TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Iceland

Sunday 7 - Tuesday 16 July 2002


Leaders:
Andy Jones
Stephanie Coghlan

Sunday 7 June

Sunny with heavy showers

We arrived in Keflavik airport in sunshine and were met by Andy Jones and the party from the USA, who had arrived from the States early this morning and had been birdwatching around the Reykjanes peninsula as well as having tried out the Blue Lagoon bathing. We set off across the lava fields and had soon spotted our first birds: Golden Plover, Whimbrel and Arctic Tern as well as Lesser Black-backed Gull.

We stopped at the President's official residence and birdwatched from there, finding Long tailed Duck, Red breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher and Snipe. We had a brief tour of Reykjavik and at Tjornin, the town pool, we saw Whooper Swans and plenty of Mallards, Eiders and Tufted Ducks. We passed through heavy showers as we travelled west towards the greenhouse area and then up the White river past its confluence with the Bruara, which we crossed over to reach Skalholt. At the bridge we found lots of Red necked Phalaropes drifting on the stream feeding. At Skalholt we checked into our accommodation next to the church, ate a dinner of stuffed haddock and Icelandic fruit pudding, held an introductory meeting and fell into bed. It had been a long day.

Monday 8 June

Bright with sunny intervals. Heavy showers

We started our tour back at the bridge watching the Red-necked Phalaropes and Dunlin. Our next stop was the sheep sorting station at Reykjarettir where we found Wheatear, Whimbrel and Golden Plover and lots of flowers including our first fern, Moonwort.

We stopped next at Hjalparfoss, where a spring bite of grass was available to the herds of animals going to and from the grazing in the highlands. We had lunch there in the sunshine and afterwards drove further into the mountains to the 11th century farm at Stöng and we walked in the valley to Gjain where we found 3 Harlequin Ducks and got to grips with all the different willows.

We came back for an early dinner as it looked fair for a trip to the Westmann Islands. So at 7.15 we set off for Selfoss airport and were immediately on our way to the island of Heimaey. Chris met us with his bus and soon we were on Fire Mountain learning about the 1973 disaster and how the town was saved and the harbour improved. We walked up to feel the still warm larva after 29 years and trod on the kilometre or two which had increased the size of the island. Then it was out to the Puffin colony where the evening flight had just come in and they were loafing by their holes. Then we too were on our evening flight back to Sellfoss and our beds. It still was not dark but it was 11.30.pm.

Tuesday 9 July Sunny

We awoke to clear skies and a cold wind. After breakfast we went to explore along the south coast. Our first stop was for stamps and shopping but we turned off to Seljlandsfoss to walk under the waterfall and to search successfully for Icelandic Wren on the Wood Cranesbill covered hillside. Our next waterfall was at Skogar Foss and after walking in its mists to see the saxifrages and ferns we went to the Glacier valley of Solheinajokull where we had lunch overlooking the river.

After lunch we walked out to some pseudocraters and looked at the three colours of pumice from the three different eruptions. Up at the glacier, we explored the ice tongue. On our return to the bus we crossed the lateral moraines and over the outwashings to the main road. We went east to Vik beach and found Kittiwakes and Fulmars nesting, many Puffins on the sea and we could see the colony of Arctic Terns roosting on the black sand. We walked back along the beach and Andy met us at the Filling Station with tea and coffee.

Our final stop of the day was at Dyrholaey where we drove across to the sea cliffs and arch and looked at the seabirds from the lighthouse. We could see Gannets nesting on one of the rocks and the sun shone so we lingered enjoying the views, and looked down to the black sand beach. It was quite late when we got back for dinner at 8.00 but we did not care in the Iceland light.

Wednesday 10 June Sunny

We left at 9.00 and drove towards Hekla which was not wrapped in its shawl. We paused briefly at Geysir as it was erupting and then went on to Gull Foss where we admired the rainbows in the angled falls and were awed by the huge rift. Back at Geysir we walked close to Geysir and Strokur, which was erupting regularly, while Geysir only acts about 3 times a day, having been quiet until the 2000 earthquake.

We drove east to Thingvellir Lake where we had lunch and Great Northern Diver was found on the lake. We walked to the Law Rock and into the Rift valley, were we found Wren, and Redwing singing. Our journey continued through farmland down to the Hvalfjördur where there were plenty of Eider ducks and loafing flocks of males in moult. At Borganes we stopped for coffee and as the tide was high the estuary was full of waders, with many returning Dunlin back from the breeding grounds as well as Redshank.

