Birder's Guide

MAR 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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68 Birder's Guide to Travel | April 2018 Birding in Iceland tacle of this colony is well worth witness- ing, especially when a marauding skua or jaeger flies through and sheer bedlam ensues. Common Scoter (recently split from the Black Scoter in North America) is also a possibility there in the summer months, though they tend to be more reg- ular farther to the east of Höfn, and along the country's northern coast. Other breed- ing species include Common Snipe and European Oystercatcher. Just to the north- east of Höfn is a nesting and staging area for Whooper Swan at the bay and beach near Hvalnesviti (a lighthouse). The swans can number up to 1,000 at the site. As the Ring Road heads north and even- tually west, it passes through ever more amazing and remote country, and many areas along the way are worth explor- ing. Eventually one reaches Lake Mývatn (65.5973, -17.0058), in the north–central part of the island. Mývatn is large, about a 20-mile drive all the way around, and is famous for having the highest diversity of breeding waterfowl not only anywhere in Iceland, but in all of Europe. The specialty species at the lake is Barrow's Goldeneye, an isolated population of which is resident there, the only of their kind in Europe. The lake also holds thousands of Greater Scaup and Tufted Duck in summer. Other breeding species at the lake and nearby in - clude Eurasian Wigeon, various dabblers, Red-throated and Common loons, Horned Grebe, Whimbrel, Parasitic Jaeger, Black- tailed Godwit, European Golden-Plover, Short-eared Owl, and Northern Wheatear. Harlequin Ducks breed on the River Laxa, one of the better places to see them in Iceland outside of the remote highlands. Höfði Nature Park, a small preserve on the southeast side of the lake, is a good place for songbirds like Common Redpoll and Eurasian Wren, and features a very uncommon sight in Iceland: trees. On the northwest side of the lake, there is a bird museum, and in mid-summer along the road to the museum one must be care- ful to dodge little hatchling Red-necked Phalaropes that sometimes run out into the road! The Mývatn area is very active volcanically, so there is plenty of interest- ing geology in the vicinity, too, including steam vents, geysers, an impressive geo- thermal power plant, great hiking, and an endlessly fascinating landscape. About 25 miles (40 km) north of Mývatn is the town of Húsavík, a little seaport on the north coast of Iceland. The GPS of the center of Húsavík is 66.04710,- 17.34353—within a half degree of the Arctic Circle. It's a characteristic Nordic seaside town, with colorful little houses, a picturesque church above an equally pic- turesque harbor, and fabulous seafood. Just outside of town are more areas excellent for nesting Black-tailed Godwits, which do not hesitate to come out to greet human visitors by circling their heads and giving their incessant yapping calls. Other birds in the vicinity of town include a large colo- ny of Black-headed Gulls, Whooper Swan, European Golden-Plover, more Parasitic Jaegers, Red-necked Phalarope, Short- eared Owl, and more. One can also book seabirding trips by boat out of Húsavík, which is known as the whale-watching capital of Iceland. In fact, Húsavík is noted as one of a few places in the world where one has at least a reasonable chance to ob- serve the magnificent blue whale, the larg- est extant animal on Earth. There is plenty to see and do between Mývatn and westward to the famous Snæfellsnes Peninsula, including some low-elevation Pink-footed Geese near Varmahlíð (most pink-foots in Iceland breed in the highlands), but many birders make the drive directly to the Snæfellsnes after leaving Mývatn. The Snæfellsnes is yet another scenic wonderland, dominated by the massive Snæfellsjökull, the enormous glacier atop the ancient volcano made fa- mous in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. The mountain is so large that it is visible from Reykjavik on a clear day. The peninsula has many worthwhile bird- ing destinations, such as the Black-legged Kittiwake colony among the many in- tricate coves and volcanic formations at Hellnar (which also offers a good chance to see European Shag and Black Guillemot and still more Northern Fulmars), or the wetlands at Rif, which hold another enor- mous colony of Arctic Terns along with many breeding Red-necked Phalaropes and other gulls and shorebirds. Most bird- ers will eventually arrive in Stykkishólmur (65.0777,-22.7254), where the harbor offers another fine opportunity to study Northern Fulmars at close range. From n Barnacle Geese. Photo © Geoff Malosh

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