This was very much a non-birding trip, notably because we were accompanying 20-odd teenage students on a Geography field trip! Nonetheless, we saw some great landscapes, and not a few half-decent birds – even including a life tick for Julia.
The trip started and ended in the capital, Reykjavik, in the far south-west of Iceland. From there, we visited the famous Blue Lagoon, Sandvik and its spectacular ash beaches and offshore volcanic stacks (last home of the Great Auk), and the fumaroles and mudpools of Gunnuhver.
Next day we made the long “Golden Circle” trip to Pinvellir, right on the Eurasian/North American plate boundary and home to the world’s oldest parliament – plus some Harlequin Ducks (Julia’s tick. We also took in Geysir, the original geyser, and Gulfoss, a fabulous fault-guided waterfall. All this was done in the most stinkingly horrible rain – but luckily the rest of the trip was mostly dry and sunny, if cold. Evening saw us approaching the notorious stratovolcano Eyjafjallojokull, which erupted so spectacularly in 2010, and a lovely remote hotel on the sandur glacial outwash plain (can you tell one of us is a Geography teacher?).
Next day we all took a fabulous trip out to the island of Heimay in the Vestmanyjaer archipelago, site of a huge fissure eruption as recently as 1973. As well as enjoying fab views from the top of Eldfell, the volcano (still warm!), we saw a good few birds on the trip – Puffins, Black Guillemots, Bonxies, Merlin – and dipped Europe’s fourth Mourning Dove, caught by a cat on Heimay that very day! A near miss on the mega front....
Back on dry land, via a couple of Minke Whales, we headed further east, via the Seljandafoss and Skogefoss waterfalls, and arrived at a very remote and rather “James Bond super villain secret base-like” hotel overlooking ice sheets, mountains, the sea and a very bumpy golf course, one which Simon managed to halve some holes with his boss – and even win a couple! Here we had the tick of the entire week, in the form of two nights of subtle but mighty impressive displays of the Aurora Borealis.
From our base, we made several excursions, to Svartifoss in the Skaftafell National Park, with stunning views up to the Vatnajokull ice caps, across the huge outwash plain blasted by a vast jokulhlaup in the 1990s, and of course to the famous ice lagoon at Jokulskarlon, site of a James Bond car chase. Here, we saw Snow Bunting, but dipped Gyr Falcon, being gripped off by cracking photos on the back of a non-birder’s camera...grrrr.
The next day we took a trip to a small (!) valley glacier and enjoyed a couple of hours among the crevasses and weird icefalls – all cramponed up, of course. And back to the west, via the Laki lava flows of 1783, an exploration of an underground lava tube (dark, wet but thankfullt free of lava....), and a pizza and geothermally heated swimming baths conclusion to the trip back in Reykjavik, prior to a depressingly prompt return to school via the joys of Luton Airport.
Other than those mentioned above, bird highlights were such gems as Great Northern Diver, Arctic Skua, Whooper Swan, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Glaucous Gull, migrant Wheatears, a Snipe in the hand, Icelandic Redpoll and Redwing, Short-eared Owl and...er...Mink!
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