A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Iceland 2023

June 9-18, 2023 with Eric Hynes guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
It's not every day that you get to look down on a rainbow. After a mesmerizing few hours at the seabird cliffs of Latrabjarg, we were greeted by this landscape as we returned to Breidavik for lunch. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

Thanks for choosing Field Guides for your Iceland birding adventure. Hopefully you enjoyed it as much as I did. Iceland holds a place near and dear to my heart: enchanting landscapes, cooperative and charismatic wildlife, water everywhere and vibrant culture.

We began with a very windy but productive sea watch at Gardur, really kick-starting the checklist. Next stop was a gull and waterfowl study in Sandgerdi before being immersed in an Arctic Tern colony, plus Common Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and European Golden-Plovers demanding our attention. Our welcoming dinner in downtown Reykjavik was exceptional.

The next morning we scored a number of songbirds (fledglings galore!) before taking a short flight up to Akureyri. The glacial fjords of the northeast part of the island are grand but the winds at Godafoss were simply unkind. An Arctic Loon spiced up the afternoon, while a Short-eared Owl and Parasitic Jaegers made our drive to Lake Myvatn exciting.

Day three began with a walk at Hofdi Forest for Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Scoter and Common Snipe. A Rock Ptarmigan was extremely obliging at Dimmuborgir and then it was off to Husavik for lunch. In the afternoon we looked down on thousands of Atlantic Puffins before taking in the majestic falls at Dettifoss. Pink-footed Geese were noteworthy on our return to the hotel.

Tuesday morning we scoured Myvatn Lake, taking in Red-throated Loons, Horned Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks, etc. While scanning through many Eurasian Wigeons and Tufted Ducks, Helen found us a drake Common Pochard. Returning to Akureyri, we scored a Fieldfare and Goldcrest in a woodland park. The afternoon was spent motoring across the island to Laugarbakki.

We meandered our way out the West Fjords all the way to Breidavik on the 14th. Along the way we marveled at drake Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, a few Rock Ptarmigans, and dramatic geology. An evening visit to the seabird cliffs at Latrabjarg was a major highlight.

Day six was punctuated by thousands upon thousands of Alcids, a below eye level rainbow, and three different drake King Eiders.

On Friday morning we finally caught up with Eurasian Wren, while numerous Common Snipe displayed overhead. We scoped two different White-tailed Eagle nests, then headed to the Baldur Ferry. Atlantic Puffins were continuously in view while we crossed the calm Breidafjordur.

Our penultimate day began with two vagrants: Canada Goose and a stunning Ruff in full display. The pair of territorial Parasitic Jaegers escorting the colossal White-tailed Eagle was one of our more dramatic sightings. In the afternoon we enjoyed a delightful bay cruise and with point blank looks at nesting kittiwakes and shags, plus the freshest sushi possible.

The last day started with a stop in Borgarnes to add Common Shelduck and another White-tailed Eagle eyrie. Another sea watch at Gardur was a big hit with rafts of Manx Shearwater floating just offshore and several cetaceans.

Hopefully everyone's travel home was uneventful. Take care and good birding,

—Eric Hynes

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

GRAYLAG GOOSE (EUROPEAN) (Anser anser anser)

This species may be one of many showing northward expansion due to climate change. Their distribution and numbers across Iceland have increased significantly.

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Three different drake King Eiders in less than an hour was unquestionably a tour highlight. I just love the "fins" on the back. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

PINK-FOOTED GOOSE (Anser brachyrhynchus)

This subtle beauty used to be hard to come by in Iceland

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

A vagrant individual in association with a small flock of Graylag Geese was quite a surprise at Budir

WHOOPER SWAN (Cygnus cygnus)

Massive and majestic

COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)

Their population at Borgarnes has exploded

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

Plenty of good looks

EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)

Drakes by the hundreds; hens must have been off incubating

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)


COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)

Another write-in! Great spotting by Helen. That drake had apparently been there for a few weeks.

TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)

Lots of point blank looks

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

Closest look we enjoyed was right in downtown Reykjavik

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The views of Dettifoss were spectacular but turning around and looking downstream into Jokulsargljufur Canyon was just as sublime. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)

Not one, not two, but three drakes...three!

COMMON EIDER (NORTHERN) (Somateria mollissima borealis)

Common and widespread

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Our picnic lunch with a bakers dozen drakes was unforgettable

COMMON SCOTER (Melanitta nigra)

Mostly in the Myvatn area

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

Those drakes at Myvatn were stunning

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

At the eastern edge of their range

COMMON MERGANSER (EURASIAN) (Mergus merganser merganser)

Good looks but only a few individuals


More common than the previous species

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta islandorum)

Our first experience turned out to be the most intimate encounter

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus auritus)

Nesting right along the shore at Myvatn -- gorgeous

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Say aah. This obliging Atlantic Puffin was one of many we enjoyed up close and personal. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)

First looks in Reykjavik

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER (WESTERN) (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus)

Noisy and striking

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

EUROPEAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis apricaria altifrons)

Such a beautiful shorebird

COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula hiaticula)

Quite similar to Semipalmated Plover

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (EUROPEAN) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus)

This nominate subspecies is a potential split

BLACK-TAILED GODWIT (ISLANDICA) (Limosa limosa islandica)

Absolutely gorgeous

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

In the wrack line at Gardur they were actually challenging to see

RUFF (Calidris pugnax)

An amazing bonus bird and voted THE bird of the tour. We lucked into a brilliant rusty male in association with a Common Redshank at Malarrif

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European Golden-Plovers were one of the many shorebird species we studied in beautiful breeding plumage. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

