Edward's Birding Diary
|1-2 October 2005|
Saving the best until last
News that YK had found a Swainson's Thrush yesterday on Heimaey prompted four of to go on the first Eyjafjöll trip of the autumn. Eyjafjöll are a range of mountains along the south coast of Iceland about two hours' drive east of Reykjavík. The farms at the base of the mountains, backed by the 1,666 metre high ice cap Eyjafjallajökull, are often good places to find vagrant passerines, as tired migrants coming in off the sea are reluctant to cross the glacier and seek refuge in the gardens and tree plantations near the farms. It all sounds so simple.
The thing with Iceland, though, is that when it's quiet, it's very quiet and not a single vagrant was found all day. Every farm had good numbers of Redwing Turdus iliacus and the odd late Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis hung around. Several Merlins Falco columbarius were seen during the day, including one that tried optimistically for several minutes to knock down an adult Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus much to the irritation of the gull. The fields around the farms contained huge numbers of Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria, and Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus and Greylag Geese Anser anser were massing for their imminent departure. But vagrants were nowhere to be seen, and although it's always a pleasure to visit this area of high cliffs, stunning glacial views and 200 foot waterfalls, we headed home a little deflated.
Awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of rain lashing the windows and strong south-westerly winds buffeting the country, anathema to normal people but just the kind of weather to warm the cockles of the Icelandic birding heart! We waited until the system had passed over, and mid-afternoon I headed south with YK to see what we could find. GP, GÞ and SÁ were already out and walking the beaches and it appeared quiet again. The usual selection of Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima and Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres were on the beaches, and the vanguard of Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides beginning to show up on time from Greenland and Canada. I decided to walk the area east of the lighthouse in Garður and the sea wall hosted around a dozen lingering Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe. Just as I was finishing off, one of the Meadow Pipits looked odd and its vigourous tail-pumping made me suspect what it was before I'd even lifted the binoculars. It hopped behind a rock and I only saw its head and mantle but it was enough for me to ring YK and tell him to get here asap. Whilst he and GP made their way over, the bird came into full view and confirmed that it was indeed a fine looking Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens.