All posts by Örn Óskarsson

Keeping track of the chicks

Jaðrakan – Black-tailed Godwit – Limosa limosa

The Black-tailed Godwit is always agitated when its chicks are on the move. As with other waders they are born quite mature and leave the nest very early. By now they have started finding their way in life. The parents however do not seem so sure of their potential. The chicks are usually four so its quite a job to keep track of them. Here the parents have chosen a tree top to keep watch over them.

The Black-tailed Godwit is a migratory bird and those who did not manage to find a mate this spring have already left. Reports of ringed ones tell us that some are already in their winter grounds in Britain.

Long-eared Owl

Eyrugla – Long-Eared Owl – Asio otus

With growing forests there are more instances of Long-eared Owls breeding in Iceland. These birds that were mostly migrants have now become native.  In 2003 the first breeding of a Long-eared Owl was recorded but it is believed that breeding started there a few years earlier.

The Long-eared Owl mostly eats mice, chicks and small birds. Owls are night creatures and the best chance of seeing one is in the twilight when they are hunting for food for their young ones.

This summer we have seen Long-eared Owls several times in forests in the South and twice a few chicks. This will probably be a good year for owls.

Picturesque bird

Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver/Common Loon – Gavia immer

The Great Northern Diver  (Common Loon) is a very picturesque bird and interesting to photograph. We say it is the king the of the highland lakes. Veiðivötn or Fishing Lakes is a cluster of lakes in the southern interior. Ordinarily there are around 35 to 40 Great Northern Divers there over the summer time and usually 10 – 15 nests. Pairs are on most of the lakes and non-breeding birds can sometimes be seen in groups.

This summer breeding went well as far as to say there are nesting pairs on most lakes. In the beginning of July the chicks hatch and we wait to see how successful the nesting will be.

The Arctic Fox

Refur / Heimskautarefur – Arctic Fox – Alopex lagopus

The Arctic Fox is the only native carnivorous animal in Iceland. In Iceland it feeds mostly on birds and the Ptarmigan is probably most important in their diet. They also eat fish and seal cubs, scavenge on carcasses and if necessary will eat whatever is available. They survive the Icelandic winter, active all the winter without hibernating. They store food for the winter, digging it in the ground for storage. In summer they might also double their weight to prepare for the harsh months of winter.

We came upon this Arctic Fox in the Southern Highlands noticing it only a few metres away when we stopped the car. Foxes are solitary animals and are sure to keep away from humans. However, in remote areas such as Hornstrandir in the Northwest they are quite tame and take to people.

Pink-footed geese in the highlands

Heiðagæs – Pink-footed goose – Anser brachyrhynchus

In early summer the Pink-footed goose is one of the most prominent species of the Icelandic highlands. New breeding areas have been appearing in the last few years and their numbers have been rapidly increasing, the stock counting about 400 thousand birds.

This spring breeding was very successful and flocks of chicks could be seen on highland lakes in the beginning of June.

The Pink-footed goose builds its nest in tussocks and in cliffs near water or wetlands. They leave the country in autumn and come back in April. They overwinter in Scotland and North England.

The midnight sun

It is summer solstice, the shortest night of the year and the longest day of the year.  Icelandic summer nights are ideal for outings and camping. No darkness makes everything easier especially for those who are afraid of the dark.

There is little that beats the beauty of the midnight sun. In the middle of summer the sun  sets after midnight and is up again before three in the night so there is more or less daylight  also at nighttime.

White-winged Tern

Tígulþerna – White-winged Tern – Chlidonias leucopterus

The White-winged Tern is a vagrant in Iceland and has been seen here 15 times. It was now spotted in Nesjar in Miðnes, Reykjanes peninsula, last week.

Their habitat is in southeast Europe all the way to central Asia. They breed in  freshwater marshes. They migrate to Africa , Southern Asia and Australia for the winter.
This is bird number 217 on my Iceland birdlist.

Peaceful Crossbills

Krossnefur – Common Crossbill / Red Crossbill – Loxia curvirostra

Common Crossbills flock to our garden, both young and old. They have must have got news about the feed that the nice man in Fagurgerði  puts out all year round now. Fagurgerði is actually the old name of our house and later when more houses were built it became the name of the street.

Several adults, both male and female, with chicks visit the feeders and there is a lot of coming and going. They seem such peaceful birds and share the sunflower seeds in blissful harmony with the Redpolls.

In the last ten days there have been up to 18 Crossbills at a time. First there were 3 – 4, a dad with 3 chicks and then their numbers grew as news spread of the full feeders here.

Birds on poles

Jaðrakan – Black-Tailed Godwit – Limosa limosa

In May moorland birds claim their territories and defend and guard them if intruders venture too near. To survey their territory these landowners often perch on hills, rocks or fence poles to get a better view.

Stelkur – Redshank – Tringa totanus

In the lowlands in South Iceland fence poles are popular for these observations and used a lot by Black-Tailed Godwits, Common Snipes and Redshanks.

Hrossagaukur – Snipe – Gallinago gallinago

Leucistic Snipe

Hrossagaukur – Snipe – Gallinago gallinago

This Snipe is not at all what we are used to. A genetic mutation is to blame for pigment not being deposited in the feathers, a condition called leucism. Leucistic birds usually have a light or almost white plumage, sometimes with spots but unlike albinism the bill and feet  have some coloring.

Leucistic Snipes are very rare but a few occasions are known in the last few years e.g. in the Westman Islands and in Tjörnes, in the Northeast.

Just an ordinary Snipe

Last year a white Snipes was spotted south of Hveragerði and again  last week in the same area . Most likely this is the same bird as last year.