Then it was over the pass to the north road down to Grundarfjördur and our new hotel, Hotel Framnes, on the seafront. There were lots of Fulmars in the harbour and Glaucous Gulls as we arrived. We had an excellent dinner of fresh cod and icecream and fruit and enjoyed the light by taking strolls around he village.

Thursday 11 July Sunny

We had an early breakfast and set off at 8.00 to catch the ferry from Stykkisholmur. We sailed through the many islands seeing Puffins. Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots and we spotted a Sea Eagle perched on a rocky outcrop. On our arrival on Flatey we were soon watching many tame birds like Snow Bunting, Black Guillemot, Ringed Plover and Redshank.

We walked across the fields to the shore and found Purple Sandpipers and plenty of Red-necked Phalarope. We had our lunch overlooking the Puffins and walked back via the church with the scenes of local life painted on the ceiling, including a Sea Eagle. Too soon it was time to sail back and we were still birdwatching as the ferry arrived. We sailed back to Stykkisholmur past the islands and visited the Berserks Lava, Berserkjahnraun, on our way home finding Dunlin on the shore and Red throated Divers with a chick in a pool. Roosting outside the port were more Glaucous Gulls. After dinner we were lead on a town tour and heard about life in an Icelandic fishing village, finishing with a taste of Brennivin and dried fish.

Friday 12 July

Sunny start then overcast.

We drove out to Olafsvik to begin our whale-watching tour. It was a fast catamaran and we were soon speeding along the coast past gulls, Puffins, Arctic Terns and Brünnich's Guillemots. We were 40km off the point when "Two blows at 12 o'clock " were called and we saw a Blue Whale fluke, which is very unusual. There were three whales in the area but we were able to stay with one of them for one hour twenty minutes as it fed in 3 to 5 minute dives, so we saw its huge size very well and its blue-grey back. Reluctantly we had to turn back and sail home.

We drove to the pools at Rif where 300 Red-necked Phalarope were gathering and then to the cliffs out at the Bjarnerhofn, where we saw Brünnich's Guillemots on the cliff complete with Common Guillemot for comparison. We returned to our hotel and after dinner Andy was able to show us with computer graphics where we had been.

Saturday 13 July

Rain and overcast. Clearing later in the morning.

We set off past Breidafjordur and along the shores of the Swan Fjord, (Hvammsfjordur), where there were indeed many moulting Whooper Swans, possibly 300. We stopped at Stadir and then at Olafslundur for lunch, which gave us time to explore the birch woodland and find Meadow Pipit and Redpoll. We stopped after crossing the river at Blönduos and we walked out to the island of Hrutey and looked at the flowers and birds. Our last stop was at Varmahild and after we had crossed the Ox Pass, Öxnadalsheidi, we were soon in Akureyri and settling into our accommodation at the very comfortable Guesthouse at Öngulsstadir.

Sunday 14 July

Overcast cold wind

We left after another excellent breakfast and drove down the Eyjafjordur and the lakes east to Myvatn. We stopped at Godafoss to see where the pagan Gods had been thrown into the Falls 1,000 years ago. We stopped at the Laxa River and found several female Harlequin Ducks.

On the east side of the lake we visited the Pseudocraters at Skutastadagigar and found Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe as well as plenty of ducks. We had lunch overlooking the Höfdi peninsula watching Harlequin ducklings and in the afternoon we walked in the area known as Black Castles or Dimmuborgir and some walked up the crater of Hverfell, after we had seen distant Gyr Falcons.

On our descent we were met by the rest of the party who had gone back through the castles, and had found Snow Bunting. Next we explored the geological features of the area and went to see the mud pots and boiling water at Namafjall. Up at Krafla we saw how all this thermal energy could be harnessed. On our return we looked into a crack where the water was warm enough to bathe and found Herb Paris and Beech Fern growing.

Our return was by the west side of the lake and we saw flocks of Tufted Duck, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter and Wigeon gathered, often with young. In the small pools we found more Slavonian Grebes and a Red throated Diver flew over. We dragged ourselves away and stopped briefly on the way home to a late dinner. We had time to call the log and fall into bed happy but tired.

