Edward's Birding Diary
|23 March 2006|
Queen of the North
Equinox has now been and gone and the weather's decided to turn cold, with a touch of snow and skin-peeling winds today and yesterday. Well it is Iceland after all. Last weekend's conditions were completely different, no snow, no wind (a local rarity) and thick fog. I was surprised when YK phoned me around 9:30 on Saturday and suggested that we go birding. Surprised because a) YK was up at such an early hour and b) that he suggested we go birding at all when we could hardly see across the road because of the fog. What was the Frenchman expecting to see? But as is often the case it was an inspired decision. The fog cleared before we reached the south coast gull magnet of Grindavík and we headed to the harbour. I remarked to YK just as we were pulling up that although I've seen seen dozens of drake King Eiders over the years, I have only ever seen one female. And what was the first bird I saw as I lifted my binoculars seconds later? Yes, a female King Eider Somateria spectabilis, or Queen Eider as they are logically called in Iceland.
They really are distinctive close up, with that "smile." After years of my not seeing one YK made it two birds in two minutes as another Queen was located in the raft of Common Eider Somateria mollissima. Sharing the harbour with the raft was the usual March orgy of gulls, which in Iceland means numerous Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides, Glaucous Gulls Larus hyperboreus, Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus, Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus, and a few Common Gulls Larus canus and my first couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus of the year, and Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla. Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis were also much in evidence and good numbers of Common Redshank Tringa totanus suggests that they are arriving on migration. When all the birds in the harbour suddenly scattered it was a pretty sure sign that a certain bird was around, and there it was, a juvenile Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus flying over, not making any attempt to interfere with the panicking birds but I'm sure secretly enjoying the effect it was having. Leaving Grindavík we came across two pairs of Ravens Corvus corax displaying energetically. Ravens are extremely common and familiar winter birds around Reykjavík, I see many every day and in winter I don't think it's possible to look up in the air for more than 30 seconds without either Huginn or Muninn flying by. Consequently you tend not to pay too much attention to them but Ravens are surely amongst the most charismatic and entertaining birds to watch, and we spent a good 15 minutes watching them swagger and bounce along the side of the road with billowing trousers, puff out their throat feathers, one of them even raising erectile feathers above its eyes, something neither of us had ever noticed before, and generally try to impress or intimidate each other. The strutting and the bounding games of chase were all accompanied by that wonderful KRUNK KRUNK and series of clicks and gruff sounds. All in all a wonderful privilege to observe close at hand and a reminder not to ignore the common birds. Also in the area were three separate heaps of white feathers, clearly sites visited recently by Gyr Falcons and hapless gulls.