Iceland, 20-25 August 2016

Birding Notes

Keep in mind this trip occurred near the end of August, after the breeding season, when some species have left on migration. I'm sure experiences at other times of the year are different.

There were lots of Greylag Geese - flocks of them here and there in the grass, even next to the highway as it passed through Reykjavík, like our Canada Geese in America. And ducks, most commonly Common Eiders, Eurasian Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, and Greater Scaup. Whooper Swans were not uncommon in lakes and streams.

I wondered if being in other countries where passerines are common might bother an Icelander, with all the flitting peripheral motion. There was none of that there, and we did not see passerines at every stop. We could make a long stop for lunch or to look at ducks and geese and not see one, which just doesn't happen back home in America.

The most common passerines throughout our trip were White Wagtails, followed by Redwings and European Starlings, though they're not as prolific as here in the US.

I mentioned this on the previous page, but for people just skipping to this one for birding notes:
In America, I'm used to being able to pull off to the side of the road almost anywhere, or even find a close parking lot. Not so in Iceland. I hadn't even considered this possibility, but most of the time I found myself driving on the Ring Road, seeing something cool, and being unable to stop for it.

The roadbed is raised along its length high enough that pulling off the edge might hurt your car, and it has no shoulders. We encountered very few places where we could pull off to the side of the road. After getting pretty frustrated about this fact, and noticing how few other cars shared the road with me, I finally took to simply stopping in the road. I'd keep an eye on the rearview mirror while Bill checked with binoculars for anything interesting. Lord knows what we would have done if there had been something really interesting and I saw a car coming up in the rearview mirror! Likely lots of cursing as I just got the car back in motion. As it was, the couple times we saw something really worthy of photographing, we got in at least a couple shots before being driven onward. I'm still cursing about the phalarope, though, having gotten in only three bad shots before a car forced us on. At least we saw it!

Despite some places being marked as eBird hotspots on the map, I was unable to figure out where to put the car in order to get out and check out those places. I was driving north on 68 with the eBird map deployed on my phone, watching the blue dot of my location approach a hotspot, and before I knew it, I was past the spot - and all I had seen was more of the same: raised roadbed, grass, coastline. No parking area of any kind, and it wasn't as if there was a town or even building nearby for people to park at and walk.

As far as Mývatn being a good place to bird, I'm sure it can be, but I felt a little disappointed about that aspect of it. Perhaps in other seasons it's better, and that probably goes for the entire country. I think our timing put us there after a lot of birds had started migrating away. The scenery was beautiful, and it was an enjoyable day, despite all the midges. The midges are VERY annoying, and they like to cloud around your head, getting in your eyes and ears and nose.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this lake, though some research might have helped me imagine better. I did see a few photos, which led me to imagine a more open lake, more ground-level, but there were lots of points that put you up over the water, looking down and out to see ducks and geese. We didn't see many shorebirds here. We didn't see many shorebirds during the entire trip with the exception of a few locations, despite being along the shore a lot of the way.

As with the coastline of the country, the shore of the lake is broken and jagged with lots of inlets and rocks. It's not just a big round shape. This means there are probably lots of places to explore, if only you can figure out how to get to them and where to park the car.

Also, I had read a lot about the variety of birds, especially ducks, where the Laxa River meets the lake. We found the lake. We found the river. But hell if I could see any obvious way to easily get to their meeting place! It could be just because our schedule was so rushed that we didn't have the ability to take our time and really hunt. But I kept my eyes peeled for signs, parking areas - anything! - and I saw nothing. Perhaps you park at one of the places that isn't that close, and you walk. If you plan to go here, research ahead of time how to physically get to that confluence.

If you haven't already, read "Towards the South" at the end of the previous page to learn a bit about puffin viewing at this time of year. We saw no alcids or puffins from our route along the Ring Road, the road to Hvammstangi, the coasts of the fjord Akureyri is located on, up into the peninsula where Húsavík is, or up along 68 into the Westfjords.

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