Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Iceland: days 1-2

Blue skies and a layer of cloud hang above a wind-tossed sea. Welcome to Iceland, home of the gale-force wind.
This was an unplanned trip, in as much as while I had intended to spend a few days birding in the second half of September, heading overseas wasn’t part of the original plan. But by the time I was free to get away, Scilly’s mega-Yank phase had largely passed, London and the South-East were devoid of major attractions and the Aberdeenshire Sandhill Crane had moved on (more of that later). So Plan D was launched, and last Friday I found myself on a plane to Keflavik International Airport, where incredibly strong winds made landing, and subsequently even walking, a challenging experience.
The dowitcher sp discovered soon after arrival at Garður proved to be a Long-billed.
With a couple of hours of daylight left, I headed straight to Garður, at the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula, and started working the pools there. I first visited this site, and indeed Iceland, 10 years previously, and was struck then by what a ‘natural’ birding hot-spot it was. With up-to-the-minute local advice from Edward Rickson (who showed me around in 2001 and who wrote a motivational itinerary for the area in this October’s Birdwatch), I started working the pools methodically. Good numbers of gulls included plenty of Glaucous – always good to see – and while working through them I picked up a Grey Phalarope flying in.

European Golden Plover is the default shorebird at Garður, but the huge flocks harbour surprises ...
Taking up a different position to try and get better looks at the phalarope, I moved to the other side and looked back across wet fields where Eurasian Wigeon and an assortment of waders were gathering. Working through the flock I glimpsed but then lost an interesting-looking calidrid, though this was more than made up for by a dowitcher strolling out of long grass and into view. My initial delight at this self-find was tempered slightly by the later discovery that a Long-billed – presumably the same bird – had been seen almost a week previously in the area. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (a local rarity) completed what was a good shorebird line-up in the limited time available, and I headed on into Reykjavik to meet up with Edward and catch up on news.

... among them the occasional American Golden Plover, like this dozing adult ...
... and even Buff-breasted Sandpiper (a second Buff-breast was seen by other birders).
This included the revelation that Iceland’s first Pacific Golden Plover had been photographed during the day in the Garður area, so the scene was set for a twitch the following morning. We travelled separately as Edward had to be back in town for noon; I stopped en route to take in an American Wigeon, while the PGP duly performed early on for the masses (which in Iceland means about 10 people!). That wasn’t the case later in the day, but there was no shortage of quality birds in the general area, my own tally including two adult American Golden Plovers, single Buff-breasted and Pectoral Sandpipers, a second American Wigeon and, pick of the bunch, a Buff-bellied Pipit found by Edward (his fourth!). More shortly ...

Side-by-side comparison of juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (right) and Dunlin on the beach at Garður.
The more brightly plumaged of the two drake American Wigeon at Njardvik.
A group of Rock Ptarmigan, looking rather more rufous than their Collins Bird Guide illustration, forage under an abandoned farm trailer - a whole three metres above sea level, and within a stone's throw of the ocean!

1 comment:

  1. Iceland - what a fantastic place full of mad sights and mad people. I went there in 2001 for work - a motorsport event where the competitors had to try and drive up a volcanic ash cliff in 700bhp custom-built off-road vehicles. Many ended up back where they started and on their roof.

    On the bird front - if I had discovered any of the birds you saw at Holmethorpe I would be deliriously happy!

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