Iceland 2016: Puffin Pictures Prevail

31 07 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Today is our last chance to see puffins, or lundi as they are called in Iceland.  They were not showing themselves on the rainy day when we were at the cliffs at Látrabjarg in the West Fjords, so we are hoping to see a few on our bird-watching tour to Cape Ingólfshöfði.  But our tour is not until 1:30 this afternoon; we have time for other adventures along the way.

And so we stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  Fed by the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier on the southeast coast, it has increased fourfold since the 1970s and is now considered to be the largest lake in all of Iceland. But people don’t come here because it is a lake; they come here to see the icebergs that have calved off the glacier bob down the way to the ocean.

In a word, it is spectacular.

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We opt not to take the boat ride through the lagoon, viewing the entire lagoon from the glacial moraine instead.

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Walking from the beach to the lagoon and back again, we watch enormous chunks of ice roll and bounce down the narrow channel.  Eider ducks float like so many bathtub toys and arctic terns use the larger icebergs to rest up from their constant feeding forays.  A snow bunting poses long enough for me to get a decent shot.

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A fulmar and some terns find a good resting spot

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Snow bunting

Washed up on the beach is a photographer’s playground of icebergs.  Ice chunks that may be 1,000 years old melt slowly into fantastic shapes and I wonder how many of these images will end up as profile pictures on Facebook.  I know mine will!



6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (34)

A close-up of 1,000 year old ice, courtesy of Nancy

We cross the one-way suspension bridge and make our way further south toward Cape Ingólfshöfði.

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6-4-16 Skeiðarársandur (1)

We stop at a strange roadside attraction: the twisted remains of a bridge at Skeiðarársandur.  In 1996, a volcanic eruption under the glacier caused massive floodings, wrecking this bridge and completely interrupting road travel on this section of the Ring Road.  Here it is not simply the inconvenience of taking a detour: between the glacier and the sandflats, this is the only road in the area.  And so Icelanders don’t bother making sturdy bridges; they acknowledge the unstoppable power of nature and instead make narrow, easily replaceable bridges that only need last until the next eruption.

Our GPS takes us down a long bumpy gravel road that ends in a small parking lot.  We are here.  Soon a large farm tractor pulling a hay wagon full of tourists splashes across a broad creek.  Our transport has arrived.  Down the road flies a girl on a bicycle.  Our guide.

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Our tour

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Our ride


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Our guide

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  outhouse

Our outhouse

She introduces herself with her full unpronounceable name, laughs, and says we can call her Guni.  In my mind, I make the connection: our Goony Bird.  We climb into the wagon for a half-hour ride across the broad, black sand flats to the Cape.

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6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (10)

Guni stops the tractor at the base of the cliffs, and we trek up the steep and shifting black sands, stopping numerous times to “admire the view.” Annalise, of course, sprints up and waits at the top in sheer boredom.

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David and Nancy labor up the hill

Guni also waits patiently and once the group is all together, gives a brief overview.  This area was first settled in A.D. 874 by the very first Viking in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, who went on to found Reykjavík.  Guni herself can probably trace her lineage back as far; her family has had a farm here for countless generations.  She tells us stories of hitch-hiking up and down the east coast, able to find a family connection in every ride she got.  Guni speaks fluent English, loves being outdoors and active, rides horses all throughout the winter, and is just so darn wholesome I want to bottle her up and spread her throughout the States.

Her tone takes on a precautionary note, however, when she talks of the skua.  Skua.  A skua is a seabird. Remember, a skua is a seabird.  Memories flood back as I recall years of giving standardized IQ tests in which students were given short definitions of words including this one and asked to recall them later.  I’d always wondered what a skua was like.  Now I’m about to find out.

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If a bird can be considered evil, his name would be Skua.

What I learn about skua:

  1. Skua are not cute like puffins.
  2. Skua eat puffins, puffin babies, and even puffin eggs.
  3. When passing a skua, stay together as a group so it won’t attack.
  4. Skuas are not on my list of nice birds.

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Puffins, on the other hand, are cute.  They pose nicely.  They fly like little whirly-gigs.  Nobody’s ever had to be warned of an attack puffin.  Which is why I have thousands of pictures of puffins.  And only a few of skua.6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (9)


6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (1)

Puffin Perches

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He waits with his mouth full of sand eels for the coast to be clear before going to his burrow to feed his pufflets.



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