Iceland, 20-25 August 2016

Day 3: Tuesday, 23 August

I got up at 7:00, and in the little kitchenette met Katya and Jon from Germany, the two people renting Room A. We had breakfast at the house - a selection of cold cereal including muesli, lunch meats, bread, cheese, sliced vegetables, soft boiled eggs, and other items I've forgotten, as well as things from the plate of cookies.

Goðafoss
We headed out at 8:30 and stopped at Goðafoss from 9:15 till 9:30, turning down the short road that led to the parking lot on its northern side. We had to jockey for a space to park, between all the cars and a tour bus that had just pulled around. Getting out of the car, we wound our way between cars and people to reach the edge of the chasm. The waterfall was grand, but the parking lot and all the people around us diminished the feel of it, making it touristy. The parking lot goes right up to the edge of the chasm. I'm glad we stopped to see it, but also glad it was right off the road and we didn't have to go out of our way. On the other hand, if it required going out of one's way, perhaps it wouldn't have been so touristy and populated.

In general I'm not a big fan of "tourist attractions", as they tend to have a fake feel I'm all too aware of. The waterfall is real, and beautiful. But the parking lot and the setting of walking between a load of cars, people, and tour buses right to the edge of the thing itself ruins the feel for me. People like to tell others going to Iceland, "You HAVE to go to the Blue Lagoon!" To me, that's an indication of a place I need to avoid, and I read as much in some literature, saying that the Blue Lagoon has become incredibly touristy and the locals don't like to go.

Mývatn
It took around half an hour to travel from Goðafoss to Mývatn. We approached Mývatn from the southwest on the Ring Road, and continued on around it counter-clockwise, deciding that approach based on the time of day and angle of the sun. At 10:10 we made our first stop just after the road angled north. As has been our experience the whole drive, it's really hard to stop anywhere other than the very few designated areas. Here I spotted a sort of gravel/dirt turnoff overlooking the lake and made the turn. The distance to the water from this overlook required the scope that Bill had brought.

You can see the turnoff and its view in this Dermandar panorama, which I finally remembered I could make. If your phone is getting a GPS signal, it'll automatically geotag the panorama, which is handy, and disappointing when it doesn't, though you can go in and do it manually later if you can figure out where you were. When you click the link, the view pans slowly for you, but you can click and drag at your own speed, or make it stop. In the view shown here, you can see the turnoff at the right edge, and what appears to be a black gravel road going off to the left is just a stretch of gravel that didn't extend far; the actual road is parallel to and left of it. Although that black gravel isn't the actual road, it does give you a pretty good idea of what the edges of the actual road look like and why you don't just pull off it.

Ducks were small and distant, out in the water, which was at a lower level than the elevated rocky ground we stood on. In the panorama, the lake sort of appears to be just out there, but there's actually a drop to get to it. While Bill checked them out with the scope, we heard a raven - here they have the same species we have in North America. A flock of 7 geese flew by, and I spotted a Merlin barreling out over the water. It flew into the distance, then back, now accompanied by a second. We watched as they clashed in the air several times before alighting on some rocks. I thought it was only one of them, and lost track of the other, until I looked at my photos back home and saw the second peek out from behind the rocks in one shot. Then they took off, across the road and into the mountains.

As for the ducks, there were a good number, but most were too distant to make out, even with the scope. Those near enough to see were Barrow's Goldeneye and Greater Scaup.

And good lord SO many midges!!! The lake is appropriately named: "Mý" means "midge", and "vatn" means "lake". My hands and arms were in almost constant motion, as were those of everyone else I saw there. Thankfully they weren't biting midges, but at least three got into my eyes, and they tried to get into everywhere else. Annoying enough!

Not far up the road, I saw an official turn-off which led to a small dirt parking lot. We stopped here at Norðurvogar next to a few other cars from 10:30 - 11:40. In front of the car was grass and then a drop to a narrow finger of water, enclosed by dark rock walls and opening to the lake off to my right. The road we turned into the small dirt lot from continued on between the tip of this finer, and a bit of land on the other side that quickly gave way to more water. The land here was green and hilly.

At this location, we finally got great looks at European Golden-plovers after one perched atop a rock promontory alerted us by calling loudly and repeatedly. We were able to approach it fairly closely, and in the process I flushed two from the grass on the overgrown path I was walking. They didn't fly far before stopping to look back at me, affording me a very nice opportunity for some photos. Several White Wagtails in this area also perched in prominent positions, giving us a good look at them.

