Thursday I took a long drive (well long for Iceland– the whole country’s about the size of Kentucky) around the Reykjanesbær peninsula. I didn’t see many birds though. The last stop was a small migrant trap called Seltjörn on the road between Njarðvík and Grindavik. This is a park where someone has planted a lot of conifers along a hillside. Iceland doesn’t have a lot of trees, so places like this attract occasional European vagrants. I didn’t find any rarities, but the woods were filled with Redwings, and I’d occasionally encounter a small flock of Common Redpolls.
However the real prize was in the fields west of the trees. Here I flushed two birds that flew rapidly out of the grass and away from me. They looked vaguely like a cross between a shorebird and a Mourning Dove. At first I thought they might be more European Golden Plovers, which I’d been seeing everywhere but that didn’t seem quite right. They didn’t act like them, and this wasn’t the ideal habitat either, but in migration birds can show up anywhere. However 15 minutes later in the way back I flushed a third that burst out of the ground and flew a long looping flight until it landed back in the grass about a hundred meters away from me. This time I was able to get my binoculars on it while it was in flight, and the obvious long straight bill made it very clear this was no plover. (The key defining characteristic of the plover family are their short, stubby bills.) The flight, behavior, bill, and pattern made it really obvious this was a Snipe, and in Iceland more specifically a Common Snipe. This is very closely related to America’s Wilson’s Snipe. Indeed until quite recently they were considered to be the same species, but in 2002 the AOU split them.