Iceland may have an impoverished bird fauna, compared to what one can see in the U.K. or Europe, but it more than makes up for it with great numbers of the species that are present. For the bird photographer, this makes it easier to get some good photos.
A really good place to see seabirds is at the cliffs at Arnarstapi on the southern side of the Snaefellsness peninsula.
Shags weren’t very common here, but a couple of them had carved out some space low on the cliffs.
Kittiwakes are the only gull that nest on cliffs. They were typically found in great numbers lower on the cliff than the fulmars, which are bigger birds and are more aggressive toward everything that approaches their space.
Down on the shoreline below the cliffs were several species of shorebirds, foraging in the sand and rocks right at the edge of the water.
Iceland Gulls are rather small, with pink feet, and bright yellow bills. They actually don’t breed in Iceland, but instead in Greenland and arctic parts of Canada. Apparently they are still fattening up for spring breeding before migrating.
A lot of Knots. These small birds look like every other shorebird in the winter, but have bright chestnut back and breast in their breeding plumage, which is why some call them “red knots”. It’s another arctic breeder in Canada, Europe, and Russia.
Also foraging along the shoreline at other points along the Iceland coast were Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers, and Red Shanks. These species were exploring the seaweed that had washed up on shore, and the crevices between rocks along the shore, turning things over or probing into sand to find small invertebrates there. They will all fly on from here to their arctic breeding sites in Europe and Russia.
Sanderlings and a Ruddy Turnstone foraging at Akranes beach, Iceland
Purple Sandpipers, Akranes beach, Iceland
Ringed Plover, Akranes beach, Iceland
Red Shanks are well named, as their red legs make them easy to spot.
Arctic terms were flying overhead at Arnarstapi above the grassy meadows, some carrying fish. This species is the longest distance migrator among all animals, flying from its Antarctic home in our winter to breed in the Arctic in our summer, and then back again, a round trip of about 44,000 miles.
Harlequin ducks are at home in the open ocean, but they breed in cold, fast moving streams in northern North America, Iceland, and Greenland. The outlandish color pattern of the breeding male gives the duck its name.
Unfortunately, numbers of these handsome ducks are declining rapidly in North America, due to loss of habitat on cold, northern rivers and oil spills. I hope they fare better in Iceland.
The highlights of our bird sightings was finding a breeding pair of Red-throated Loons and Horned Grebe on some of the small lakes that dot the Iceland landscape. Brilliant colors of these birds light up the infamously gray, cloudy, rainy landscape here.
A pair of Red-throated Divers (Loon) at rest on a small pond
Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, photo by Debbie Reynolds.