Iceland June 2009 (part 2)

I saw 2 Arctic Foxes in the area on consecutive days, and on both occasions despite being at least half a mile distant they scarpered at the first sight of me (ha, I have that effect on all things foxy) – a legacy of being persecuted fairly relentlessly in parts of the country. Plenty of Snow Buntings here, and nice to see them in warm sunlight rather than the more usual vile winter weather I associate with Snow Buntings.

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From here I was back on the road again, looking with no great expectation of success for last year’s White-winged Scoter and various other odds and sods en route to my next target – Grey Phalarope. Picked up this stunning drake Harlequin beside a waterfall plunge pool beside the road:

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When I finally did catch up with a Grey Phalarope, I saw for myself why calling them “Grey” is really unfair, as in breeding plumage they’re definitely “Red”…

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Got mobbed by an Arctic Tern with serious attitude here, and moments before this shot was taken the stroppy little sod had dropped like a stone and delivered a vicious peck that drew blood.

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Shortly after this, I found my one and only self-found Icelandic vagrant. Iceland has such an impressive pedigree of rarities from far, far away. ER was telling me the story of one Icelandic birder who back in the 60’s or 70’s had in his garden in one day Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, and Black and White Warbler. Any of them would have done nicely… but no, it had to be something plastic, didn’t it?

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From here back into the interior, and a close encounter of a similar, but more genuinely alarming kind than my Arctic Tern assault. Walking along the roped off public footpaths past a Gyr’s nest, I’d been waiting for nearly 2 hours for a sighting of one of the adult birds. An ear-splitting screech announced I was about to get what I’d wished for – and there coming towards me at head height was the big pale female. My first thought was “shit, she’s big” and then “shit, she’s coming straight at my face…” I chucked myself into the birch bushes alongside the path, and watched her tear back and forth past the bush a few times before settling on a nearby lava column to check me out. She was bloodstained (though fortunately not my blood this time!) and spent some time preening and picking bits of duck from herself. Satisfied she had calmed down, I beat a hasty retreat back down the path. The new lens didn’t do badly at all, but I felt the want of a good fast-focusing Canon as I’d have stood a chance of some (very) close range flight shots.

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Yet more Red-necked Phalaropes in the roadside ditches…

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…a very distant White-tailed Eagle (honest!)…

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…and I spent a lot of time looking at Eiders. Aprroximately 80% seemed like classic borealis, with yellow bill bases and good clear scapular sails, but others were more like our Eider, with greenish bill bases and no sails. All very confusing.

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Finally, back into Reykjavik and the culinary delights promised by the local paper – Minke Whale kebabs. Making up in meatiness what the advert lacked in subtlety…

Minke kebab

Finally, some words of thanks – both to ER and his wife for providing me with a base in Reykjavik, my camping gear, and ER’s local knowledge; and to BG and his wife for providing me with such fabulous hospitality near to Gatwick on either side of the trip, and for the drives in their vintage cars. Great fun – thanks very much indeed to you all.

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent stuff, Jon. Didn’t realise you’d had Arctic Fox again, pretty good going. Might go to look for Red Phalaropes at the weekend. Shame you only saw a male though, the females are really bright red!

  2. You ought to work for the Icelandic Tourist Board Jon. Cracking posts that have got me all lusting after things arctic…

    • I really can’t recommend it strongly enough, Steve. Just a thoroughly excellent country to go birding in.

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