It is late August in the highlands and already autumn. The seven Ptarmigan chicks we came across were so small that we worry they will not make it through the winter. After about a month the first snows can be expected.
The Ptarmigan is well adapted to the Icelandic climate and will stay in the highlands until the weather becomes so bad they can not find food. Then they will move down to the lowlands and survive the winter if they do not fall prey to predators such as foxes and falcons, not to mention the greatest threat of all – the man.
On my trip into the interior last week it was so calm and peaceful. Not a ripple stirred on the waters. The moss had turned to its autumn colours making the contrast with the black sands starker. The reflections were perfect in the water which was as smooth as a mirror.
The Goldcrest has not been among the birds that visit our garden on a regular basis. Every once in a while we would hear it and less frequently a bird would be seen but not for extended periods. However, these last few weeks there have been at least two who have stuck around.
The Goldcrest is the smallest bird in Europe. It was a vagrant in Iceland but is now counted among its inhabitants. Its song is very high pitched so those who have started losing hearing can not hear it.
After a fairly mild winter and rather good summer there is enough feed for them, such as spruce aphids which is often their main diet. The numbers of Goldcrests in Iceland is on the rise and more often they are now seen in towns although their main habitat is in spruce forests in the country.
July and August are usually the most peaceful months in the garden, meaning that there are not as many birds as in the winter months. We have continued putting out sunflower seed all summer so of course some birds come by regularly. Redwings, Blackbirds and Redpolls nested in our garden and in neighbouring gardens this summer. Most of these birds finished breeding in the end June except the Blackbird that breeds several times during the summer. According to our observations it is now breeding for the fifth time.
With the coming of autumn more and more birds appear in the garden and last week there were three Wrens here (ad+2 juv), a Goldcrest, Crossbills, Redpolls, Blackbirds, Redwings and Starlings.
At this time of year young Purple Sandpipers are often seen in highland heaths and this year there are quite a lot of them despite a rather cold summer – or perhaps because of it. In a short while they will be gathering for their flight to the coast.
The Purple Sandpiper breeds in the Icelandic highlands and in a small area in Markarfljótsaurar, the estuary delta of the River Markarfljót.
The Purple Sandpipers stay in the highlands until frost and snow make it impossible for them to get their feed. Then they move down to the coast and stay there until spring arrives again.
At this time of year the Barrow’s Goldeneye can be seen on lakes and rivers with its adorable chicks and sometimes with a lot of them. This bird with chicks was on Lake Nýjavatn in Veiðivötn in July.
Iceland is the only breeding place of the Barrow’s Goldeneye in Europe and the distribution has been more or less restricted to Northeast Iceland. More birds now breed in the South, e.g. in the Southern Highlands, in Lake Þingvallavatn and River Sog. Barrow’s Goldeneye stay in spring water lakes or rivers the whole year round and unlike most non-migrators they do not move to the sea around Iceland in winter.