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This June Andy Walker made a scouting trip to Iceland to have a look at some of the areas we’ll be visiting on the Birding Ecotours 2018 Iceland Tour http://birdingecotours.com/tours/destination/country/iceland. Here’s a summary of some of the highlight birds he found, and some he managed to photograph.

 

Passerines:

 

There are not a huge number of passerines in Iceland, but some special ones, and they are so plentiful and in-your-face that you can’t fail to get great views. Redwing, for example, is an abundant breeding species in Iceland and is found almost everywhere. Other species likely to be encountered that I had no trouble locating included Northern Wheatear, the Icelandic form of Common Redpoll (rostrate), which also occurs in Greenland and Canada, White Wagtail, Snow Bunting, Northern Raven, and the endemic subspecies (and surely a potential future split) of Eurasian Wren, which is much darker than western European subspecies, with a longer bill too.

Redwing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redwing taking some food back to its nest.

Raptors:

 

Gyrfalcon is the big draw here, and it’s not surprising. It is a mega falcon – HUGE! I saw a couple of birds during the week. An immature female was hunting close to Lake Mývatn and flew right in front of my car! Luckily I could pull off the road and watch it hunting, or, more exactly, getting chased off by dozens of locally breeding shorebirds. I also had a couple of sightings of a male in a similar area, likely to belong to a breeding pair. An immature male Merlin was also busy putting the fear of God into the locally breeding Meadow Pipit population. It’s always an exhilarating moment when one of these raptors dashes into view.

 

Seabirds (gulls, terns, auks, etc.):

 

Iceland is well known on the European birding scene for having an excellent breeding seabird population. Top draw is Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot), which has a very limited breeding distribution in Europe. When you add in Common Murre (Common Guillemot), Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, European Shag, and Northern Gannet, the cliffs come alive with a range of interesting sights, sounds, and smells. While I was at these sea cliffs, as well as enjoying great close-up views of all the above species, I also saw locally breeding European Storm Petrel and Manx Shearwater as they foraged out at sea. Great Skua was frequently observed trying to steal food from returning nesting seabirds, or just to take the young seabird nestlings themselves.

Northern Fulmar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Fulmar with a snow-capped mountain in the background.

Several species of gull breed in Iceland. Black-headed, Common, European Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed Gills can probably be considered to be Europe’s commonest and most widespread species, but Glaucous Gull also breeds here, and Iceland Gull, although just a non-breeding visitor to Iceland, can usually be found year-round in low numbers. As well as observing many gulls breeding across Iceland, as is usual with gulls, I found some interesting aggregations of non-breeding birds of various ages and variable plumages in several small coastal fishing villages, with Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull being the pick for me, having been out of the UK for the winter.

Arctic Terns are EVERYWHERE! Breeding colonies are dotted around in every conceivable place, along the coast in cliff-top vegetation, or flying along fast-flowing mountain rivers, around lakes and marshes, and even hawking for insects along roads. Fantastic views of these species are guaranteed, every day! But do not assume that every ‘tern-like’ bird you see flying around is actually an Arctic Tern, because Parasitic Jaegers (Arctic Skuas) breed on the island and are often found chasing terns and raiding nests for food. It was great to see both pale- and dark-phase birds over the course of the week.

Arctic Tern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arctic Tern foraging oblivious to my presence a few metres from it!

Shorebirds:

 

Iceland is stacked out with breeding shorebirds. You can hear and see Common Snipe and Common Redshank literally 24 hours of the day. The Icelandic subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit, which is stunningly beautiful, is common, as are Whimbrel, European Golden Plover, and Dunlin. However, there are one or two breeding shorebirds that are the real draw to Iceland, and Red-necked Phalarope is one of those. The females are the more brightly colored of the pair, as it is the males that raise the young. On certain wetlands they can be super-abundant and often very confiding. With a bit of luck and some careful placement (watching for the angle of the sun and making sure you don’t end up in the water yourself) you can get some great photos of these dainty shorebirds. The sight of lots of baby shorebirds is a real joy to behold, and the cuteness ratings go off the scale!

Black-tailed Godwit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-tailed Godwit starting to moult into its non-breeding plumage (phone-scoped with IPhone 7 and Swarovski ATX95 scoped)

Red-necked Phalarope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-necked Phalarope – a female off feeding, she plays no part in raising her young after laying the eggs. The male (who is more drably plumaged) does all of that.

Wildfowl (divers and ducks):

 

Two species of loons (divers) breed in Iceland, Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and Red-throated Loon (Red-throated Diver). Both species were fairly frequently recorded, and both species were looking spectacular in full breeding plumage, even more so when they had tiny babies either in tow or riding on their backs. The sound of Common Loon echoing around the mountains was spine-tingling.

