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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69 April 2018 | Birder's Guide to Travel the harbor, a daily ferry shuttles people and cars across the Breidafjördur Bay to the picturesque West Fjords. (The fjords can also be reached by turning off the Ring Road on the way from Mývatn.) Along the way, the ferry stops at Flatey Island among the western islands in the Breidafjördur, home of many nesting Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Snow Buntings, as well as a small, quiet town that feels like it has been preserved in a time capsule. It's a remarkably peaceful place to get away. The island also offers the best chance of seeing Red Phalaropes in their striking, bright breeding plumage. The ferry then lands at the tiny outpost of Brjanslækur in the West Fjords. Like the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the West Fjords offer several wonderful birding op- portunities. Anywhere near the coast in this region one should be on the lookout for the amazing White-tailed Eagle, a criti- cally endangered and protected species in Iceland. Also in this area, Glaucous Gulls displace Herring Gulls and become much more common the farther north one goes in the fjords. In rocky uplands, Gyrfalcons hunt Rock Ptarmigan, and small ponds may hold Red-throated Loons and Long- tailed Ducks. The West Fjords are indeed spectacular, but without a doubt the main attraction in that region is the bird cliffs at Látrabjárg (65.5023,-24.5296). Látrabjárg, lying at the westernmost point in Iceland, is truly "out there" even by West Fjord standards. The drive up to the cliffs is interesting, basically taking a rough dirt road over some rocky and mostly barren lands, and eventually you start to wonder where exactly you're go - ing all the way out there in the middle of nowhere. But suddenly you're at the end of the road, and the cliffs announce themselves with the cries (and smell) of 100,000 seabirds. These include masses of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common and Thick-billed murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Northern Fulmars. The colossal seabird colony spans about nine miles (14 km), making it the largest bird cliff in the North Atlantic and thus also a critically important one. It holds, for ex - ample, an estimated 40% of the world's population of Razorbills in the summer months. Fortunately for birders and pho - tographers, everything you want to see is within a five-minute walk from the park - ing area. The puffins at Látrabjárg, in particular, are so approachable, and the area so beautiful, that you simply cannot help but be overwhelmed by the place. Razorbills are nearly as accommodating as the puffins, also very approachable but most often just a little bit below the top edge of the cliff. The birds separate them - selves distinctively, with the puffins often on the grass right on the top edge of the cliff, literally within arm's reach, the ra- zorbills just below that (and every once in a while also on the top with the puffins), and Common and Thick-billed murres usually far down the cliffs. Fulmars and Kittiwakes mix in here and there. Different times in the summer offer different things to see: in June, adults are courting and displaying, and by mid-July eggs have started to hatch and adults are seen fly - ing to and from the cliffs with mouthfuls of food. By August, young juveniles are poking out onto the cliffs, getting ready for their first flights down to the water. To describe Látrabjárg as magical would be a gross understatement, and visiting the cliffs in the summer months should be on every birder's "bucket list". T his brief and cursory tour around the Ring Road has only scratched the sur- face of what Iceland has to offer. Not even mentioned here are most of the famous landmarks and geological attractions, like Þingvellir National Park, site of the Viking parliament dating back to 930 A.D., and Landmannalaugar, a famous wilderness of hot springs and lava fields and mountains of pure rhyolite, to name just two. Or the Klojur and Sprengisandur roads, the two dirt tracks that cross the wild and spectac- ularly remote Icelandic Highlands of the island's interior. Even in winter, one may catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights over beautiful snow-covered mountains, or revel in the wild and powerful weather of the North Atlantic while bathing in the geothermal spa of the Blue Lagoon. Even the air in Iceland, pure and crisp as the country itself, is almost intoxicating in its clarity. I can't wait for my next trip back. top to bottom: n Black-tailed Godwit. Photo © Geoff Malosh n European Shag. Photo © Ron Knight n European Golden-Plover. Photo © Geoff Malosh

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