Icelandic birds

The omnipresent common redshank (Tringa totanus), seen and most definitely heard throughout the island.
Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), at Arnarstapi. Two chicks are usual.
Black guillermot (Cepphus grylle) in Husavik harbor.
Common eider (Somateria mollissima) with ducklings. The most common duck seen; many young, but few adult males, who must have been in eclipse.
Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) at Myvatn.
Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) after bathing in Jokulsarlon.
Shit. We found this dead short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) on the road to Reynir. These owls, one of the few that can be seen in daylight (and this time of year, there is no darkness in Iceland), fly very low, which is probably how it was killed while crossing the road. For three nights at Vogafjos at Myvatn, we were amazed by a short-eared flying low over the farm outside the inn’s dinning room.

Here are all the birds I saw in Iceland, including fifteen life species: Common loon, Red-throated loon, Whooper swan, Greylag goose, Mallard, Tufted duck, Harlequin duck, Greater scaup, Barrow’s goldeneye, Common eider, Northern fulmar, Northern gannett, Gyrfalcon, Eurasian oystercatcher, Ringed plover, European golden plover, Common snipe, Black-tailed godwit, Whimbrel, Common redshank, Red-necked phalarope, Red phalarope, Parasitic jaeger, Great skua, Black-headed gull, Glaucous gull, Great black-backed gull, Lesser black backed gull, Black-legged kittiwake, Arctic tern, Murre, Black gullermot, Puffin, Rock dove, Short-eared owl, Meadow pipit, White wagtail, Winter wren, Northern wheatear, Redwing, Raven, Common redpoll, Snow bunting, Starling.

The highlights were the black-tailed godwit, the Icelandic subspecies of which has particularly bright mating plummage; the red-necked phalarope, surprising small; and the parastic jaeger, also known as the Arctic skua, a nasty customer for other birds, but something to look at, indeed.

The greatest coup of the trip was a gyrfalcon in Dimmubogir, the “Dark Castles” in Myvatn. The first view was distant, not good enough to ID beyond “falcon,” since merlins are also present in Iceland. But then we heard the bird, which vocalizes quite differently from the merlin, and backtracked to see if we could see it again. We did: it was zooming above and below the jagged lava outcroppings. I also spotted what might very well have been the gyrfalcon’s nest, heavily whitewashed with droppings below. Later, I read that the birds’ scrapes are associated with a yellowish green lichen growing amidst the dropping. This had that too! Leaving Dimmubogir on our hike to the tephra crater Hverfell, we saw our gyr, or another, fly by at a much closer distance. Sweet.

The rest of my Icelandic trip blogs are here.

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1 Response to “Icelandic birds”


  1. 1 Larry Jordan July 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

    It sounds like a great trip Matthew. I love the shot of the Black-legged Kittiwake with the chicks and I always feel a sense of loss when I encounter a dead raptor, especially a Short-eared Owl. It surely was awesome to see the Gyrfalcon and to spot the nest site! Very cool.


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