Iceland Part 1

20th May 2016
It has to be said, the weather in Iceland was slightly more inclement than we had hoped for - to be honest it was lousy. Out of the 28 days I can only recall about 3 sessions in reasonably ideal photographic conditions. As we arrived at Kef the sun was out but this soon moved onto snow, followed by sleet, torrential rain, gales or just 'gloom'. Sub optimal….however, you have to work with what you've got……. what I'm trying to say is that these photographic results are fairly episodic rather than a complete coverage of a trip.

You know you're in trouble when you start stalking Wagtail

I was in Iceland with chums Danny Green & Edwin Kats and latterly with Natures Images. We went with plans which were waylaid fairly quickly. It became obvious that the working of bird brains is more sophisticated than they are given credit for. Effectively many hadn't bothered to migrate North, having some inner instinct that the weather in Iceland was still pants and, really, they'd be better off staying put for a while…. and keeping there eye on a convenient birdy weather app.

There is a thin carpeting of Godwit around Myvatn and they tend to be fairly confiding. Nice complementary colouring - I expect the Godwit prefer to call it camouflage

Showing his bendy bill

Godwit sillhouette

Anyway, the first 10 days were spent around Lake Myvatn in North Central Iceland. This has got to be one of the finest sites in the world for a bird lover. Most ducks you can think of breed there, along with numerous waders and lovely little Slavonian Grebes. It was also worth doing a bit of roaming to pick up the highly un-camoflaged Ptarmigan. Whilst its handy being white in the Icelandic winter, it is less than useful when the snows melt but, luckily, they don't appear to have cottoned on.

Less than hidden

Making sure you stand out

Quite like this one - small in frame and an untypical blue sky

Yep, still pretty obvious

Keep your eyes peeled and you never know whats lurking roadside!

A brief encounter with a Short Eared Owl

Our main target was the sublime Great Northern Diver and you will spot from the absence of included images that they were one of the species who were late arriving. The ones we did see were individuals, typically, in the centre of large lakes. If they did come close the weather was rubbish and the results not worth processing….. cross that one off for next time. Bugger.

Those that know me will probably be aware that I'm not a bird-on-a-stick snapper. I have no desire to fill the frame with a bird (mostly…) I much prefer to show the creature in context - a more environmental shot if you will. Additionally I like to shoot high key if the circumstances allow - and on this trip they certainly did. Shooting the whites to within an inch of their lives in order to give an in-camera effect and avoid 'record shots'. You will notice these throughout the blogs - if you're not too bored to make it to the bottom.

One target species was the Common Scoter. A small and apparently inauspicious black duck - but it looks pretty snazzy when the sun hits it. All we had to do was be at the same place as the Scoters, when there was nice low evening/morning sun, oh yes, and the ducks have to comply…. I think it total we had 10 minutes in 10 days for the parts to come together - but when it does it is worth it. Well I reckon it is…….

The Laxa river is a hotspot for the spectacular Harlequin Duck. A ridiculous species that has evolved to live in rapids and the roughest water it can find. Its a marvellous spot…… however, in this case, the birds had already largely paired up and all the feisty behaviour had pretty much finished. To be honest, I didn't get anything better than 2 years before, so again the Harlequins are thin on the ground here…….

Heading for rougher water

Heading back

Once paired up they look for nest sites on highly unphotogenic islands in the river

Ah, the sordid world of duck sex. As with all ducks the courtship does not seemed to be pre-empted by a period of tenderness, wining, dining and flowers

Goldeneye provided entertainment as did the ever present Phalarope, who bob about dimutively on extremely rough water. Those stories you hear about them swimming between tripod legs are true - they'll happily swim within inches of you.

I did plenty of high key Phalarope last time at Latreborg and I repeated the exercise at the Laxa. A very pleasant hour with very obliging birds. For those that have never seen a Phalarope, it is difficult to convey just how tiny they are….. not a deal bigger than a sparrow in terms of body size.

Oh dear, I may have overdone the Phalerope, but I do enjoy the challenge of getting them pin sharp bobbing about on the rapid water. Even better if I get just a part of the bird…..

To save you time stalking and using any semblance of fieldcraft, there were Golden Plover nesting between the hostel and the well-used supermarket - and a Redwing nest in every crevice. Just use a bit of common sense and err on the side of discretion.

Golden Plover between the hostel and the garage! No fieldcraft necessary - just maintain 20 paces distance

Redwing are easy to identify, as they are the only Icelandic bird of that size and shape…… nests all over the place

The Slavonian Grebe is a delightful little bird who bobs about doing Grebe'y things - but it does need sun to really make the plumage shine. We had one chance - a little bird-on-a stick but its such a little gem. Personally I prefer the ones where I changed setting to make them more high-key, buts thats for a future blog - probably in 2017?

Part 2 will be a rainy Jokulsarlon followed by a rainy South Coast and a rainy Floi. Good job we like service station coffee and hot dogs.

To my DoTD devotees - here is a Scaup. Never made it onto Facebook, simply not exciting enough

A kipping Godwit - or is it???

Curious Local

In a pixar end-credit sort-of-way related way I attach a G7X outtake;

'Looks a tad inclement, Mr Green', 'Another day of roll-ups and haribo's, Mr Kats?'