See guide Eric Hynes's exciting slideshow of images from his 2015 visit -- it'll give you a real sense of the birds and landscape of this beautiful island!
Iceland is a place of great topographic beauty and has a tumultuous history to match its sublime geography--the violent, elegant sagas of the Vikings seem of a piece with the abundance of active volcanoes, great glaciers, and shining fjords. The island brims with birdlife. The fluting songs of Icelandic Whimbrels mix with the mournful notes of Eurasian Golden-Plovers to provide unforgettable accompaniment to a landscape that was the last home of the Great Auk, a landscape that seems to have been built by giants.
The towering seabird cliffs at Latrabjarg are breathtaking in scope and hold hundreds of thousands of alcids--Atlantic Puffins, Common and Thick-billed murres, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills hold court on the cliffs next to fulmars and kittiwakes, with a chance of Great Skuas and Parasitic Jaegers patrolling above. Remarkable numbers of waterfowl, of some sixteen species, nest on and around Myvatn, a lake unrivaled in Europe.
Between these nurseries of bird life, we'll look for about seventy nesting species, some Palearctic in distribution, such as White-tailed Eagle, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Common Redshank, European Golden-Plover, Pink-footed Goose, European Shag, and Common Ringed Plover, and others on the eastern limit of their Nearctic range: Common Loon, Barrow's Goldeneye, and Harlequin Duck. To see these birds with newly hatched young is a peerless experience.
The world's largest falcon, the Gyrfalcon, is Iceland's national bird, and ghostly, light-morph individuals are uncommon but widespread across the north. Iceland's endemics include taxa of Black-tailed Godwit, Rock Ptarmigan, Common Raven, Common Redpoll, Redwing, Eurasian Wren, and Merlin, some of which show marked differences from continental forms.
Several aspects of our itinerary are important to point out, as no other bird tour of Iceland offers this combination of essential features:
- We will be traveling in a comfortable, 30-seater bus with a professional driver. We will have ample room to spread out, elevated seating for better views through huge windows, and your guide will be free to scan for birds instead of keeping his eyes glued to the shoulder-less roads.
- Spending the first night in downtown Reykjavik at an upscale hotel really aids in our physical transition to a new time zone after lengthy travel. It also puts us just a couple of blocks from critical birding areas in the city. The modern structures and cultural aspects of the capital city are not to be missed and will come into sharp contrast from the wild landscapes during the rest of the tour.
- Our brief in-country flight (cost included) is picturesque, a serious timesaver, and means we will not have to do any backtracking. We will enjoy another full birding day instead of being stuck in a van retracing our route.
- The sublime beauty of the West Fjords region cannot be overstated and the birding aspects are spectacular--the rugged and remote landscapes are awe-inspiring and the seabird cliffs are astonishing. This region also provides some of our best opportunities to spot White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon. We savor this portion of Iceland, while others barely touch the area or skip it altogether.
- Finally, our last evening in country will feature the freshest seafood possible. During a short cruise the crew will trawl for shellfish while getting up close and personal with nesting European Shags.
The pace of our tour will allow us to savor more than just the fantastic birds. Don't be surprised if waterfalls, fjords, mountains, or whales distract us. For those arriving a day or more early, the capital abounds with shopping and cultural opportunities. Iceland is virtually pollution-free and has a friendly population, good cuisine, and modern infrastructure--high-latitude birding for those who like a little more comfort than is usually found within a stone's throw of the Arctic Circle.
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