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ICELAND

Saturday 22nd June - Sunday 30th June 2013

Mike Watson

Harlequin Ducks (Mike Watson) - one of the highlights of wonderful Iceland!

Harlequin Ducks (Mike Watson) - one of the highlights of wonderful Iceland!

“There are no lifers there for me” is the usual thing I hear listers say about Iceland. This is such a shame as they miss out on one of Europe’s, if not the World’s classic birding destinations. Life birds or not (of course none for me either) Iceland is simply an awesome birding experience and although it is limited in terms of variety of species, its star attractions shine very brightly. We had a fantastic time, back after an eight year gap, and many birding highlights in its stunning volcanic landscape included: seven Gyrfalcons; a pair of White-tailed Eagles tending their chick; more than 120 Harlequin Ducks; 130 Barrow’s Goldeneyes; two Red and countless Red-necked Phalaropes on the delightful islet of Flatey; seven Long-tailed Jaegers (or Skuas) at their only breeding site in Iceland as well as Thick-billed Murres (or Brünnich’s Guillemots) on their breeding cliffs. Other northern specialities included Rock Ptarmigan, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Great Northern Loon (or Diver), Horned (or Slavonian) Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. 'Land bird' species were few, in fact we only just made it into double figures, but this included an Icelandic rarity, in the form of Common Woodpigeon of all things! We also found another rarity on our travels, a smart adult Little Gull at Lake Myvatn.

Mammals were also few with none of them on dry land but they did include five fantastic Humpback Whales and three Minke Whales on our very enjoyable whale-watching boat trips. Most other folks visiting Iceland were there to marvel at its landscape and we diverted from the birding trail several times to visit several non-avian wonders of this incredible island including: Dettifoss (Europe’s biggest waterfall by volume of water); Gulfoss (or the ‘golden falls’); Geysir (the site of the origin of the word of geyser, where the impressive ‘Strokkur’ was blowing regularly during our visit) and finally Þingvellir (the site of Iceland’s first parliament, set in a natural amphitheatre in rift right on Mid-Atlantic ridge). Did I mention the delicious seafood and wonderful people?

Iceland offers the best whale-watching boat trips in Europe with a 95%+ success rate!. This is a Humpback Whale, a common visitor to Icelandic waters in summer.

Iceland offers the best whale-watching boat trips in Europe with a 95%+ success rate!. This is a Humpback Whale, a common visitor to Icelandic waters in summer.