This shorebird breeds even farther north but we saw some still lingering at Gardur at the start of the tour

DUNLIN (SCHINZII) (Calidris alpina schinzii)

The subspecies breeding here is conspicuously different than what we are used to in North America

PURPLE SANDPIPER (Calidris maritima)

We saw none for days and then we saw dozens; but we never saw any purple

COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago gallinago)

The aerial displays of the males with the winnowing was such a delightful background performance throughout Iceland. The concentration overhead during our post-breakfast walk at Flokalundur was particularly memorable

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Such a treat to see these beautiful shorebirds practically underfoot

COMMON REDSHANK (Tringa totanus robusta)

Conspicuous in every way

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Masters of the wind and kleptoparasitism, observing them along the cliffs at Latrabjarg was mesmerizing. When they locked onto an Alcid returning with food, their pursuits were dazzling.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

The chocolate Alcid


Less numerous than the previous species

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People on the rim give this landscape some perspective. The volume of seabirds here at Latrabjarg is mind-boggling. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

RAZORBILL (Alca torda)

The colony at Latrabjarg is considered to be the largest in the world for this species

BLACK GUILLEMOT (GRYLLE GROUP) (Cepphus grylle islandicus)

Those cherry red feet are special

ATLANTIC PUFFIN (Fratercula arctica naumanni)

Always a favorite and for good reason

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (TRIDACTYLA) (Rissa tridactyla tridactyla)

The most numerous gull in Iceland by far

BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Not exactly black on the head

COMMON GULL (EUROPEAN) (Larus canus canus)

Plenty of good looks

HERRING GULL (EUROPEAN) (Larus argentatus argenteus)

Seen well

ICELAND GULL (GLAUCOIDES) (Larus glaucoides glaucoides)

Way easier to come by in the winter in Iceland, we were fortunate to see several lingering immatures on the ponds at Sandgerdi the first day



GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus leuceretes)

More numerous during the second half of the tour but we studied the difference from Iceland Gull that first day


The world's largest gull

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Meadow Pipits were frequently overhead in flight display but participant Charlie Baisden caught this one perched.

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

We were fortunate to see the "Portlandica" plumage of immature birds at Rif -- a plumage most birders never get to see

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

The smallest loon -- we enjoyed some spectacular views

ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)

Presumedly the same individual has been summering on that lake for several years now -- an awesome write-in!

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

My spark bird

Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

EUROPEAN STORM-PETREL (BRITISH) (Hydrobates pelagicus pelagicus)

Tough to pick out but we had a few of these tiny pelagics fly by at Gardur

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)

It was a delight to watch them from the dock for the Baldur Ferry

MANX SHEARWATER (Puffinus puffinus)

Thankfully, our second visit to Gardur produced flocks on the smooth as glass water

Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)

NORTHERN GANNET (Morus bassanus)

Massive seabirds

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Parasitic Jaegers are not little birds but this pair appear tiny compared to that massive White-tailed Eagle that flew right by the bus. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

GREAT CORMORANT (NORTH ATLANTIC) (Phalacrocorax carbo carbo)

Few and far between

EUROPEAN SHAG (Gulosus aristotelis)

We got up close and personal with many nesting birds on our bay cruise

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Wow - what a tour for this massive raptor. I think we got up to double digits. The most memorable for me was the individual being escorted by a pair of territorial Parasitic Jaegers

Strigidae (Owls)

SHORT-EARED OWL (NORTHERN) (Asio flammeus flammeus)

Few and far between in Iceland but we lucked into three different individuals

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (EURASIAN) (Falco columbarius subaesalon)

Little but mighty

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax varius)

Remember that one eating a murre egg on the penultimate day of the tour?

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The freshest Scallops possible was just one of the highlights of our evening bay cruise. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Regulidae (Kinglets)

GOLDCREST (Regulus regulus)

We discovered a pair feeding fledglings in the cemetery in Reykjavik and then again in the forest in Akureyri

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

EURASIAN WREN (ICELAND) (Troglodytes troglodytes islandicus)

This species was starting to make me nervous until we finally got that songster teed up in the scope across the ravine

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

Their numbers are definitely increasing in Iceland, unlike other parts of their native range

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

REDWING (ICELANDIC) (Turdus iliacus coburni)

Numerous throughout

EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula merula)

We encountered this uncommon breeder in Iceland in way more locations than I remember from my previous tours

FIELDFARE (Turdus pilaris)

A common breeder in northeastern Europe, this species only shows up as a vagrant in Iceland. We were fortunate to catch up to this large thrush in the woodland park in Akureyri.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (GREENLAND) (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa)

This handsome species loves boulder slopes

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Red-necked Phalaropes were ridiculously cooperative at Myvatn. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

WHITE WAGTAIL (WHITE-FACED) (Motacilla alba alba)

This striking, ground-foraging species seems indifferent to humans around them

MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis whistleri)

Plenty of good looks around Lake Myvatn

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

COMMON REDPOLL (ROSTRATA/ISLANDICA) (Acanthis flammea islandica)

The streaky fledglings were amusing

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis insulae)

The brilliant male behind our hotel put on quite a show


WHITE-BEAKED DOLPHIN (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Seen in small pods from the lighthouse at Gardur our last day

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

These tiny cetaceans were seen from Gardur

COMMON MINKE WHALE (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

One of the individuals that last stop came close enough to shore that we could hear its exhale

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The handsome Long-tailed Ducks across the street from our hotel at Myvatn seemed to barely notice our presence along the shore path. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

Sea dog

GRAY SEAL (Halichoerus grypus)

The larger seal with the horse-like skull

Totals for the tour: 75 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa