Iceland Sage 2013: Taking a Tern for the Worse

17 07 2013

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. 

Látrabjarg cliffs

Látrabjarg cliffs

Life on the edge

Life on the edge

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.

bird cliffs near Vík í Mýrdal

bird cliffs near Vík í Mýrdal

(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.)

Iceland has your safety in mind.  Note the sign indicating birds on one side, people on the other.  Note also the faint white line.

Iceland has your safety in mind. Note the sign indicating birds on one side, people on the other. Note also the faint white line.

No sign of tourists within

No sign of tourists within

Here are my picks of the puffin pics:

puffin

puffin and razorbilled auk

puffin and razorbilled auk

posing puffin

posing puffin

puffin perch

puffin perch

yet another puffin

yet another puffin

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.

arctic tern

arctic tern doing what he does best

arctic tern carrying fish to nest

arctic tern carrying fish to nest

arctic tern nesting grounds

arctic tern nesting grounds

food for the family

food for the family

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.

This guy was banding the babies.  Sure hope he had a helmet on!

This guy was banding the babies. Sure hope he had a helmet on!

Ducks and swans were also common, although I wasn’t as excited about these as other, more exotic species.

duck crossing

M R Duks

harlequin ducks

harlequin ducks

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.

plover

plover

Oystercatchers, on the other hand, were just as prolific and were easy to identify with their long pointed red bills.

oystercatcher

oystercatcher

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.

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4 responses

17 07 2013
Kathryn Fenner

Nice shots!
Yeah, my dad is one of those twitchers….

17 07 2013
eberteach

I bet I could learn a thing or two from him, Kathy. I am just learning how to use my camera.

20 03 2014
crazymymmy

I found your blog only now, but i still have to ask: Did you really climbed those cliffs in Vík? all the way up? Cos when i had tried to, i had fallen down, those rock were not build to hold anything heavier than the bird! (means they had crumbled into pieces under every touch)

22 03 2014
eberteach

While I have a bit more adventurous spirit than some, I’m not a big risk-taker. I observed several other climbers before trying it myself, and I only climbed part way up. The soil was loose in spots, but it was easy to see where others had been before me. Also, I did not want to get so close to the birds that I upset them. It was beautiful up there though, absolutely awe-inspiring!

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