Edward's Birding Diary
|9 November 2005|
Beneath the glacier
Went out on a traditional half-day session on the Reykjanes peninsula with SÁ on Saturday, not really expecting much but just to have a look, on what was probably the last weekend of the autumn. The good thing about this time of year is that there's no need to get up early if you want to go birding locally because it doesn't get light until about 9:30 now, so no point being in the field at 8:00! The bird of the day was undoubtedly a Little Stint Calidris minutus in Sandgerði, a very rare bird in Iceland.
DB came and took some photos and after looking at them it seemed likely that this was the same bird that BB found in early September at the same site. Quite what it is still doing here or where it has been during the last two months is anyone's guess. At Garður we had close views of a juvenile Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus powering past the car. Although I see Gyrs regularly I'm always somewhat taken aback by how big and powerfully built they are. Last week's huge flock of Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis had grown if anything and the ground seethed with them, clouds of birds erupting at every footstep. That evening I somehow let myself be persuaded to go on one last long-distance twitch before the winter set in. I'm far too easily persuaded!
SÁ picked me up before six on Sunday morning (what was I saying about no more early starts) and soon we were in GÞ's jeep with DB and GP heading east to Iceland's glacier country, and the prospect of a new species for all five of us, Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus, a rare bird indeed in Iceland and one that only one Reykjavík birder had ever seen in Iceland. My usual (and oft-broken) twitching rule is that I won't go far for a bird that I've seen often abroad but the prospect of good company and some of the greatest scenery on Earth made the decision for me. The bird had been present for a couple of days on the farm of Kvísker, the most famed rarity location in Iceland, where farmer and amateur naturalist Hálfdán Björnsson has amassed one of the greatest garden lists in Europe in over sixty years of birding, including Siberian Rubythroat in 1943 and the Western Palearctic's first Wood Thrush. All in all I think he's had over 20 national first in his garden. Kvísker is located in the shadow of Europe's largest icecap, Vatnajökull which towers over 2,000 metres high behind the farm and the whole area is of such shattering beauty that my words are totally inadequate. It's what people from all over the world come to see, towering ice peaks, the mesmerising ice lagoon at Jökulsárlón just a few miles down the road from the farm, and the dominant, brooding overwhelming presence of the glacier. I must have been to this area 20-30 times and its effect is always the same. But enough of all of this, we'd come to see a bird and when we arrived at the farm local birders BA and HB were already waiting and pointing across the field. There in the meadow was a big upright thrush amongst the Redwings Turdus iliacus. Just as GÞ was setting his scope on the Mistle Thrush his field of vision was suddenly filled by a blue-grey bird, a superb male Merlin Falco columbarius had just caught and killed the Redwing six inches to the left of the Mistle Thrush. Wow, that was close! Understandably, the Mistle Thrush was pretty jumpy after that and we only had distant views. Also in the general area were three Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus and two Eurasian Woodcocks Scolopax rusticola, one of which nearly took my head off when flushed. Miserable, gloomy weather took most of the fun out of the remaining day's birding, although we found a great gull watching site at Höfn where dozens of Glaucous Gulls Larus hyperboreus, Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides, Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus and Herring Gulls Larus argentatus hovered in the wind and fed on the surface just a few metres away from us. SÁ and I saw three Ivory Gulls together at this site in December last year,hope they return. SÁ and I were also cheered on the way back by the news that United had beaten Chelsea at Old Trafford. Anyway the moral of this story is that you should visit SE Iceland, it's magnificent, you may even find some good birds!