Edward's Birding Diary
|23 November 2005|
Gyr Falcons at the double
People who haven't been to Iceland probably imagine winter here means months on end of snow and ice, temperatures that would have sent Shackleton back into his tent and all-round general frigidity. Well, that's only partly true and although I normally see more winter here in two weeks in January than I did during twenty years of growing up in Cheshire combined, the Icelandic climate is a real yo-yo and it's very mild at the moment. Mild is, of course, a relative term, and whilst I'm sure someone visiting from, say, Darwin, Australia, would curl up and die, I felt very comfortable in a fleece on Saturday in a balmy +6°C. I walked to a friend's to watch the rugby with a Kiwi and a very pro-NZ Icelander, and on the way there I walked past a female Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs and a young Rook Corvus frugilegus, both vagrants around here, and in fact only the second Rook I've seen in Iceland.
The other was in exactly the same spot 18 months earlier. As tempting as it was to stay at home all day reading on Sunday I decided that I'd regret not going for a second look at the Black-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis atrogularis which had been extremely co-operative to visiting birders all week and was nowhere near as shy as it was on the day of its discovery. Around 20 people had seen it during the week, one of the best watched Icelandic rarities ever. Sure enough it was still there, and providing you stayed in the car it allowed excellent views. I then headed out to the lake at Garður after that to make a half-hearted attempt to see the American Black Duck. As I was looking at a group of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos a grey blur flashed above them and then materialised on a wall 200 metres away, a fine looking juvenile Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus. A frisson of excitement always passes through me when I see Gyrs, as they have such a presence about them. Although supremely elegant on the wing, they always amaze me how stocky and barrel-chested they really are. A wall of sleet caked my car side windows in a film of grey, so I had to turn to car round. I thought to myself that it'd be nice if the bird were a bit closer and no sooner had the thought formed in my head than another blur of grey slowed down and took shape on the ground 20 metres in front of my car, a second juvenile Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus. Although I see Iceland's national bird regularly, it's not often I get to see them sitting just in front of me for a prolonged period. After five minutes it moved from the ground and onto a post right in front of me, allowing me to study every detail. The Mallards seemed unperturbed by its presence and after 20 minutes I drove off, leaving it still sitting on the post. As I moved off another Gyr Falcon hurtled by and as I turned round the bird on the post rose to meet it, talons first, and they moved off together on a hunting sortie. Pure magic.