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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.