Near the car, a collection of ducks swam in the water. Some of them came near, and the water was clear enough that I could watch the Tufted Ducks dive down and then swim along the bottom, creating lines in the mud. Also present were Barrow's Goldeneye, Eurasian Wigeon, and Gadwall. And here a chubby long-billed bird flew by that Bill identified as a Common Snipe. That's a bonus of traveling with a more experienced birder; beyond just what a bird looks like, he's familiar with the manner and general impression of different species, so even if he's never seen the local species of snipe, he knows its general shape and the way it moves. I had no idea what that bird was, and it didn't give me time to study details, but he knew it immediately.

The third stop, at Höfði, lasted from 11:45 - 12:40.
Here there was a little bit of hiking through trees along the edge of the water, again elevated above it. These trees were taller than those we'd been through before, and actually did feel like a forest to me. Redpolls and Redwings called throughout. Fuzzy young Tufted Ducks were fun to watch diving underwater, with the water again clear enough to see them fairly well. There were also a Mallard and a wigeon, and when we returned to the car, another Merlin passed overhead. I'm pretty sure I saw more Merlins in Iceland than I have back in America.

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe
We decided to stop for lunch at 1:05 when we came upon a sign for the Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe. Upon exiting the car, the unmistakable odor of a barn hit my nose, and I wondered if this actually was a cafe. Spotting a cow through the side of the building that we parked against confirmed this was indeed an active cowshed. We were unsure where to go, so made our way around what turned out to be the back of the building, where we saw cows in the grass out back with large net bags strapped to their udders by means of harnesses around their bodies: cow brassieres! Which makes perfect sense when you see the heavy mass of some of those udders, poor things. When one mounted another and we thought we were witnessing cow sex - until they parted and made us wonder if there was such a thing as lesbian cows. Remembering to look this up later, I discovered this is called "bulling", and cows do it when they're in heat. Either the one on the bottom is, or the one on top, or maybe both. Or maybe neither and they just feel like it. It was a rather uninformative Wiki article, when you get right down to it.

We'd gone the wrong way around the building, and it was hard to determine the right way as we passed several cows we could see in the building, but eventually came to a front door that led to the restaurant, in which were no cows, and it managed not to smell like them, either.

I had a latte because I needed some energy, and a mushroom and leek crepe, which was large and hearty for a crepe, and delicious. They had a selection of cakes in a glass case, all of which were wide and flat, only about an inch and a half tall by maybe 15" wide. The desserts were intriguing, so although I wasn't hungry after the crepe, I wanted most to try the ice cream, which I'd seen delivered to another table. It consisted of slices of two flavors - geysir bread flavor, and Angelica. That was the one that I was most interested in, having just discovered those are the plants I'd noticed growing all over, and not knowing until that moment that they were herbal. The ice cream had a lot of texture - kind of icy, like ice cream that has melted and refrozen, but not in a bad way, somehow. And then there were the additional textures of whatever the ingredients were. Neither was too sweet; just sweet enough. America uses way too much sugar. We left there at 2:25.

Stopped at Reykjahlid around 2:40, at the visitor center campground check-in there, to use the toilet and see if there was anything to see. Didn't stay there long; there wasn't much to see, unless you want to go camping.

This Dermandar panorama was made where the Ring Road intersects 87, at the north end of Mývatn. The road behind the cars is the Ring Road, heading south to the left, and the road behind the picnic table is 87, going east off to the right. You can see from this image that picnic tables are kind of random - there's only one here, despite the parking area. Most only had a small access road, and were almost always singular.

Driving on, I found myself checking some ponds in the grasses next to the road for phalaropes because those ponds reminded me of Potter Marsh where I saw them in Alaska. Sure enough, I spotted one close to the edge, next to the road, and stopped the car right there in the road to look. A car came up behind us, forcing us to move on after only about 20 seconds and three shots with my camera, but I spotted a pull-off just ahead and took it. We walked back to the pond and scanned… and scanned, but no phalarope. I was so thankful we had stopped in the road and thereby got to see it! It was the only one we saw during the entire trip, and a woman later made it sound that we were lucky, saying most have already migrated away. We stayed in that spot looking for it and photographing other things from 2:55 - 3:10, but saw no further sign of it.

Birds in the areas nearby:
Red-necked Phalarope
Meadow Pipit
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Greylag Goose 4
Whooper Swan 2
Horned Grebe>

From there we continued on to the visitor center at Sigurgeir's Bird Museum, where we stopped from 3:20 - 4:20. We made a stop just before the center when a parking opportunity suddenly appeared beside the lake. The scene was expansive, sunny, and beautiful, and I made another Dermandar panorama here, in which you can see all the colors of the low-growing groundcovers, and the distant mountains. Clouds made dark shadows in the direction of that parked trailer next to me, and the visitor center is off in the distance down the road behind it.