Common Loon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) was found on several large water bodies and out on the sea. Take a look at Birding Ecotours You Tube for a video of this bird and its mate with their tiny baby.

A few species of geese breed in Iceland. Greylag Goose is common, and once you get into certain areas you start finding Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose too, which were nice to see.

Another of the big draws for birders, especially European birders, is the breeding duck population with several key species present. Top of the list is Harlequin Duck, closely followed by Barrow’s Goldeneye. The former is scarcer than the latter, with Harlequin Ducks generally found on fast-flowing rivers and Barrow’s Goldeneye out on larger lakes. I had fantastic views of both during the week, Barrow’s Goldeneye chicks being my favorites of all chicks observed, Iceland also gives the rare chance to see breeding Long-tailed Ducks in Europe. This species is probably more frequently seen in their largely white-necked and white-headed non-breeding plumage with a grayish back, but during the breeding season they moult into a glorious black neck head with a striking long tail and a dark back.

Harlequin Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harlequin Duck was one of the highlights of this Iceland trip. By late June most of the males have left the females behind at the nest sites and have gone back out to sea. Most of the time I was in suitable Harlequin Duck habitat I was just finding females, then right at the end of my trip I spotted a pair along a river with this stunning drake present. One spectacular bird!

Several other ducks occur, and good views are practically guaranteed of the following species: Common Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser (Goosander), Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, and Common Scoter. Indeed, to see most of these species with young was highlight enough for me. Lake Mývatn was literally covered in baby ducks while I was there, as were many of the small waterbodies I visited or drove past. During my week there I even found a couple of American rarities in the form of drakes of both American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck. There are great possibilities for finding other interesting species such as King Eider, Surf Scoter, and Velvet Scoter, but you’ve got to leave something for the next time, right?

 

Summary

 

In addition to all the great views and photo opportunities of the incredible birds found in Iceland, the landscape views were seriously spectacular: huge sea cliffs, giant crags, roaring rivers crashing through waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, volcanoes of all shapes, sizes, and activity, numerous waterbodies, lava fields, boulder fields, stunted forest, heathland, and 24 hours of daylight! And although I didn’t have time to do it on this trip, the whale watching off northern Iceland is considered some of the best in the world, with a good chance of Blue Whale. All of this combines to a really great place to visit, and I can’t wait to get back in June 2018!

Tours by destination



Austria

Long-eared Owl

Austria is a landlocked country of roughly 8.5 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,855 square kilometres (32,377 sq mi) and has a temperate and alpine climate. Austria’s terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 metres (12,461 ft). Austria has six national parks, almost 60 nature preserves and „nature parks“, about 35 „hot spots“ for bird-watching, 20 Alpine gardens and many other opportunities to admire nature in its undisturbed, pristine beauty. With 425 bird species, it is a wonderful destination for bird watchers to enjoy the exciting Central European avian riches.

 

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Bulgaria

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker

Despite being a relatively small country, together with Spain Bulgaria boasts the highest biodiversity in Europe, with the birds contributing greatly to this. Bulgaria’s biodiversity is conserved in three national parks, 11 nature parks and 17 biosphere reserves. The vast tracts of different habitats make it a pleasant country to bird, and the country plays host to several scenically beautiful areas, adding to its splendor. 

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Finland

Boreal Owl - Jari Peltomäki

Finland is a land of interesting contrasts, such as the four seasons, the Midnight Sun and the winter darkness, urban and rural, east and west.  As you look out from the plane, the first impression you may have is that there are a lot of trees, an endless carpet of forest, with many lakes and small towns in between. It’s kind of a surprise when you land in Helsinki to find that the airport is so modern and efficient: not a polar bear in sight. It’s truly amazing how uniquely exotic each season can be. Four times a year, nature changes its uniform completely, color, light, temperature, sounds and smells. Everything changes in a way that happens nowhere else.

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France

European Crested Tit - Thomas Hochebner

France  is a country located in Western  Europe.  Clockwise from the north, France borders  Belgium, Luxembourg, and  Germany to the northeast,  Switzerland to the east, Italy to the southeast, and Spain to the southwest across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France’s neighbors, England (part of the United Kingdom).

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Greece

Rock Partridge

Greece lies in the south of the Balkan peninsula and is part of the European East Mediterranean Region. Its territory expands in approximately 132.000 km2, its coast line is 15.000 km long, and has a great variety of geomorphological formations and rocks. In general, the climate can be regarded as Mediterranean, with mild and wet winters, and hot and dry summers. The country’s geomorphology is diverse. Greece is primarily a mountainous country, with seventy per cent of its territory covered by mountains. It has a very long coastline, with a plethora of peninsulas and islands. The fauna consists of a rich mixture of European, Asian and African species, including a considerable number which are endemic. Greece has one of the highest bird densities in Europe and is a fascinating country ornithologically: About 407 bird species have been recorded, of which 240 nest in Greece (59% of the total). Some species (e.g. the Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus) nest only in Greece of all EU countries.

