Mon 26th May 2014 (part 2)

Posted on June 13, 2014 at 2:45 PM

ICELAND - day 2 (p.m.)



So this is where I saw the Harlequins, on the rocks below the waterfall, just where one would expect a Harlequin to be. There were two male birds and a female, the males resplendent in their Icelandic flag plumage. Definitely the best duck there is and a top target. I was well pleased but the other people on the trip didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for some reason.


Harlequin Ducks - Thingsvellir


One of the cracks in the Earth's crust at Thingsvellir. The ground round here was like the top of a baked muffin, cracked and bulging as the heat expands it. Note the Red-breasted Merganser.


Roseroot - Thingsvellir

Moss Campion

Moss Campion - Thingsvellir. Like these two, there were lots of 'alpine' plant species here that we only get in the UK on the higher mountains of Scotland, the Lakes etc. (also some Alpine Lady's-mantle in the top right I think)

After this stop, we headed across to the other side of the rift valley where we were to do some caving at  Gjabakkahellir. This involved a drive onto higher ground where the coach flushed another 3 Ptarmigan from the roadside and I saw my first 2 Ravens of the trip. There were fewer birds up on the tops, but we spent most of the time underground in the lava tube cave. This happens where a crust forms on the top of a lava flow but the river of lava carries on underneath. Then, this flow suddenly stops and gravity pushes the rest of the lava out of the tube (or something similar). You can see on the photo below how the rock has melted on the ceiling and was dripping from the roof (er, not whilst we were there though...).

Gjabakkahellir Lava Tube Cave

inside the lava tube caves at Gjabakkahellir

Afterwards we took in two more amazing sights, the geysers at Geysir, then the impressive waterfall at Gullfoss. At the former a couple of Icelandic Redpolls were flying around the visitor centre, but other than that there was little wildlife of interest. As my only previous experience of geysers was from cartoons, I was suitably impressed. I was expecting it to go off every half-hour or so, but it shot up every 10 minutes.





Afterwards, we headed south and drove along the southern coastal road. In these flat fields there were lots and lots of birds. They were mostly of just a few species but, from the coach, I was seeing a lot. On occasional roadside pools there were small groups of wildfowl, including many Whooper Swans and a couple of Wigeon amongst the more common species. Waders were seen in profusion, including quite a lot of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits.


a Whimbrel by a petrol station

Our next stop was my favourite so far - the almost magical waterfall at Seljalandsfoss, and just as we arrived, the sun came out. This was the only sunny spell of the whole trip (apart from the last hour before the airport return). I could have taken hundreds of photos of this breathtaking waterfall that you can walk behind (see more on my Flickr album - click here: Flickr). All these cliffs, which were a few miles inland, had lots of Fulmar nesting colonies on them. This species is so common on the south coast of Iceland, there were generally a few in the sky every time you looked up.



We eventually made it to the hotel, which was more or less at the southern tip of the country, and had an evening meal. Not wanting to waste any time whilst we were here, a few of us decided to head out for a walk behind the hotel. It was almost 10 o'clock when we set off but with no darkness at this time of year we didn't need to rush back.


View from the hotel window - the farm and Burfell behind that.

We headed out northwards and uphill behind the hotel, passing through a farmyard. In the fields all round here there were lots of breeding waders - Oystercatchers, Snipe, Redshank, Icelandic BT Godwits and Golden Plovers. There was even a godwit feeding in the farm pond, in amongst the building. In the farmyard, we picked up a friendly dog which joined us on our walk.

Oystercatcher eggs

Oystercatcher nest in the middle of the farm track.

As we reached the end of the fields, a decision was made to scale the peak in front of us. I was not so sure, as it looked rather steep, and my knee was still painful from twisting it a week or so ago, and it has been years since I have climbed such a hill. Nevertheless, being a man, there was no way I would look like a wimp, so I followed the others up. As we were getting closer to the top, I saw that the Fulmars were racing in from the sea towards the summit, and were clearly breeding on the cliffs. I warned the others that I was worried that we were going to get showered with vomit. After a few rests and a few hand-and-feet climbs up the steeper bits, we eventually scrambled up towards the summit, still with the dog in tow. It may seem a little far-fetched, but this farm dog seemed to be protecting us from the Fulmars. They were coming in at our level and every time one came too close, the dog jumped up towards it, barking ferociously. I think it had been trained to do this. We finally made the summit and were rewarded with superb 360 degree views.


On the summit of Burfell, looking inland towards the glaciers.


Looking south from the summit towards the ocean, the hotel is the white horizontal building, and one of the Fulmar nesting cliffs can be seen on the bottom right.

Sitting up on the flat summit of the hill, waiting for a darkness that would never come, with hardly any wind and knocking back a few shots of "Valhalla" liqueur, was beyond peaceful. We could have been in another world completely, and I suppose we were.


The victorious mountaineers

Categories: 2014 Spring