My Iceland List

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Over 6 days in Iceland, I managed to tally 34 species, including 5 life birds. Not bad at all, especially considering that birding was not the primary focus of the trip, I didn’t have a guide, my scope broke on Monday, and it was October just below the Arctic Circle:

  • Common Snipe
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • Red-throated Loon
  • Common Redshank
  • Dunlin
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Northern Gannet
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher
  • Wren
  • Eurasian Blackbird
  • Redwing
  • Common Redpoll
  • Graylag Goose
  • Mallard
  • Mew Gull
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Whooper Swan
  • Tufted Duck
  • Common Raven
  • Common Loon
  • Common Murre
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Purple Sandpiper
  • Iceland Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Cormorant
  • Glaucous Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • European Starling
  • European Shag
  • European Golden-Plover
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Common Eider


#515 Common Snipe

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

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.

#514 Redwing

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Today Beth and I drove back to Reykjavik to visit the zoo and Botanical Gardens, and do a bit of shopping. The zoo’s definitely worth a trip. It specializes in Icelandic animals, native and otherwise: Icelandic foxes, horses, mink, goats, cows, pigs, Gyrfalcon, etc. I couldn’t count the captive Gyrfalcon but I couldn’t avoid Redwing if I tried. There were dozens everywhere:

Redwing in bare tree with red berries


#512 and #513 in Downtown Reykjavik

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Monday afternoon I drove Beth and her agent down to Reykjavik to visit a violinist at a lovely sculpture museum on the ocean. (Driving in Iceland is dead easy, by the way. Much simpler than in the U.S. Fewer people means less traffic.) I added Common Loon to the trip list at the museum, but didn’t find any life birds. However, a little later in the afternoon we visited Tjomin Pond in the city center, which is known for harboring many species that don’t winter anywhere else in the country. As usual in city parks in both Europe and America, some the biggest and most obvious waterfowl were Mute Swans. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. These days I hardly even look at swans in parks. However these swans were quite tame, as Mute Swans in parks usually are, and when one swam right up to us, I couldn’t help noticing the bright yellow bill:

Profile of a swan with a yellow and black bill

Wait a minute? Yellow bill? Mute Swans don’t have yellow bills. That’s a Whooper Swan! #512. (I’d seen a Whooper several years ago on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay, but as probable escapees Whoopers aren’t countable in New York. In Iceland they are.)

#510 and #511 in Keflavík

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

I arrived in Iceland early this morning and despite hopes for Ptarmigans in the airport parking lot my first Icelandic species was — wait for it — European Starling on the old U.S. Air Force base. Worse yet, it turns out that even though Iceland is in Europe, the starlings aren’t even native here. I’m told they first showed up about 30 years ago. (I have seen European Starling in London and the Netherlands, where they are native birds so I can still include that one on my life list even under the strictest rules.)

That was pretty much it till the afternoon when I got down to the harbor and turned up 11 more species. The first lifer, #510, was a European Shag next to a Great Cormorant. No pictures yet since it was raining and I didn’t want to drag my camera or my scope out in the rain. I’ll try and grab some tomorrow when the sun comes out. There were a few around.