Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Iceland Part 2 - June 9th 2015

Feel like i should be shooting local birds right now but i still gotta write it all up trip report style, so the middle chapter now of our 9 day Iceland road trip.

Driving the length of the Westfjords back onto the ring road (highway 1, the mostly paved road that circles the island) took a bit longer than we thought, not all of it was paved, long stretches of dirt road but stunning scenery throughout. 
Finally, after many hours of driving, our first gas station experience - it didn't go well, it was a small hick station in the middle of nowhere, they were N1 pumps (the dominant gas station in Iceland) but they didn't accept my credit card, stressing a little bit i forgot to re-attach the gas cap and left it behind when we drove on to a bigger N1 further down the highway. When i realized what had happened the search was on in a small farmer town to find a replacement gas cap, i wasn't going to go back for it, there was no going back, only forward  
We did finally find a gas cap to replace the one i lost, were able to fill up by buying gas cards from inside N1 stores first as they had no problem accepting foreign credit cards.
As a rule, we never let the tank get less than 1/2 empty and i was surprised how good the gas (diesel) mileage was in the VW. Still a good idea to watch the tank driving though, gas stations were few and far between in the Westfjords and the north.
There were good birds to be seen along the way of course

Meadow Pipit

Whimbrel (can pretty much say i've seen Whimbrel in every country i've birded, yet i find it so hard to get good shots of them locally  )

Greylag Goose

Eurasian Oystercatcher

So, we made the ring road again and were on our way to lake Myvatn in the northeast, but we had been driving since the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg and were not going to make it.
The weather was changing for the worse as well so decided to check out the next camp spot we saw on a road sign and ended up making a 6km detour off the main road to a campsite for the night.
It was a ranching and farming area but we were just thankful for a hot shower and common room where we could cook in the kitchen, use electricity to download and back up images and escape the rain and warm up.
Our minivan camper was useless when set up since there was really only room inside to lay down.
I felt super-lucky afterwards that we chose this campsite because while checking out the small playing field next to our van (we were the only campers that night so had the place to ourselves) i spotted a white blob close by that could only be ptarmigan!
The shots i posted in Part 1 were taken high up in one of the mountain passes on the way to Latrabjarg in what i would consider "classic" ptarmigan habitat, this bird was on the ground in a campsite, there was a small hill behind, but no mountains or alpine.
Anyways, pretty easy shooting, didn't even have to walk anywhere  

Rock Ptarmigan

Saw a Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit and Redwing as well, productive random campsite.

The next morning we were off again driving and as was the rule, we would try to stop when we saw a bird and shoot from inside, couldn't do that on the main ring road however since the road is on a berm, has little shoulder room and there is traffic, small side roads however, no problem.

Full frame Common Redshank

Driving went pretty smoothly, pretty sure i saw some Pink-footed geese but we couldn't stop at the time, their heads looked darker than Graylag.

Eventually, around mid-day we reached Akureyri (the second largest city in Iceland) and it was notable in that we ate hotdogs from a gas station, used the restrooms and i saw a pair of beautiful Harlequin ducks sitting on a rock in a fast-flowing little stream and it was all happening right behind the gas station, i regret not trying for a shot then and there but for some reason figured i'd get that species at Myvatn later anyways.

We were close to Myvatn, still felt fresh enough as far as driving went so we decided to go as far north as we could and check out Husavik, a 1 hour detour from the main road.
I knew it was famous for it's whale watching expeditions, Blue whales were regularly spotted, we weren't going to do any whale-watching this trip but i read some interesting Husavik reports on ebird before and wanted to check it out.
We mostly wandered the harbour and shot any gulls we could see, the location was also notable in that we saw our first Long-tailed duck in the inner harbour among the fishing boats.

Herring Gull

Black-legged Kittiwake

White Wagtail on a fishing boat

Black-headed Gull

On the drive back down towards Myvatn i spotted ptarmigan on three occasions off the side of the road, didn't stop for any though.

We made Myvatn in the early evening (didn't mean anything, it was light past midnight and sunrise was at 3:30am) and decided to take a drive around the lake before choosing a campsite.
Wind was howling, it would spit rain every now and then and conditions were generally dreary but there were waterfowl everywhere and we found one small pond by the side of the road which was quite active, i hopped out of the vehicle and did my best to get some shots, i remember at one point feeling kind of unwell, a sudden headache and stiff neck from the body angle i was in trying to get low angles and i knew it was time to find some aspirin and maybe a warm room for the night instead. We had planned to spend 2 nights in the area.
Some of the shots i got before headache got in the way and we had to call it a night.

Black-tailed Godwit

Red-breasted Merganser

Tufted Duck

Long-tailed Duck

We ended up finding a cool campsite with a lava field at the front door, we booked a small cabin for 2 nights (really nothing more than a 2 beds, an electrical outlet, heater and lights) and used our sleeping bags. 
We were lucky to find this since all the hotels were booked in advance and not having to set up and tear down our camper gave us more freedom to drive around whenever we felt like it. 
Oh, the headache went away but you can't buy aspirin anywhere other than a pharmacy, gas station stores are not allowed by law to sell it.
We were allowed to use the kitchen and showers in the dorm room next door so it was a good location, made even better by the Snow Bunting i first saw singing away on top of the cabin next to our own  

Snow Bunting in breeding plumage for a change

We had another run in with ptarmigans at this campsite, a pair of them on the lava field and at one point no more than 2 feet from the cabin door, i looked out the window and couldn't believe it  

The next morning we headed out for our first full day at Myvatn but the weather was still making this a bit uncomfortable outside, we even saw small snow flurries come down mixed with the rain at certain times of the day.
In Iceland they have a saying that if you don't like the weather in Iceland just wait 5 minutes, it was true enough but the weather never changed to anything good 

Horned Grebe

Common Scoter

Red-necked Phalarope were everywhere

One the main reasons European birders love to come to Iceland and lake Myvatn in particular is the chance to tick off 3 primarily North American species in Europe.
These birds that breed in Iceland are the Common Loon (Great Northern Diver), Barrow's Goldeneye and Harlequin Duck. 
Being from the west coast of Canada and being quite familiar with all 3 species it wasn't as big a deal for me, i would have been happier to get a shot of a Eurasian Teal which i wasn't able to do, although i did see some but hard to shoot for some reason.
Anyways, got the holy trinity of desired birds at Myvatn but none of them well enough, a longer stay in area would have been in order.

Common Loon

Barrow's Goldeneye

Harlequin Duck

The area has a Gyrfalcon but we didn't do the long hike required to see it, although i'm sure it would have been an interesting walk.

Other ducks i saw but didn't shoot at Myvatn include Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, and Mallard.

After our second night at Myvatn we were off again the next morning, driving on towards the coast and the Eastfjords, and part 3 of the trip report.

Hope you enjoyed this one, one more and i'm done. 

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The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area