 2 a.m. we stopped to a parking place and went to sleep.
On the 7th of June I woke up at 6 a.m. and didn’t feel very well. I had an awful pain in my throat and it was difficult to speak. Anyway I walked out and tried to find anything interesting from the very good looking beaches but there were only Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Arctic Terns. After some waiting I decided to go to wake up Kalle so we could keep on going. But it took still more than an hour before we continued following the southern coast to west.
Views were again changing all the time. Now we were on lowlands were plenty of rivers that came from glaciers. First we saw lots of Arctic Skuas but soon also Great Skuas. The first couple of Great Skuas that we went to photograph were nesting so they were pretty aggressive. At least they were easy to photograph and record. On the shore we saw hundreds of Whooper Swans.
We continued west following the huge Vatnajökull glacier until the lake Jökulsarlón, where the ice-bergs that have broken away from the glacier are moving slowly to the sea. The views were absolutely amazing! In this place a James Bond movie a view to kill glacier scenes were shot. Until this place we had been almost the only tourists in different places but here were plenty of tourists. Almost immediately after parking we climbed to a strange boat that had tires and drove to the lake and we were photographing these amazing ices from the boat for next 30 minutes. When we were back on land we photographed a tame “Tappi” Great Skua and a Ringed Seal that was swimming between the ices and of course photographed the views a lot. Then we still drove to the other side of the bridge were on the black beach were lots of ice that gave amazing opportunities to make some more artistic pictures.
More touristic places
We continued still following the southern edge of Vatnajökull until Kalle saw a Red-throated Diver incubating on its nest just a couple of metres from the road. Of course we had to take some pictures of it. Our next target was the glacier called Skagtafell but somehow we headed to glacier called Svinafell. Luckily it didn’t make a big difference as we managed to get close enough to the glacier. We also saw a group of tourist climbing on the glacier with a guide and found out that this kind of tour wasn’t for us. The guide was making stairs for these Jaanese tourists! It’s pretty far from that kind of tour that I’d be interested!
After a little driving we parked to Vatnajökull natonal park parking place which was a big tourist trap. We decided to walk until the waterfall called Svartifoss which took about a half an hour to one way. The waterfall wasn’t big but it was famous because of its crystal kind of walls.
Again we had a long way to drive through the southern lowlands that were full of rivers that came from the glaciers. We drove until Skogafoss waterfall which was really beautiful and big! It was possible to climb up by stairs to see the view from up too. Kalle went almost a little bit too close to watch the edge as he slipped once pretty close to the edge but luckily the situation wasn’t as bad as it looked like.
Finally we headed towards Eyjafjallajökull where a volcano had been active for a couple of months. But it wasn’t that easy to get close to the glacier at all – at least not by a camper. Of course the volcano wasn’t possible to see from the main road even though it was pretty close. So we tried to get closer by several roads but they didn’t lead us to right place or they were in too bad condition to drive with a camper. After all we asked a couple of Spanish tourists a way and they told us to take a road number 261 and drive it until it ends. We tried to take a shortcut to this road a couple of times but right here the floods from Eyjafjallajökull had broken some roads. After all we managed to get to the end of this road 261 which was also in very bad condition, but unfortunately there was again so foggy that we cold hardly see any snow on the glacier and not any volcanoes. Maybe the fog was ash or then the volcano somehow made the weather foggy? Anyway we were already so tired that we decided to stay overnight there and check the view again in next morning.
Tourist-day in Golden triangle places
On the 8th of June when I woke up my throat felt better but my voice was still gone. Outside the weather was even worse than in the evening and we couldn’t see anything about Eyjafjallajökull. It was actually impossible to say was there raining or was it just the thick fog and humidity. The ground was full of ash and everything really looked like in some horror movie. So we left pretty soon and drove back to the main-road where we saw our first Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and soon much more of these graellssii type of birds. Soon we turned again away from the road number 1 to the inland towards the Golden triangle tourist-places.
First we drove to Geysirs where I had my breakfast faster than others and went directly see the famous place. I saw the first eruption of the smaller geysir that was active just when I arrived next to it. I found out that it’ll erupt about every 6th minute so I took my camera and started to wait for the next eruption. When it came I almost dropped my camera and then took the picture far too early when the water-eruption wasn’t as big as it came. But on the next one I managed to get really good picture so I decided to take a video from the next eruption. I was waiting for it together with one French photographer and somehow it seemed to last much longer than before. We were waiting and waiting and I started the video again many times because of I didn’t want to take too long boring beginning. When it finally erupted the water went extremely high and landed just over us! I really tried to stay and keep on taking the video but the water just came and came! I was absolutely wet and I started to afraid of that my camera won’t last so I gave up and ran away. All the other tourists had really fun and all were laughing at me – and I was really wet! When Kalle and Johanna arrived they were really amazed what on earth I had been doing, but soon they were also counting minutes and taking pictures of the amazing geysir.
We stayed on the Geysir for a long time and took many different kind of pictures and videos of other hot pools and landscape too. We also made some shopping on the tourist-shop where were really good quality clothes. Of course some souvenirs were bought too.
But after some shopping we continued to Gullfoss waterfall which was a huge complex of waterfalls. We stayed also there for some time taking pictures and videos and did some shopping again.
Still we had the last place of the Golden triangle to visit and that was Pingvellir National park where European and American continents are moving away from each others. The rocks and cliffs were amazing and we also found some tame Harlequin Ducks so we really enjoyed thi place too. We even saw the ducks diving so that we could see them flying under the bright water.
We walked for some time between the continents before we had to move on again. When we were driving through Reykjavik our circle closed as we had driven around the whole country! Before Keflavik we turned towards south and drove to Grindavik where we did some shopping and spent our last krones. Somehow we had taken just the right amount of money in the beginning. In Grindavik we wondered why many people had red flags on their gardens but in one garden we saw all the flags of communistic countries so we could just guess what kind of village that really was after all. At 10 p.m. we left again towards Keflavik but stopped to the first parking place where we ate, packed our luggage, cleaned the camper and went to sleep.
The trip ends
On the 9th of June we woke up before 5 a.m. ate the rest of the food, packed some more and drove to Keflavik where we returned our camper that had been very good during our 1939 kilometres trip, paid the rent and other payments and then got a ride to the airport. Only an hour later our plane left toward Helsinki. Still from the plane we could see amazing views to the Vatnajökull glaciers, but soon we saw just an ocean, then Norway, Sweden, some sea again and then Southern Finland and soon we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. There we said goodbyes to each others. I drove fast until Lappeenranta where there was a huge traffic-jam because of some too wide transportation. So I decided to drive to Joutseno Konnunsuo where I saw funnily 2 Great White-fronted, 1 Bean, 1 Greylag and 1 Barnacle Goose with a flock of Whooper Swans. When I got back to main road 6 the traffic-jam was again there. I had a pizza in Joutseno and finally I was at home in Parikkala at 9 p.m.
Altogether we saw 65 species in Iceland which was pretty good number as we were really in hurry all the time as we had so long way to drive around the country. Our target was to see 2 WP-tick species and get as many pictures of interesting birds and landscapes as possible. I still had one target which was to record a Great Northern Diver. So after all our trip was perfect – only minus was the fog that ruined our whalewatching trip and hid the volcano in Eyjafjallajökul. We really had fun all the time even though the trip was very hard. Thanks to Johanna and Kalle! Let’s see where were are going together the next time?