Tuesday 21 November 2023

Iceland - May 2023 - Day 1 - Around Reykjavik

The flight touched down at around half ten local time and we were out and collecting the car pretty quickly as we had no luggage to retrieve. Nearly all my trips, no matter how far, are hand luggage only. I detest having to wait for suitcases and I am more nimble without one. Very occasionally I need to take one, for instance earlier this year I needed to import a very large quantity of Flamin' Hot Cheetos from the good ol' USA, but normally I take (and bring back) the bare minimum. 

We had left the terminal before the car guy could even sell us pumice insurance and were on our way. The weather was disappointingly grey and murky, even approaching the middle of the day. That's Iceland! With photography therefore unlikely to feature Mick and I reverted to plan B. Birding. And twitching actually. A few years ago we had done a similar trip and tried to find a White-winged Scoter near the capital. Long story short we didn't see it, but it had been seen that same morning per eBird and we went straight to the site which is on the west side of Reykjavik at Alftanes. I think the water body in question is called the Bessastadatjorn. You can only drive around one side of it because the President lives on the other side. We started on the south shore but it was pretty massive, and carpeted in Geese and Ducks - a good sign. Eider were the most common, with smaller numbers of Brent, Greylag, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck, Wigeon and Mallard. Large black American ducks? No. 

Eventually we spied a car on the far side, a car that very much looked like a birders car, stopped, with the window down. Find the birder, find the bird, and sure enough once we had worked out how to get around to that side we discovered the drake WWS asleep on a small island. This was my second of this species in a week, the week before I'd been up in Fife and had seen one off Dumbarnie Links at the same time as the Stejneger's Scoter. Crazy times. We hadn't been watching it long when for some reason it popped into the water and then flew directly at and then past us, seemingly heading out to sea. We continued to bird the area, eventually totalling 34 species, which is pretty decent in Iceland. Waders encompassed Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Redshank, Turnstone, Knot and Purple Sandpiper, the latter on the same tiny island that the Scoter had been on. The lake also had both Red-throated and Great Northern Diver. Interestingly there were quite a few Wheatear about, a reminder that we were much futher north - at home the bulk had gone through already. Despite their presence it not feel very spring-like at all, a rather penetrating wind and regular squals of cold rain. 

A short distance away we birded the Kasthusatjorn and the Bakkatjorn for more of the same - birds are plentiful but the diversity is prett low. We saw our first Glaucous Gulls here, huge ragged beasts that resonate pure evil. Maybe that's harsh, they are just gigantic and look unfriendly. If you died suddenly it wouldn't be long before they were gouging your eyeball out kind of vibes.

Next we tried for the long-staying Black-winged Stilt north of the town. Can you imagine it, a Black-winged Stilt in Iceland - talk about getting it wrong! Despite it having been seen earlier in the day it wasn't present at a rather unprepossessing site near some kind of dredging works and a rubbish dump. There were nine Red-necked Phalaropes doing 360s in a tiny pool of sludgey water that neither of us fancied getting down low for, and in any event we would have needed ISO 1 million as it was practically dark. We tried a few other spots we knew around Reykjavik, including a small lake we knew to have breeding Slavonian Grebe, but the weather was now foul, driving rain. We picked out six Grebes but it was the kind of rain that would soak you through in a matter of minutes so we gave up very quickly.

Trying to leave the rain behind we decided to head north, the direction we were staying in anyway, and spent the rest of the day birding our way up to Borgarnes. Lots of Ptarmigan by the roadside, small groups of Whooper Swan, and some Harlequin Duck on the sea. Around Hvanneyri we spent some time looking for wild Geese in the fields and were pleased to pick up both Pink-footed as well as White-fronted. We crossed over the low causeway into Borgarnes as dusk fell and had pizza at the huge N1 service station before heading the short distance to our accomodation and collapsing. A good day, but a little frustrating that the weather had been so poor.

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