All posts by Kristin

River Beauty

Eyrarrós – River Beauty – Epilobium latifolium

The River Beauty is one of the most beautiful flowers you see. It is now in bloom. It grows on the banks of rivers and is common in the highlands in places where sheep can not get to it.

The River Beauty is the national flower of Greenland and when Icelanders were choosing their National flower it was a strong  candidate.

A good year

Sólskríkja / Snjótittlingur – Snow Bunting – Plectrophenax nivalis

The Snow Bunting is a high Arctic bird that breeds as far as the Northernmost regions of Greenland and Canada. It is common in Iceland where it lives the whole year round although in many countries it is a passerine. It used to be a very common breeding bird in the highlands but with rising temperatures the Icelandic stock has decreased. This summer has been fairly cold and seems to have been a good breeding year for Snow Buntings in Iceland.

With the beak full of flies for the nestlings

The Snow Bunting builds its nest deep in cracks in rocks. The nest is lined with feathers and fur, made with care to keep the eggs and chicks warm in the cold rock.

Young Snow Bunting (juv.)

In wintertime it goes round in huge flocks and comes into towns in search of food but putting out feed especially for Snow Buntings has been something of a tradition in Iceland. In the summer time the Snow Bunting goes under the name “Sólskríkja” which translates as sun screecher.

The Icelandic Goat

The Icelandic goat is an ancient breed of Norwegian origin, brought to Iceland by the settlers for over 1100 years ago. Today the Icelandic goat is mainly kept for maintaining the population so it does not become extinct.  Is is a friendly animal and does not shy away from humans.

The Icelandic goat has been on the verge of extinction for a long time and the Icelandic population is highly inbred. In 2003 there were 348 goats but in 2012 the population had been on the rise and there were 849 goats in Iceland. For the purpose of ensuring the Icelandic goat’s survival annual grants are paid to farmers that keep them.

Some experiments have been made in producing cheese from its milk but on the whole products are not made from the milk, meat or cashmere which is of high quality.

Aggressive Great Skua

Skúmur – Great Skua – Stercorarious Skua

The Great Skua is stout and dark. Some say it is not a beautiful bird and some even say they hate it. The Great Skua is sometimes referred to as a pirate because it is aggressive and always on the look out to harass and steal food from other birds such as puffins, fulmars, gulls and even birds as big as gannets. Their main diet in Iceland is probably sand eel and they also eat other birds. In the breeding time this big and stout bird is very aggressive and often dive-bombs people if they come too close to the nest. Stories say they might even damage cars and injure people.

The Great Skua is one of the biggest Icelandic birds and most common in the big sand dunes in the Southeast. Their numbers count around 5400 pairs. They are migratory birds and overwinter off the coasts of Spain and Africa.

Wheatear just arriving

Steindepill – Wheatear – Oenanthe oenanthe

It must be a relief to finally land on Icelandic shores after flying for thousands of miles over the ocean. This Wheatear was just about to land in South Iceland in the morning of May 5.

The Wheatears are not early migrants. They usually arrive in Iceland in May, coming from their winter grounds as far as Africa. In September they leave again for the winter.

Keeping vigil over their spouses

Brandönd – Shelduck – Tadorna tadorna

It is spring and breeding time has started. The Shelducks on Ölfusá River have started claiming their territories. The males are very protective of the females and are busy chasing away aggressive males that have not yet managed to secure a mate.

Chasing away intruders

A lot of uproar can be observed when groups of male birds make an assault and try to snatch away a female already paired. The lucky ones have to keep constant vigil over their spouses.

A secretive bird

Keldusvín – Water Rail – Rallus aquaticus

Today a Water Rail was spotted in a ditch near Selfoss. It is five years since one was last seen in Iceland. It used to be a breeding bird here but has now become a rare guest. Its habitat is freshwater wetlands in Europe, Asia and North Africa.

The Water Rail was well visible in the bright sun today but was not eager to be seen. If disturbed it hid under some weeds, easily blending in with its surroundings, and birdwatchers had to wait for some time for it to appear again.

The Water Rail is such a special bird and a shame that it does not exist in Iceland any more. Two main reasons are probably to blame for its disappearance, irrigation and drainage and the introduction of the mink in Icelandic nature. But the minks escaped from mink farms. Water Rails are vagrants that usually come here every year from Europe.