It is still February but this week the first flocks of Whooper Swans could be seen flying along the Southeast coast. Small groups were spotted in Fáskrúðsfjörður and in Hornafjörður, having just arrived over the Atlantic Ocean. Most Whooper Swans migrate to the British Isles in the autumn and come back in late winter. They are one of the very first migrators to arrive. We hope their coming signals a change in the weather and look forward to some warmer days.
Whooper Swans are very common in Iceland and can be seen all over the country year round, although some still migrate to the British Isles in winter. On Ölfusá River by Selfoss there were about 40 birds this winter. The Whooper Swans pair for life and return to the same breeding place year after year. They are very sensitive and if disturbed the pair may abandon the nest and eggs.
The Lesser Black-backed Gull has arrived, the very first migrator to signal the changing of the seasons. Spring, however, seems we off as the weather has been at its very worst. But this is a promising sign, an indicator for the weather gods to change course and bring us some warmer winds.
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is usually one of the earliest arrivals in Iceland, or perhaps the very first to arrive as early as February. They spend a few winter months by the shores of the Iberian peninsula and North West Africa. It is the only gull that is a complete migrator in Iceland. The Lesser Black-backed Gull started breeding in Iceland in the 1920s and the breeding population now counts around 50,000 pairs.
In the end of January and in February the male Common Crossbills become quite noticeable in the tops of the Lodgepole Pine forests (Pinus contorta) in Grímsnes area, South Iceland. They sing and try to catch the attention of the females.
Although it is still mid winter in Iceland they have obviously started courtship. Some seem now already paired and are feeding their spouses which is a sign that the nesting period is not far away.
The cones and seeds of the Lodgepole Pine are now becoming ripe and that seems to be the indicator that tells the birds that it is time for mating.
Snow Buntings have frequented Icelandic gardens all over the country this winter. In the past few weeks they have been seen in huge flocks and we counted 400 birds here in our garden in Selfoss. Last year, however, we didn’t see any Snow Buntings here.
This winter has been harsher than in previous years, with long lasting frost and snow. In the last century The Snow Bunting was the typical Icelandic winter bird and usually the only bird to be seen in winter along with the Raven. In the last few decades there has been a change and the Snow Bunting has been seen more rarely in Icelandic gardens.
The reasons for this change are not certain and people speculate whether this is due to a decrease in the stock. However, an increase in corn production in agricultural could be reducing the Snow Buntings need to come into gardens for feed, at least when snows do not cover the fields.
A Siskin appeared in the garden this week, one of its kind. It stayed for two days and then was on its way. Such a beautiful bird and easy to notice in its bright yellow and black plumage that catches the eye. It is an annual guest here in spring and autumn.
Since autumn this Robin has been a daily guest in the garden. Our Robin roams the neighbourhood but always turns up again. We have news of another one just over the river. Hopefully they are a male and a female that will pair up and breed here in the spring.
The Robin is a rather common vagrant in Iceland and is known to have breed here.
The most voluminous river in Iceland is River Ölfusá. Around this time of year you can expect to see a lot of ducks and gulls there, some Greylags and Swans and a Gyrfalcon, a Merlin or even a White-tailed Eagle flying above.
Due to spring water a big part of the river never freezes. When creeks and lakes are frozen over, River Ölfusá is the perfect winter habitat for birds. The river flows just outside our window about 50m away from our house.
The Ptarmigan blends well into the snow covered landscape in its winter plumage. Predators such as foxes, falcons and the human can not easily spot it in the winter twilight. This Ptarmigan has survived the hunting season which is limited to a few long weekends in October and November. Ptarmigan used to be a popular Christmas dinner in Iceland but as the stock has been decreasing in numbers and the hunting season limited, fewer and fewer families chose to eat this beautiful bird. That is something to be thankful for.