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Hungary

White-tailed Eagle

 

Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. Slightly more than one half of Hungary’s landscape consists of flat to rolling plains of the Pannonian Basin: the most important plain regions include the Little Hungarian Plain in the west, and the Great Hungarian Plain in the southeast. The country is well established as one of the very best birding nations in Europe. With 416 species, including such treasures as Saker Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pygmy Cormorant, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Great Bustard, Corncrake, Ural Owl, Aquatic Warbler, and nine species of woodpecker, it certainly deserves a place on any world birder’s wish list to enjoy the exciting Central European avifauna.

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Iceland

Atlantic Puffin - Jari Peltomäki

Iceland, thanks to its remote location and harsh winters, has a relatively small population, leaving vast parts of this island nation untouched. Some amazing scenery of glaciers, volcanic peaks, steep cliffs, waterfalls, and steaming geysers make this an amazing panorama for a birding destination.

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Italy

Wallcreeper

Italy is a “must-visit” country to most travelers, this is where both the Roman Empire and the Renaissance began, and no other Western country can quite compete with the incredible historical depth of this one. Even if you are not a history buff, your jaws will still drop when you first set eyes on the beautiful cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome. Combined with its art and history, Italy also has some of Europe’s most magnificent scenery.  We acknowledge the fact that many people will want to visit Italy at some stage or another, and we hereby present you with the opportunity of combining birding with seeing the main sights and also experiencing the culture of modern Italy.

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Norway

Ivory Gull © Erwin Vermeulen

Scenically spectacular Norway, with its famous fjords, rugged coastline, and thousands of islands, has some vast wilderness areas. Denizens of these vast tracts of boreal forest, tundra, and coastline include ptarmigans, sea ducks, sea eagles, northern owls, <strong>Ivory Gull</strong>, polar bears, walruses, narwhales, orcas, and various huge baleen whales, along with a great many others.

While the whole of Norway is well worth a visit if you enjoy nature, probably the most world-renowned part of Norway is incredible Svalbard (also commonly known as Spitsbergen, which means “pointed mountains”, the Dutch name that a lot of people still use even though the area is no longer Dutch territory). This is where many people go to find and photograph polar bears, but it’s also teaming with a large number of other charismatic species, including some sought-after birds. Svalbard is midway between continental Norway and the North Pole and gives easy access to the Arctic Circle, with international flights available to the world’s northernmost city, Longyearbyen.

We arrange spring and early summer cruises to Svalbard, and we also include Norway as part of our Finland-focused birding tour. By request, it is also very easy for us to arrange cruises and land-based tours to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in the Tromsø area. It’s probably the warmest place in the world to observe the Northern Lights, because it’s degrees warmer than expected for its latitude because of the warm Gulf Stream.

Do join us on a Norway birding tour or wildlife cruise.

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Romania

Western Yellow Wagtail

Romania is a country very rich in biodiversity. It contains 98% of Europe’s bird species, a large majority of them found the Danube Delta. In this delta alone, over 320 species of birds are found during summer, of which 166 are hatching species and 159 are migratory. Over one million individuals (swans, wild ducks, coots, etc.) winter there. The last three days of Birding Ecotours’ Bulgaria and Romania tour are spent in this magnificent birding wonderland.

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Spain

White Stork - Ian Merrill

Spain has long been an extremely popular destination for birders, offering as it does a wide range of typical Mediterranean habitats, along with easy, safe, and excellent birding. Many sites are in beautifully scenic settings, featuring Romanesque architecture and ancient, fortified hilltop villages.  Much of interior Spain is very rural and way off the tourist trail. This is the finest region to sample a large array of southern European species and is especially good for raptors, with 23 species possible.

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Sweden

Hazel Grouse - Birding Tour Sweden

Sweden’s Taiga forests and wetlands around Svartådalen make for fantastic birding in the springtime. The Black River Valley of Västmanland hosts waves of migrating birds that arrive from late April, the number of species increase around the wetlands and in late May, and even the speciality species become common. Sweden in spring truly boasts an abundance of birdlife and photographic opportunities. One thing is for sure: Sweden will leave a lasting impression on you with its scenic beauty and serenity, and for the fantastic birding encounters you will enjoy.

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Turkey

Brown Fish Owl

Turkey is a richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, one of the world’s greatest cities and scenery from white-sand beaches to soaring mountains and fairy-like natural formations. With a checklist of approximately 500 birds, it should also be on any world birder’s wish list.

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We can run any of our tours privately any time and we can also arrange custom itineraries - send us your wish-list and we'll put the itinerary together! See more here.



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