Iceland Part 2

24th May 2016
Read on, dot, dot, dot.

The weather didn't improve. In fact it deteriorated to a consistent rain which barely let up…. After a long but painless drive from Myvatn to Jokulsarlon, I was looking forward to taking a variety of different photographic techniques at a place which offers many, many opportunities. The hotel at Hali is also one of my favourite places; Constant coffee, big warms rooms, big snax and constant Snipe rodding overhead. What could possible go wrong……

Before I lapse into glass-half-emptiness, the first few hours were stunning. The first forey to the lagoon revealed a pair of Barnacle Geese with a single chick… a first for me at this site.

Mrs Eider with her larger brood

For the initiated, Barnacle Geese have featured several times in BBC David Attenborough programmes such as Life Story. They nest at the top of massive cliffs and the goslings are unceremonially encouraged to plummet hundreds of feet using only a reinforced breastbone to survive bouncing off rocks and boulders. They then regroup with their parents and run a gauntlet of Arctic Fox until they arrive at the safety of water. These geese then migrate South however, should they decide to land on Islay in Scotland, they have a fair chance of being shot as they have the temerity to eat grass. David Cameron's wildlife averse rich chums have a 'population reduction plan of 25% to 30%' Nowhere in the plan does it say 'shoot' or 'cull' or even the more honest 'kill' so this must be being done by the geese agreeing to lay less eggs in future?

Anyway, back at Jokulsarlon, there was also a small group of Guillemot and (mostly) Razorbill, another first.

Splashing and bathing

I tracked a single Razorbill

If you take, effectively, the same snap a minute or two apart the ice flow and the reflections in the water change

My chosen Razorbill seemed strangely hydrophobic and very reluctant to go into the water. Not ideal for a pelagic seabird

Maintaining your balance when the floor moves

As usual the Arctic Terns were prominent around the lagoon - fishing, taking food to their nests, preening and washing. I refrain from posting images again here as I gave you a surfeit of these 2 years ago.

Arctic Tern on grubby ice. Being a geography student I should probably called it morraine, but I won't

This time I followed the activities of a few iceland Gulls which were around the lagoon - it took a while to work out the species, but they were too small for Glaucous Gull. In my eyes they looked good small in the frame and against the blue hues of the ice flows.

This was one session when the clouds and rain cleared and we were given a marvellous sunset and about 30 minutes later, sunrise. I'm no landscape snapper, but even I enjoy a some hours here.

The Eider were again flighty, but always look good, small, in the context of the ever shifting icebergs.

A long and satisfying session, however………..

The next day I planned on snapping the icebergs on the black lava beach. Mmmmmm, first discovery: the icebergs on the beach are dependent on the strength and height of the tide and are not a given. Second issue: torrential rain….. I'm not aware of an adjective which means 'heavier than torrential' but its needed. Monsoonal just sounds wrong in Iceland?

OK, try again, but leave it until about midnight to get some low light. Still raining, so it was: Tripod down, compose, set exposure, press cable release, try to keep rain off filters, wipe water from filter, chimp, grumble, repeat. Dammit, I had come this far I was going to do it - not ideal, and virtually monochrome but with a certain drama.

I was saturated to the skin, the cameras were wet, it was still raining, and almost dark. Job done as well as possible so I tramped back over the wide lava beach to the vehicle. This involved walking close to a large Arctic Tern colony, so be the time I got to said vehicle I was also heavily streaked with guano. Danny and Edwin just laughed…….. A state which only Hali coffee could sort out.

A couple of pairs of Snow Bunting inhabit the area, mainly living on crumbs from the various vehicles parked up

An adolescent Snow Bunting wondering what it had done in a previous life to be reincarnated in such a wet & miserable environment

So that was Jokulsarlon - a brilliant place that will always give you something……. and is never the same twice.

Onward, with the intention of stopping at various waterfalls, more long exposures of some of Europe's most spectacular sites, possible a new Harlequin Duck site, snapping the stacks off Vik beach (with less calamity for Edwin this time). However, the rain just made this stretch attritional with the only sites visited comprising service stations with bottomless Icelandic Coffee and hotdogs (very much like diminutive versions of those sold in multiplex cinemas, which you last ate when you were seven and stopped when you became aware of what parts of pig they probably contained).

Its no good trying to photograph offshore stacks or waterfalls when your visibility is barely the width of the road.

A moist Redshank

I have always wanted to take a classic Snipe-on-a-stick. I have craved this shot (which I admit is not remotely original) for years but the birds have never complied. This is a near as I got on this trip.

Onward to Selfoss and a rangefinding visit to Floi to scout out the Red Throated Divers - at least the wind had dipped since our first visit immediately after landing at Kef when it was impossible to even stand due to the wind. Geographically, the area around Selfoss is the wettest in Iceland, Gulfstream etc etc, and I wasn't expecting tropical balm. At least the weather had just turned to 'murky' - not conditions to show Red Throated Divers off at their best.

Time to tramp across the saturated lagoon area and find a pair and settle in in a position that wouldn't disturb them. Again, breeding hadn't progressed as far as two years previously, with only one pair having chicks. This meant being doubly careful in case you unsettled the sitting bird…

A passing predator - another reason not to disturb the nesting Divers

Conditions almost demanded that I tried the high key stuff again, which would only really work if you could eliminate backgrounds and have the birds on 'mirror' water.

Out of irony, the sun came out ten minutes before we left…… it didn't last long but at least let you do a few shots.

Diver turning her eggs. A real sight of a relaxed bird

A Red Throated Diver in the bloody sun


Iceland 2015