Thursday, 21 July 2016

Iceland 7th to 14th July - part 2 Myvatn and Husavik

We broke the journey to Lake Myvatn with an overnight stop at Blonduos. We stayed outside the town at the Huni Hotel which is a boarding school in winter and hotel during the summer. With a heated outdoor pool it made a good stopover.  Lake Svinavatn is a few hundred meters away and early on our second morning I went down to have a look at it. Three adult Great Northern Divers were just offshore at one corner of the lake. They were moving along the shoreline so I positioned myself well ahead of them hoping they would drift past. They had clearly seen me, but rather than moving further off shore they came in to have a look at me giving fantastic views, unfortunately yesterday's sunshine had been replaced with dark clouds but it was still a fantastic sight as the three birds circled around.

Great Northern Diver
We checked the river mouth at Blonduos which had about 50 Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Red-breasted Mergansers and a few Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Back on route 1 heading towards Myvatn our next stop was at the roadside pools at Moberg Farm which are only about 15km from Blonduos. It looked like there were at least 3 pairs of Slavonian Grebes, two of which had young with them. There were also Red-necked Phalaropes on the pools and several Arctic Skua in the area.

Slavonian Grebe
I hadn't been able to find accommodation at Myvatn so had booked the Fossholl Guesthouse which overlooked the spectacular Godafoss Waterfall. This is about a 30 minute drive from the lake and is right by the main road so proved convenient and had a great breakfast.

We drove down to the lake stopping at the famous River Laxa road bridge where we soon located both Harlequin duck and Barrow's Goldeneye, all females with Long-tailed Ducks and Scaup.
Barrow's Goldeneye

The male Harlequin leave the river at the end of June and winter on the coast. We soon found the male Barrow's Goldeneye on Myvatn lake  with Tufted Ducks and a few Common Scoter, Shoveler, Pintail and Gadwall.
Lake Myvatn - quite a few flies visible in this picture but we had no problem with them
Barrow's Goldeneye

We returned to the Fossholl Guesthouse and I spent some time photographing the Golden Plover and Black-tailed Godwits which were happy to feed on the hotels lawn.
Golden Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
The following morning we headed back to Myvatn, flushing our only Merlin of the trip from a roadside post as we headed down to the road bridge again. An Arctic Skua took a young Redwing close to us before being chased off by a Whimbrel, a fantastic sight, but not for the Redwing!
One of our target birds, and I'm sure every other visiting birders, was the Gyr Falcon. We scanned the tops of every raised mound round the lake without success but finally, and with some relief, located a pale adult on a rather distant cliff face. Too distant for photography but it was a decent telescope view of this enigmatic falcon.
Gyr Falcon

It flew around briefly and we saw the same bird a couple of days later. Typically another birding couple from Denmark had seen it perched by the road!
There are very few passerines on Iceland; Redwing and Meadow Pipit were most in evidence with the occasional Blackbird but we visited the small woodland at Hafn, I think its called Kalftastrond Park, just south of Dimmuborgir and we saw several Mealy Redpoll and heard the Icelandic race of Wren.
Mealy Redpoll

From Myvatn we headed up to Husavik, crossing the almost desert like landscape which has been seeded with lupins as the first stage in a land reclamation process.
Alaskan Lupins on the road to Husavik
We had booked a 3 hour whale watching trip with North Sailings  and we just had time for a quick look around the harbour before our 3pm departure, adding Iceland Gull to the trip list with 2 first summer birds amongst the Herring Gulls.
Iceland Gull -1st summer

It was very overcast now with some mist over the sea and we were advised to wear the provided overalls against cooler temperatures. Fortunately the wind had dropped a bit but there was still a fair swell on the sea.
We had brief views of a Minke Whale as we headed out but it wasn't long before a larger whale was sighted. This proved to be the largest, a Blue Whale and a new animal for me but Roger has seen them off Sri Lanka.
Blue Whale

There are not too many places you can go with a reasonable chance of seeing Blue Whale so we were both very happy. It came up four or 5 times, each time breaking the surface typically three times before diving again. It has been seen several times in the bay since June but there were gaps in the sightings so we were lucky to see it. On the photo there is something breaking the skin which I can only assume is a satellite tracking device but couldn't find anything out about this.
Blue Whale - tracking device?

We also encountered three Humpback Whales in the bay and another Minke so it was a very worthwhile trip. Other than Puffins, Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes the only birds of note were a couple of Bonxie.
Humpback Whale
We stayed overnight in the Husavik Hostel which was very convenient although our room was a little small. The following morning it was raining steadily but we drove north up the coast road and found a small party of 7 male Harlequin feeding just offshore and our only Rock Ptarmigan of the trip which was sat on a rock by the side of the road.
Rock Ptarmigan

We headed back to Myvatn where we had managed to find accommodation at the Hlid campsite in Reykjahlid. We were in a small hut, similar to those you might put in the garden as a summer house. It was a great location though with plenty of Whimbrel and Golden Plover around the site.
We headed east stopping at the thermal springs on the edge of the village before crossing a moonscape of lava fields continuing just beyond the Dettifoss Waterfall turn before we finally found another target species; Pink-footed Geese, a couple of family parties.
Myvatn thermal springs
Pink-footed Goose

Again there were pairs of Red-necked Phalaropes on the roadside pools and Whooper Swan but not much else, we didn't manage to find Snow Bunting but this looked like a likely area.
Our trip was just about over so after another stop at the Laxa River we headed back to Blonduos, only one Great Northern Diver on the lake now but this one was calling which was a real treat. Another Arctic Skua took a Redwing and swallowed it whole, this must be one of their favoured prey I suspect. 
As we left Blonduos on our final day heading towards Keflavik we had only driven about 10km when we saw something on the road ahead, just missed by an oncoming car - it was an Arctic Fox.
Arctic Fox

What a treat on our last full day in Iceland and another new mammal for me. We had thought there was a chance of seeing one on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula but it was a complete surprise to see one here and get good views.
We made a couple more stops on the way and added a micro moth to the trip list, we saw no Butterflies and just one species of moth that was quite common which looked similar to Common Heath but I've yet to identify either species.
Micro moth - is it a Pyralid?

A final visit to the Gardour lighthouse area added Turnstone and Knot to our list and we saw more Manx Shearwaters most looking like brown backed juveniles.
We stayed at the Airport Inn which has to be pre-paid as there is no manned reception. A rather unattractive location but the hotel was good and very close to the airport.
What a great trip with fantastic views of some superb birds. 
As a footnote we saw no full sized football pitches, just a few 5 aside bits of grass and it's difficult to see where a team would come from but that's just one of the surprises that is Iceland. 
Thanks to Roger for being such good company and 'tak' to the good folk of Iceland with my only word of Icelandic picked up from the TV series Trapped and Fortitude.

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