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Birding Iceland - Harlequins

Birding Iceland
Iceland is a place many birders dream of going; it hosts a number of species which are either difficult or impossible to see elsewhere in Europe. Barrow's Goldeneye, Harlequin, Gyrfalcon, Red-necked Phalarope and the possibility of Snowy Owl are all compelling reasons to visit this fantastic island. These specialities seen alongside large numbers of commoner birds against the spectacular backdrop of the Icelandic scenery make birding here an unforgettable experience.

Rarities seen during my time in Icleand were for me completely overshadowed by the local specialities but a Ring-billed Gull and a couple of American Wigeon were also seen. There are very few Icelandic birders to cover a vast area of suitable habitat - the vast majority of vagrants must go unseen.

In conjunction with a crewchange I was lucky enough to spend a day and a half in Iceland.......see link lower down for a species list.

Snowy Owl
Birders might just get lucky with a Snowy Owl or two....

Gyrfalcon Glaucous Gulls
Gyrfalcon, June 2008 Glaucous Gulls are a common sight even in summer
Brunnich's Guillemots Harlequin
Brunnich's Guillemots panting the heat of the Icelandic summer, June 2008 Male Harlequin - one of the main reasons birders visit Iceland! Much more important than the Blue Lagoon!

Click here for a list of species seen during June 2008 with one full day ashore (25 June), a couple of hours in Reykjavik (24 June) and the rest of the time well offshore.

Arctic Skua Black-tailed Godwit (islandica)
Arctic Skua, Iceland, June 2008 Black-tailed Godwit, June 2008
Red-necked Phalarope Slavonian Grebe
Red-necked Phalarope, June 2008 Slavonian Grebe, June 2008


Reykjavik city centre
Right in the middle of Reykjavik are a couple of lakes, these house the typical city species present in almost any European city.
 However, alongside the Mallards and Tufted duck there are Gadwall and Greater Scaup. And instead of Mute Swan there are Whooper Swans. A small colony of Arctic Terns breed in the park too.

Arctic Tern Gadwall
Arctic Tern are one of the most numerous and widely distributed species in Iceland Female Gadwall, Reykjavik, June 2008
Greater Scaup Whooper Swan
Female Scaup, Reykjavik city centre Whooper Swan, Reykjavik city centre
Arctic Terns, Reykjavik city centre Scenic overload
Arctic Terns feeding young - Reykjavik city centre Arctic Fox and Snow Bunting were seen at this location - the only landscape I took during a hectic day's birding.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl - expect the unexpected

Feeding the birds, Reykjavik Northern Fulmar
Seeing Whooper Swans coming down to bread is an unusual sight for visiting birders... Northern Fulmar  are very common in Iceland - flocks of them swirling aroud their breeding cliffs are a true spectacle.

Publications, information and books

This Crossbill Guides book is based on a brilliant concept - giving a lot of background about Iceland, information about where to find the birds and plenty of suggested walks. Packed full of useful tips it is perfect for anyone interested in the natural history of Iceland and a highly recommended companion to any field guide.

Links to other websites covering Iceland can be found below:

One of the best laid out birding websites ever:
Birding Iceland

For more information about birding at sea off Iceland see following link:

Birding the North Atlantic

Other wildlife
There is plenty of other wildlife to be seen on Iceland, largely sea mammals - during my time ashore there these included White-beaked Dolphins, Harbour Seal and Grey Seal. Highlight mammal wise was an Arctic Fox being mobbed by a White Wagtail and a pair of Snow Bunting. Polar Bears occur from time to time.

Offshore various species of whale (probably of at least three species were seen). A picture of one of these whales can be seen at the bottom of this page.

Dolphins and other cetacea are a common sight off Iceland

Mink on the shore at Reykjavik
Mink on the shore at Reykjavik

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