Birding and Whale-watching in the land of Elves and Trolls!
6 days – 12th May – 17th May 2018.
£TBC for 6 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, whale watching trips, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.
Single supplement: £TBC
Deposit: £TBC (payable upon booking).
Situated just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a land of spectacular contradictions, where ice meets fire and where new mountains are continuously forming in an ancient landscape. Intense geothermal activity both past and present result in odorous smoke and steam belching from the earth, huge waterfalls tumbling from precipitous cliffs
Despite being only slightly smaller than England, the country has a population of just 325,000 people compared to our 53 million, allowing the enjoyment of vast wilderness areas.
Almost half of its people live in its quirky and laid back capital city, Reykjavik. As well as having a well-deserved reputation as the greenest, cleanest, and safest city in the world, it is also home to many artist, sculptors and musicians, which is evidenced in the street art found throughout the town centre.
Iceland is known for its wonderfully warm, humorous and gently eccentric people – hardly surprising when a day lasts several months in midsummer, and where active volcanoes and flowing glaciers ensure the landscape is dramatically different from one year to the next!
But above all you can expect an absolutely spectacular array of breeding birds who have chosen the far north to make the most of the never ending days to rear their young whilst the seas provide food for seabirds and whales.
The local currency is the Icelandic Kroner.
This tour is designed to make the very best of Iceland’s birding and whale-watching available ……………..
Rock Ptarmigan, Manx, Sooty and perhaps Great Shearwaters, Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Gyrfalcon, Common Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake, Atlantic Puffin, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Arctic Tern, Red-necked Phalaropes, Whimbrel, Purple Sandpiper Redwing, Snow Bunting
Heart-stopping encounters with whales and dolphins – we should see Minke whales, White-beaked dolphins and Harbour porpoises. Occasionally other species are spotted, including Humpback whales, Killer whales/Orcas, Fin and Blue whales. We may possibly encounter Artic Fox or maybe even an Elf!
Today, after a relatively short flight from our selected British airports, the birding will begin in earnest as we make use of Keflavik Airport’s stunning location on the Rekjanes Peninsula. A short drive across other-worldly green-grey moss-topped lava field and a modest half-hour walk to the clifftops will bring us to Krýsuvíkurberg and Hafnaberg cliffs, where over 60,000 pairs of seabirds nest each summer. The most common are Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Atlantic Puffin. Fourteen kilometres offshore is Eldey island, home to one of the largest Northern Gannet colonies in the world. We may also encounter our first cetaceans here, as dolphins and whales blowing are often seen between the island and the shore.
We’ll then go and settle into our hotel in Central Reykjavik. Reykjavik has a population of only 130,000 so unlike most of the world’s capital cities, has a laid-back small-town feel.
Following lunch, we’ll spend an afternoon urban birding along the atmospheric seafront and amongst the city’s quirky parks, based around hotspots of geothermal activity. Wild Whooper Swans are common on the Tjörnin lake (locally referred to as the pond!) and will closely approach and we will be able to leisurely watch Arctic Terns and the sift through Gulls such as Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.
In Reykjavik harbour and coast Northern Fulmar including “blue” colour morphs should be encountered in close proximity alongside Common Eider and Auk species. Several wading bird species maybe feeding in the surf and decaying seaweed taking on perhaps more unfamiliar plumages in fine resplendent summer plumages. These may include Purple Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, Red Knot and Dunlin as they feed up before onward journeys.
Today we will be birding amongst the finest of Iceland’s tectonic and geothermal sights, the famed “Golden Circle”. Thingvellir National Park holds visible rifts where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge passes through Iceland, allowing us to look down into the gap between two major tectonic plates. The resulting landscape creates a huge valley which somehow invites a gathering, so it is no wonder that this was the first home of the world’s longest functioning parliament.
We’ll make our way to the two local, famous, and impressive geysers, known as Strokkur and Geysir that sit in an extremely sulphurous thermally-active valley.
After experiencing the awesome magnitude of the staggering Gullfoss Waterfall, we’ll make a visit to the Kerid Crater, the water-filled caldera of an ancient volcano that has walls of red, green, blue and yellow.
Today we take a picturesque journey by road to our second base at Lake Myvatn. We’ll take the trip at a leisurely pace – not only will travelling this way allow you to experience more of Iceland’s unique otherworldly landscape, but there will be plenty of stops and wildlife to see on our journey around R1, Iceland’s only major road.
After hugging the coast north of Reykjavik we will cross part of the island’s rugged interior, where we’ll be looking out for roadside treats like tame Meadow Pipits and Redwing, and even Red-neckedPhalaropes in roadside pools and Arctic Skuas harassing the ever abundant Arctic Terns.
We’ll take an extended lunch stop to explore the fjords, estuaries and coastlines of the Laugarbakki area, where we’ll be looking for breeding shorebirds like European Golden Plover, European Oystercatcher, Common Snipe, and Common Redshank, as well as combing the shorelines for Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper.
Journeying on, we’ll continue to look out for highlights. Arctic Fox is rare in Iceland, but we will keep our eyes peeled for this great little mammal. Rock Ptarmigan may be also be spotted and of course we’ll be ever alert for a glimpse of a Gyrfalcon on the wing.
We should arrive at tiny Myvatn by early evening, giving us plenty of time to settle in to our second base at the contemporary, comfortable and beautifully situated Hotel Laxa where Rock Ptarmigan maybe seen on the surrounding lava fields and yodelling Great Northern Diver should greet us.
Today will be devoted entirely to exploring the stunning array of species to be found around the peaceful Myvatn lake and its tributary rivers and streams. Harlequin Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Slavonian Grebes, Red-necked Phalaropes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, and a bounty of breeding waders, are all possible, all in their finest breeding plumage and often really easy to approach.
Alongside these Arctic Terns will be abundant and roadside stops will likely yield Snow Buntings.
We will also see the amazing geological features of the Myvatn area, including the Dimmuborgir ‘Dark Castles’ formations, the Viti explosion crater and boiling mud and steam galore at Krafla and Hverir geothermal fields.
Weather permitting, today we’ll again take to the seas to make the most of Iceland’s incredible cetacean activity.
A short drive will bring us to the famous harbour town of Husavik. Once at the hub of the whaling industry in Iceland, the town now focuses its energy on helping visitors watch these beautiful creatures.
Minke Whales are regular here at this time of year, and Humpback Whales, White-beaked Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises are also likely. And, with a great deal of luck and a following wind, we may even be privileged enough to encounter a Blue Whale, the world’s largest living creature.
Seabirds should be abundant with Arctic Terns, Shearwaters and Auks easily encountered which maybe being harassed by Great or Arctic Skuas.
Following our boat trip we search the coastal areas of Husavik for some quality urban birding where Snow Bunting, singing Dunlin and bubbling Whimbrels should be encountered whilst just outside the town we should be able to encounter the king of the north in the form of the powerful Gyr Falcon.
Sadly it’s time to leave for the UK. Our journey back to Reykjavik will be by way of a superbly scenic internal flight, which will take us right across the volcanic interior of Iceland and should afford views of the famous Eyjakofoffull and its lava fields.
Then it’s on to Keflavik airport, from where we’ll board our planes and take home with us vivid memories of a special place full of whales, wildfowl, ice and fire.
£xxx per person (excludes flights)
Group size: up to 16 participants