The woman at the desk in the visitor center was not helpful at all after we interrupted her hanging out with some guys outside to ask the location of any notable birds or stops. Here we mostly watched wigeons preening and grooming themselves, and saw another snipe fly from one spot to another.

Bird list:
Whooper Swan 2
Eurasian Wigeon ~200
Tufted Duck 3
Gadwall 2
Raven 2
White Wagtail 2
Mallard 4
European Golden-plover
Common Snipe

Skútustaðagigir Pseudo Craters
From here I wasn't quite ready to head back, and had seen a photo of the Skútustaðir pseudo craters which looked intriguing, so we continued around to that area, near where we'd initially come upon the lake. We wandered the area of the pseudo craters from 4:40 - 6:40. It's a nice area for a walk, but the view is much more impressive from the air, which the photo I'd seen showed, where you can see the expanse of what look like small calderas. The path here does take you up one after another, so you can see the bowls up close and then over to others, and nice views of the lake.

Here's a Dermandar panorama that I made from the concrete path around the rim of one of the pseudo craters. I'm pretty sure the dark vertical smear is a gnat in flight as I shot the photo. Given their number, I'm surprised that was the only dark smear in the image. To the left of it, you can see into the bowl of another of the pseudo craters.

Along the walk, we encountered our Airbnb mates that we'd met in the morning. Spent some time photographing ducks in the warm sunlight slanting in under the clouds, until the clouds passed in front and refused to move. Watched a fuzzy little baby grebe go through a wonderful stretch routine with my camera shutter whirring as fast as it could. So cute! It and a second fuzzy little baby grebe were floating alone in that big pod of ducks, not even near each other, and I wondered about their parents, as I never see duck parents leave their young alone for very long. They seemed quite independent, so maybe grebes are just different from ducks. I did spot a few adults out beyond the duck flock, keeping to themselves and diving. A little closer to the car, we ran into a guy from Australia who we'd chatted with at the previous stop, and he pointed out a diver/loon across the water near the swans - our first for the trip. It was beautiful in breeding plumage, but very far away.

Bird list: Meadow Pipit
Whooper Swan 49
Grebe 5, 2 immature
Eurasian Wigeon 10
Tufted Duck 94
Great Northern Diver (their fancy name for the Common Loon)
White Wagtail 3

Here's a Dermandar panorama made from a high point near the end of the trail where it has returned almost to the parking lot. You can see some duck specks in the water, and a couple of pseudo craters.

We stalked a wagtail across the road for photos before calling it a day and getting in the car. It was nice to be able to stop swishing my hands in front of my face, which had been the theme all day. There were all shapes and sizes of midge, as well as some small flies.

Goðafoss, Part II
On the return, we decided to stop at Goðafoss again, to see the other side of it. We arrived at 7:17 and wandered the far side, taking more photos until 8:00. The sun was across on the other side, so the light wasn't great, but it was still pretty. This side felt a little less touristy, I think because it had a smaller parking lot and then a path to get down to the falls. There were fewer people on this side as well.

Here's a Dermandar panorama of the smaller falls below the large ones. The large ones are upstream to the left, out of view in this image.

Noting the restaurant (2-story yellow building in the panorama), we decided to check it out because at this point we'd likely be getting back to town around 9:00, when restaurants were wanting to close. The Guesthouse Fosshóll restaurant was open, so we enjoyed dinner with a view of the falls out the window. The trout was quite tasty, the salad bar was good, and the mushroom soup was delicious. I had skyr for dessert, which was good and didn't have sucralose.
Left at 9:05; back to the house at 9:45.

I wanted to take a night photo of Akureyri across the fjord with its lights reflecting on the water, but when we got to the house, the sky was still too light for that. I went through photos on my camera while waiting, deleting obviously bad ones. By the time it got dark enough for the photo I wanted, I looked out the window to see… nothing. Nothing at all: no lights, nothing. A thick fog had rolled in and blocked everything from sight.

So I finished going through the day's photos, then updated my journal, while the afterimages of midges flashed in my peripheral vision.

Washed my hair and got to bed at 1:20. Again the water was soft. Not as soft as New Orleans, but it makes it more difficult than I'm used to for rinsing the soap off my skin.


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