Monday 15 July

Light rain then clearing later

We had an early breakfast and drove down the south side of the Eyjafjordur to catch the ferry to Hrisey. We began our tour at the church and then took a walk around the island, there were Snow Bunting and Redwing in the gardens and plenty of Black-tailed Godwit on the old fish- drying racks.

Next we crossed the island to the south shore and by now the weather was warmer and clearer so we were peeling off layers of clothing. The best views were of a female Ptarmigan and her young, and she was joined by a male. We reached a viewpoint looking over the whole island and then we went back to the village to catch the ferry at 1o'clock.

We took lunch at the old herring processing factory and watched Red-breasted Mergansers with young, Long -tailed Duck and Tufted Ducks and yet more Eider as we ate our sandwiches and drank our tea or coffee. Akureyri Botanic Gardens gave us a good chance to see Redpolls and Redwings and to look at the island Botanic section as well as to enjoy the rest of the flowers.

Then we had time for a little shopping before we returned to find it was Christmas dinner of herring starters and smoked lamb and salads, vegetables and potatoes and a range of cheeses. After dinner and the final bird count we went for a drive and walk near a waterfall and had good views of a male Ptarmigan.

Tuesday 16 July

Low cloud.

After packing up we went for a drive around the upper reaches of the valley. As we drove the weather cleared and we had a last stop over-viewing the town of Akureyri, before it was time to go to the airport.

Our flight south was through cloud so unfortunately we did not have views of the interior. We were met for our transfer and the taxi driver offered to take us to see the Pearl as we had half an hour to spare. So we enjoyed the art exhibition as well as the views and the art exhibition before arriving at Keflavik for our final flights home.

Overall we had had an excellent tour with wonderful views of a Blue Whale, close views of Red-necked Phalaropes, Ptarmigan, Black-tailed Godwits and Harlequin Ducks and tantalising glimpses of White-tailed Sea Eagle and Gyr Falcon.

The flowers throughout were very attractive including Northern Green and Small White orchids and we had an inspiring leader in Andy Jones whose knowledge of Iceland, and its geology is outstanding.

Many thanks to the good company for contributing to the success of the tour.

Species Lists

Birds

Red- throated Diver: Fairly common breeding species. Recorded in pairs and young at Beserkjahraun.

Great Northern Diver: Rare Breeding Species. Pairs recorded at Thingvellirvatn and Myvatn.

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe: Locally common breeding species. Recorded at Myvatn.

Northern Fulmar: Very common breeding species

Northern Gannet: Locally common breeding species

Great Cormorant: Locally common breeding species

European Shag: Locally common breeding species

Whooper Swan: Common breeding species. Recorded in pairs and with cygnets throughout and a moulting flock of 300+ at Hvammsfjordur.

Pink-footed Goose: 12+ with young near Miklibaer

Greylag Goose: Locally common breeding species.

Eurasian Wigeon: Common breeding species

Gadwall: Uncommon breeding species. Only recorded at Myvatn.

Common Teal: Common breeding species

Mallard: Common breeding species

Tufted Duck: Common breeding species.

(Greater) Scaup: Common breeding species

Common Eider: Very common breeding species. Recorded daily and in large moulting flocks.

Harlequin Duck: Locally common on fast running streams. Recorded at Gjain, Laxa River and on the Eyjafjordur.

Long-tailed Duck: Fairly common breeding species, adults with young at Myvatn.

Common Scoter: Uncommon breeding species. Recorded with young at Myvatn.

Barrow's Goldeneye: Locally common breeding species.

Red-breasted Merganser: Common breeding species.

White-tailed Eagle: Rare breeding species. One adult on an island in Breidafjordur.

Gyr Falcon: Two distant birds seen near Dimmuborgir.

(Rock) Ptarmigan: One seen by the roadside as we travelled. Seen well with young on Hrisey, and a male at the waterfall near Ongulstadir.

(Eurasian) Oystercatcher: Common breeding species.

(European) Golden Plover: Very common breeding species.

(Greater) Ringed Plover: Fairly common breeding species.

Black-tailed Godwit: Fairly common breeding species seen well on Hrisey.

Whimbrel: Common breeding species.

Common Redshank: Common breeding species.

(Ruddy) Turnstone: Seen on the seaweed at Flatey.

Red-necked Phalarope: Common breeding species. Over 30 feeding on Bru river and over 300 gathered at Rif pools.

