Iceland is for the birds, and therefore the birdwatcher as well. There are so many interesting species of birds in Iceland that it is hard not to become a bird enthusiast.
Possibly the most popular is the geisha girl of the bird world, the puffin. And since early July is prime puffin nesting season, there were plenty of puffins to peruse. Photographing the puffin is not for the faint of heart. At the Látrabjarg cliffs in the West Fjords I lay down as close as I dared to the crumbling edge, some 440 meters from the pounding sea below.
In the village of Vík í Mýrdal in southern Iceland, I climbed the cliffs west of the black sand beach for a chance at a puffin picture.
(Lest you think me foolhardy, I will say that I observed many other tourists while assessing my chances of traumatic injury or death. Seeing no life-threatening events, I proceeded with extreme caution. Although I do have a bit of an adventurous streak, I ain’t stoopid.)
Here are my picks of the puffin pics:
In sheer numbers, the arctic tern rules the roost during the Icelandic summer. The arctic tern has a circumpolar migratory pattern, breeding in Iceland and other northern locales during the summer before heading south for another summer in Antarctica, a round trip of 44,000 miles each year. The average tern lives about 20 years, traveling over 1.5 million miles.
We learned by experience not to mess with this bird. He is fiercely defensive of his nest, becoming quite aggressive if you happen too close. A rapid clucking sound as he swoops over your head warns that you are about to be pecked on the head if you don’t run for cover. We heard that you could fend off an attack by simply holding a stick in the air, but only ended up looking foolish and irritating these arctic athletes even more.
Ducks and swans were also common, although I wasn’t as excited about these as other, more exotic species.
The redshank was one of my favorite meadow birds, making a distinctive call as he flew in wide circles around me. He too was probably defending his nest, but was much nicer about it than the tern. There were plenty of plovers as well, although for the life of me I couldn’t recognize them on sight, always having to look them up on the Internet when I got back to the guesthouse.
Oystercatchers, on the other hand, were just as prolific and were easy to identify with their long pointed red bills.
While I struggled to identify some of the many birds of Iceland, I had no trouble identifying the birders. They were the ones lugging cameras with two-foot-long lens up and around the steep cliffs, only one of which died last year.