Tag Archives: Gavia immer

Leaving highland lakes

Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver – Gavia immer

The Great Northern Diver breeds in Canada, Alaska, the northern regions of USA and southern Greenland but Iceland is the diver’s only habitat in Europe. 

In autumn  the Great Northern Diver leaves the highlands and stays in the ocean around the country until spring arrives again. The population in Iceland is believed to count less than 1000 birds.

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.

Red-breasted Merganser spooked

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Toppönd – Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator

Last week we saw a Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer)  sneak up on a Red-breasted Merganser with its chicks several meters from the shore.  The Diver behaved like a sheepdog and prevented the group from going on the lake. It dived towards them and forced them up to the shore repeatedly.

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The Merganser was on constant look out both on and under the water surface. Although the Diver’s mate and chick were in about 1 km distance the diver thought the Merganser and its chicks were a threat which should be kept at bay.

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The Great Northern Diver is known for its fierce treatment of intruders that venture into its territory.  It is known to dive under other birds wounding them with its spear-shaped bill.  People have witnessed them killing both duck and geese chicks this way and even adult birds, such as the Long-tailed Duck.

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Preparing for an attack

King of the highland lakes

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Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver / Common Loon – Gavia immer

The Great Northern Diver is without doubt king of its habitat in the interior. Most highland lakes with fish sport at least one couple who nest there every summer and raise their young ones. Usually the chicks are two and the parents take good care of them. It is not unusual to see the chick being transported on the back of the parents.

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Looking after the eggs

In Veiðivötn, in English Fishing Lakes, in the southern interior the Great Northern Diver stands out. Pairs are on most of the lakes and non-breeding birds can sometimes be seen in groups.

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Not many things are more captivating than the Diver’s wails which can be heard all over the place in  the stillness of the twilight.

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Two eggs but only one chick

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Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver – Gavia immer

The Great Northern Diver raises its chicks on trout fry and therefore resides on lakes that offer such food. This Diver has  one chick which is most common although the eggs are two. The parents can seldom find enough food for two chicks to survive, thus only one lives to become an adult. This bird with its chick was in Veiðivötn Lakes in the southern highlands.

Feeding its chick
Feeding its chick

Cold spring spoils nests

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Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver – Gavia immer

Veiðivötn (Fishing Lakes) are a cluster of lakes in the southern interior of Iceland. Ordinarily there are around 35 to 40 Great Northern Divers there over the summer time and usually 10 – 15 nests. This spring it was very cold and a lot of snow and ice. The Great Northern Divers turned up at their usual time and at least 10 pairs layed eggs by the water edge of lakes. When it at last started to get warmer snow and ice melted and six of the nests went under water and were destroyed.  Only three chicks hatched from two nests in the area. This is by far the worst breeding to be seen since I started observing the Great Northern Diver in the area 15 years ago. The nest in the picture went underwater but in recent years this pair has always managed to raise two chicks.

With two chicks in summer 2014
With two chicks in summer 2014

This picture is of the same pair with two chicks last year.

Great Northern Diver / Common Loon

The Great Northern Diver is a characteristic bird on Icelandic mountain lakes.  You can hear its a special laughing call on the lakes and in flight its wailing calls resound in rocks and craters, creating an unforgettable atmosphere, memories of quiet summer nights. In USA it is called the Common Loon but in UK it is called the Great Northern Diver.

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Great Northern Diver / Common Loon

The Great Northern Diver chooses its nesting place on islands or islets or else by the banks of the lakes. The nests are most often in moss or grass but sometimes on sandy lakeshores. The nests are usually about 1 – 2 meters from the water level. The eggs are usually two.

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Himbrimi – Great Northern Diver / Common Loon – Gavia immer

Big clear mountain lakes full of fish are the Great Northern Divers favourite nesting place. Their main food source is trout. There is usually just one pair on each lake unless the lake is very big.

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Fanning its wings

A nesting pair usually claims a whole lake as its territory and makes sure that no one gets too near and uses force to keep other Divers away.

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A pair with a 2-3 week old chicks

Most Great Northern Divers stay in the ocean around Iceland over the winter time, a few go to the UK or West Europe.

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A perfect place for the Great Northern Diver – Veiðivötn in the South Iceland highlands

There are around 300 breeding pairs in Iceland and it is the Great Northern Divers only nesting place  in Europe.