Common Snipe: Common breeding species.

Purple Sandpiper: Locally common breeding species. Recorded on Flatey.

Dunlin: Common breeding species. Only seen in flocks on estuaries especially at Borganes.

Great Skua: Locally common breeding species.

Arctic Skua: Common breeding species.

Common (Mew) Gull: Rare breeding species. Recorded only in the Akureyri area on Eyjafjordur and Hrisey.

Herring Gull: Common breeding species

Great Black-backed Gull: Common breeding species

Glaucous Gull: Small flocks along the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Herring Gull: Common breeding species

Lesser Black-backed Gull: Very common breeding species.

Black-headed Gull: Very common breeding species

(Black-legged) Kittiwake: Very common breeding species.

Arctic Tern: Very common breeding species. Small colonies very common. Very large colony at Vik and at Rif.

Guillemot: Very common breeding species.

Brünnich's Guillemot: Locally common breeding species at the southern edge of their range in south Iceland and on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Razorbill: Very Common breeding species.

Black Guillemot: Locally common breeding species. Seen well on Flatey.

(Atlantic) Puffin: Very common breeding species.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon): Only recorded in the Reykjavik area.

White Wagtail: Common breeding species

Meadow Pipit: Very common breeding species

(Winter) Wren: Rare breeding species. Recorded at Seljalandsfoss and Thingvellir.

Redwing: Common breeding species.

Northern Wheatear: Common breeding species, but only glimpsed briefly daily.

Common Raven: Common breeding species. 2-10 recorded daily.

Common (European) Starling: Locally common breeding species. Mainly recorded in south Iceland.

Snow Bunting: Common breeding species. Seen well on Snaefellsnes peninsula and on Flatey, Hrisey and at Dimmuborgir.

Common (Mealy) Redpoll: Heard at Gjain and seen at Olafslundur and at Akureyri Botanical Gardens.

Mammals

Common Seal: One dead on the beach at Vik.

Grey Seal: Seen in the Breidafjordur.

Blue Whale: Three recorded and one watched for an hour and twenty minutes on the whale-watching Tour from Olafsvik.

Icelandic Horse: Many recorded every day in all colours of this special breed of horse which is unique to Iceland.

Other Species

Compass Jellyfish

Plants

The Plant List follows the numbers and order from 'A Guide to the Flowering Plants & Ferns of Iceland' by Hördur Kristensson.

