There are lots of spectacular single waterfalls in Iceland, but Hraunfossar is a real waterfall extravaganza of 900 meters of water falling over rocks. I’m standing in one spot, trying to capture the entire length of the waterfalls over the next three images.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Farewell, Scotland. Hello, Iceland — a new vista for us. And what a unique and interesting place it is. Here are a few of the vistas we’ve seen in the last two days.
With 18 hours of daylight, who can sleep at 5 a.m.? The birds are up and active on the river at this hour, so I am too.
And of course, the birds — it’s nesting time in the arctic, and the birds are unusually active in these long daylight hours. There are limited numbers of species breeding on this small island, but lots of individuals of those species present.
The Farne Islands off the coast of Seahouses, England are Puffin central at this time of year.
We met them swimming in the water fishing for their favorite sand eels (not eels), herring or sprats…
And we found them on rocky prominances, looking out over the sea below…
And we found them all over the grassy mounds in the center of the island where they congregated around burrow holes, and some kind of speed dating process was going on as pairs tried to match up with each other.
Puffins return to the same island, and may return to the same burrow they used the previous year. They may reunite with the previous year’s partner or search for a new one, forming a monogamous pair bond for the duration of the breeding season.
Every now and then, groups would break up, with individuals flying around, joining up with other groups.
it was fascinating to watch the pairing up rituals, which involved displays by the presumed male (chest puffing, wing flapping, head tilted back and forth), and some beak-to-beak interactions (billing) in and around their burrow.
“Billing” contact between the breeding pair is essential to building and maintaining the pair bond.
One or both members of the pair improve the burrow by removing dirt with their webbed feet and adding grassy thatch, before the female lays her one egg, which takes 40-45 days of incubation to hatch. Nestlings are fed a variety of fish for 35 to 50 days, depending on the food supply parents can provide, and then make their way to the open ocean to feed on their own.
The Norfolk coast features picturesque scenery, numerous hiking paths, and of course, loads of birds. Our hike yesterday took us alongside coastal marshes and wide expanses of beach sand untouched by anything except one set of car tracks. The coastal dunes are protected areas for breeding avocets and ringed plovers, of which we just barely caught a glimpse.
The Norfolk coast at Burnham Overy Staithe where we’re staying this week undergoes twice daily low tides that leave boats stranded and large areas of mud for the sea birds to explore.
Low tide seems to be a profitable time to harvest some juicy worms from the mud, as we saw Oystercatchers, Black-headed Gulls, and an assortment of shorebirds doing. These tidal mudflats are a rich source of fuel for migratory birds that pass through here on their way from Africa to northern latitudes in Europe.
Several non-avians enjoyed the mudflats on this warm, balmy day as well, sliding, rolling, and throwing big globs of the gooey stuff at each other.
The Amazon river is a vast and impressive highway, carrying people and goods to and from Ecuador to Peru to Brazil. It is also home to hundreds of fish, amphibian, and caiman species, as well as the pink river dolphin.
River dolphins in the Amazon are the largest of the fresh water dolphins, with males weighing up to 500 pounds and growing to almost 9 feet in length. There is pronounced sexual dimorphism in this species, but unlike other whales and dolphins, the females are about one-third smaller than the males, instead of larger.
Males have pinkish bodies and often show battle scars from competition with other males for females during the breeding season.
The huge melon on their forehead is fatty tissue that helps them direct their sonar echolocating beam. River dolphins emit a small amplitude click that helps them locate nearby objects and prey in the muddy Amazon water. A longer beam like that emitted by oceanic dolphins would echo back too much confusing information in such a visually obstructed environment.
More than 53 species of fish, river turtles, and crabs are food for river dolphins, with an individual sometimes sharing food with another. Dolphins may hunt with other species like river otters, putting increased pressure on their prey in a cooperative hunt, but dolphins and otters tend to specialize on different species in the hunt.
I was very impressed with how much wildlife was present in the roughly square mile of coastal lagoon and marsh habitat of Los Pantanos de Villa on the outskirts of Lima. The water is exceptionally clear, filtered through a series of canals from the Rimac River.
Initial protection, by setting the land aside in 1977, has been steadily upgraded with controls that have finally allowed it to be designated a wildlife refuge. A modest entrance fee of $5 per person allows access to all of the refuge as well as use of boats to float through the waterways in the marshes. I suppose we could have snuck up on a few more species by taking a boat instead of walking on cattail-lined trails.
Small terrestrial birds were hard to pick out and photograph in the dense vegetation, but one Saffron Finch gave us his best profile.
Where there are large flocks of birds crowding together, there are usually a few fatalities, either from fighting with each other, or from predators. And where there are carcasses, there are usually vultures, waiting…
Scavengers, like the vultures, perform essential clean-up, leaving nothing but skeleton and feathers when they have finished with a carcass.
Sometimes the very young offspring of otherwise beautiful adults can be surprisingly homely.
Maybe it’s the bald head and unruly bristled feathers that make the chick of the Common Moorhen so unattractive. The adults are rather striking with their red and yellow facial patterns and lustrous purple-black plumage. Curiously, we only saw one chick; were the others eaten or just in hiding?
These and other marsh birds weren’t easy to spot in the lagoons lined with dense layers of narrow leaf cattails.
We managed to see a few other species through the cattail barriers, like this Andean Coot, a larger version of our common American Coot.
Not exactly an ugly duckling in the same way that the Moorhen chick was, but not quite ready for prime time yet either, as its wing and tail feathers are not fully developed. It’s kind of a teen-ager at this stage of its life.