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.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula in western Iceland is known for its dramatic landscapes, but nothing can prepare you for just how dramatic and all within a few miles of each other.
Our first stop at Budir to see the Black Church surprised us with some stunning mountain scenery as well.
Iceland continues to amaze. The vistas are panoramic and huge, the mountains spring up out of absolutely flat lava fields or grasslands, there are steep sea cliffs with nesting sea birds for the bird lover to enjoy, and there seems to be a waterfall around every corner. We haven’t had many sunny days (maybe one), but the weather is constantly changing, so if you wait a while at one spot, you can get a decent photo.
And it doesn’t get much more scenic than our rental house in Borgarnes where we can seee steep mountain peaks on one side of the house,
and a fjord on the other. The backyard here is perfect for photographing the sunset.
Some of the most spectacular sights in Iceland are of course its glaciers and their waterfall outflows. Even on cloudy, foggy, rainy days like the one we drove the southern coast, the sightseeing is pretty spectacular.
But these beautiful waterfalls are small potatoes compared to the powerful volume of water that has shaped the terraces of Gullfoss, formed from the melting of Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull.
so many birds, so many photos…
Springtime in Iceland is a mecca for bird photographers, as arctic breeding species return to find a mate, build a nest, and perpetuate their species. The road next to our river hotel in Hella is particularly rich with Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Oystercatchers, and Golden Plover. The bird fauna here is dominated by shorebirds, with few representatives of other orders, like the songbirds (passerines).
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.
Handa Island off the northwestern coast of Scotland has some of the most beautiful sea cliffs. Their base is 3 billion year old gneiss rock, on top of which are layers of sandstone, and finally quartz. They have weathered and eroded just enough for seabirds to find niches for their nest sites.
Just off the coast from Scourie, on the northwest corner of Scotland, Handa Island presents some prodigious cliff faces that are very attractive to breeding sea birds. A small boat dropped us off on the island, volunteers from the Scottish Wildlife Trust met us to explain the rules for navigating the island trails, and we set off on a 4 mile loop hike.
The Great Skuas were not at all shy, and one sat completely still while at least 6 of us passed by at close range.
Skuas are about the size of a large Herring Gull, but with a larger breast, long tapered wings, and powerful and speedy forward flight. This bird is an intimidator, using its size and aggressive behavior to harass other sea birds into dropping their catch of fish. They are the breeding sea birds’ nemesis!
Great Skuas will probably not make anyone’s top 10 favorite list because they have some rather unpleasant habits: robbing other birds of their prey, grabbing the wings of sea birds and pulling them out of the air, harassing penguins into deserting their carefully protected egg or chick and then killing and eating them, even invading sea bird colonies at night to prey on roosting adults.
We were on a quest to find a Golden Eagle (or two), so we drove west from our lodging in Tongue (pronounced like the mouth part) to a valley dominated by a 3000 foot peak called Ben Hope (“Ben” in Scotland refers to a peak). For once, we had a beautiful sunny day for a drive down a long narrow glacial valley with high peaks on both sides and mixed moorland and stunted birch forest on the valley floor.
Mixed forest and moorland dominate this landscape now, but as recently as 5000 years ago, northern Scotland was a vast forest of Scots pine, known as the Caledonian forest. A wetter climate allowed deciduous trees to invade and a mixed forest of oak, birch, aspen, juniper developed, only to give way to the heather, bracken, and grass mixture as the land was cleared for human use. Gradually the forest is now returning (with replanting) in this area.
And eventually after more than an hour of waiting, craning necks to the sky of both sides of the valley, we did spot a lone Golden Eagle gliding from the ridge top across from us, across the valley to the ridge top in back of us…where it landed.
We eventually found the bird perched high on the cliff face, and then a second eagle, most likely a mate, as well as a another intruder, with whom there was a short-lasting aerial scuffle, all taking place at great distance. But the spotting scope view was exhilarating enough, along with the stunning scenery in Golden Eagle valley to satisfy everyone.
Golden Eagles are at the very top of the food chain in northern Scotland, and may prey on a variety of birds and mammals as they roam over a huge home range of as much as 70 square miles. With a wing length of 6 to 8 feet and a body weight of 8 to 11 pounds, they are an impressive sight.