3 Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca

4 Bush Vetch Vicia sepium

5 Nootka (Alaskan)Lupin Lupinus nootkatensis

6 Rock Speedwell Veronica fruticans

9 Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys

10 Alpine Gentian Gentiana nivalis

13 Field Forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis

14 Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpoides

15 Oysterplant Mertensia maritima

18 Alpine Bartsia Bartsia alpina

20 Heath Dog-Violet Viola canina

21 Wild Pansy Viola tricolor

22 Alpine Marsh Violet Viola palustris

24 Common Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris

25 Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis

28 Selfheal Prunella vulgaris

29 Alpine Meadow-rue Thalictrum alpinum

30 Wood Cranesbill Geranium sylvaticum

35 Sea Pea Lathyrus japonicus spp. maritimus

37 Heath Spotted Orchid Cirsum arvense

40 Alpine Catchfly Lychnis alpina

40A Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi

41 Wild Thyme Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus

44 Arctic Riverbeauty Epilobium latifolium

45 Willowherb sp.

51 Marsh Cinquefoil Potentilla palustris

54 Small Cranberry Vaccinium microcarpum

56 Water Avens Geum rivale

57 Red Clover Trifolium pratense

58 Hairy Stonecrop Sedum villosum

59 Heather (Ling) Calluna vulgaris

60 Moss Campion Silene acaulis

61 Thrift Armeria maritima

62 Lady's Smock Cardamine nymanii

68 Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus

69 Bog Bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum

70 Alpine Fleabane Erigeron borealis

74 Sea Mayweed Martricaria maritima

76 Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala

78 Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris

79 Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca

81 Sea Campion Silene uniflora

82 Alpine Mouse-ear Cerastrium alpinum

86 Bog-bean Menyanthes trifoliata

87 Mossy Saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides

89 Tufted Saxifrage Saxifrage caespitosa

91 Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea

97 Alpine Snow Saxifrage Saxifraga nivalis

98 Common Mouse-ear Cerastrium fontanum

99 Corn Spurrey Spergularia arvensis

100 Arctic Sandwort Arenaria norvegica

101 Sea Sandwort Honkenya peploides

107 Common Chickweed Stellaria media

112 Alpine Bistort Bistorta vivipara

113 Knotgrass Polygonum aviculare

115 Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris

116 Stone Bramble Rubus saxatilis

117 Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria

118 Rowan Sorbus aucuparia

119 Garden Angelica Angelica archangelica

122 Caraway Carum carsi

123 Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata

124 Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris

125 Yarrow Achillea millefolium

126 Sea Rocket Cakile arctica

127 Northern Rock-cress Cardaminopsis petraea

128 Hoary Whitlowgrass Draba incana

133 Shepherd's Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris

134 Hairy Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta

136 Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis

142 Scottish Asphodel Tofieldia pusilla

143 Northern Bedstraw Galium boreale

144 Slender Bedstraw Galium normanii

145 Fen Bedstraw Galium uliginosum

148 Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

149 Common Wintergreen Pyrola minor

153 Cold Eyebright Euphrasia frigida

155 White Clover Trifolium repens

156 Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

157 Alpine Cinquefoil Potentilla crantzii

158 Silverweed Potentilla anserina

159 Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris

160 Creeping Buttercup Ranunculus repens

162 Arctic Poppy Papaver radicatum

165 Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre

166 Annual Stonecrop Sedum annuum

171 Hawkweed-leaved Treaclemustard Erysimum hieracifolium

174 Roseroot Rhodiola rosea

175 Arctic Buttercup Ranunculus hyperboreus

176 Lady's Bedstraw Galium verum

179 Upright Lousewort Pedicularis flammea

180 Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor

182 Dandelion Taraxacum spp.

183 Hawkweed Hieracium spp.

189 Pineappleweed Chamomilla suaveolens

190 Alpine Lady's Mantle Alchemilla alpina

191 Common Lady's Mantle Alchemilla vulgaris

194 Northern Green Orchid Platanthera hyperborea

195 Small White Orchid Pseudorchis albida

196 Herb-Paris Paris quadrifolia

207 Northern Bur-reed Sparganium hyperboreum

216 Mare's -tail Hippuris vulgaris

217 Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile

219 Field Horsetail Equisetum arvense

220 Shady Horsetail Equisetum pratense

229 Common Moonwort Botrychium lunaria

233 Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis

235 Male-fern Dryopteris filix-mas

236 Lady-fern Athyrium filix-femina

238 Beech Fern Thelypteris phegopteris

241 Dwarf Birch Betula nana

242 Downy Birch Betula pubescens

243 Dwarf Willow Salix herbacea

244 Woolly Willow Salix lanata

245 Bluish Willow Salix callicarpaea

246 Tea-leaved Willow Salix phylicifolia

247 Aspen Populus tremula

248 Greater Plantain Plantago major

250 Sea Plantain Plantago maritima

253 Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa

254 Sheep's Sorrel Rumex acetosella

255 Northern Dock Rumex longifolius

256 Mountain Sorrel Oxyria digyna

257 Frog Orchid Coeloglossum viride

267 Juniper Juniperus communis

268 Crowberry Empetrum nigrum

270 Alpine Clubmoss Diphazium alpinum

274 Tufted Hair Grass Deschampsia caespitosa

276 Wavy Hair Grass Deschampsia flexuosa

284 Yorkshire Fog (Velvet Grass) Holcus lanatus

287 Alpine Meadow Grass Poa alpina

290 Annual Meadowgrass Poa annua

293 Viviparous Fescue Festuca vivipara

296 Sweet Vernal Grass Anthoxanthum odoratum

299 Meadow Foxtail Alopecurus pratensis

302 Timothy Phleum pratense

306 Lyme Grass Elymus arenarius

311 Scheuchzer's Cottongrass Eriophorum scheuchzeri

338 Common Cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium

351 Common Sedge Carex nigra

356 Heath (Many headed) Woodrush Luzula multiflora

358 Alpine Rush Juncus alpinus

365 Iceland (Arctic) Rush Juncus arcticus

Many thanks to Jane Gardner for helping to check the Plant List. Any other mistakes are my own. Stephanie Coghlan July 2002.


© The Travelling Naturalist 2002