All posts by Kristin

Red Admiral Butterflies

Aðmírálsfiðrildi – Red Admiral – Vanessa atalanta

Every year butterflies are blown off course due to warm Southeast winds and end up here in Iceland. In the end of May an unusually large numbers of Red Admirals have been seen in South and Southeast Iceland. Here these big colourful butterflies always attract a lot of attention and several of them have been here in our garden.

The Red admiral is a native to almost all of Europe but the North is not a suitable habitat. Once here they start losing their numbers, some are eaten by birds and the weather is not always suitable, not even in the summer.

The Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit

Jaðrakan – Black-tailed Godwit – Limosa limosa

Migrants have been coming to Iceland in flocks. One of these is the Black-Tailed Godwit with its beautiful colours and shrill song. It overwinters on the west coast of Europe from Holland to the shores of Portugal. The special Icelandic subspecies mostly breeds in Iceland but also in the Faroe Islands, Shetlands and Lofoten. This subspecies is more colourful, has shorter legs and a shorter bill. The Black-Tailed Godwit breeds in lowlands all over Iceland and the population, which is estimated around 100 000, has gradually been growing while other subspecies have been decreasing slightly in recent years.

Blackbirds singing in the morning twilight

Three males and one female / Svartþröstur – Blackbird – Turdus merula

The Blackbirds started singing for the females in the morning twilight last week, despite the frost and snow. The days are getting longer and it is quite obvious that it is the light that affects their hormones, not the temperature.

Last night the frost went down to – 18° and up to about 20 Blackbirds came to the feed trays. There was a lot of commotion and fierceness, as they fought to catch the females’ attention.

The Blackbirds usually start breeding in Selfoss in the end of March or beginning of April. It is common for them to breed up to four times during the summer.

The Great Backyard Bird Count – Cornell and Audubon

This weekend is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. People from all over the world take part and some Icelanders as well.

Skógarþröstur – Redwing – Turdus iliacus

The Great Backyard Bird Count began in 1998.  Participants need to observe and count the numbers of different kinds of birds in their garden for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 14-17. Participants can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as they wish!
More information, and to register, see the website:
https://gbbc.birdcount.org

The Icelandic Backyard Bird Count is a similar event hosted by Fuglavernd in Iceland and is usually in the end of January.

Lighting up our days

Krossnefur – Common Crossbill – Loxia curvirostra

A flock of Common Crossbills comes to feed in the garden. In the last few days they have been up to fifteen, brightening up our days as they crowd the feeding tray.  In December these colourful  birds and the snow  add to the merriment of Christmas.

Tennessee Warbler

Ormskríkja – Tennessee Wrabler – Leiothlypis peregrina

In the autumn of 1956 the first Tennessee Warbler was recorded for Iceland, then in Snæfellsnes. Now some 63 years later the second one has been spotted in Reykjanes Peninsula on September 8, by the picturesque lighthouse Reykjanesviti.

The Tennessee Warbler is a breeding bird in the Canadian boreal forests and winters in Central and South America.  Its arrival in Iceland is the fault of some heavy southerly winds caused by a low pressure area. These have blown our little friend straight over the North Atlantic and the lights from the lighthouse Reykjanesviti have probably guided it ashore. Reykjanes Peninsula, however, is not the best place for this bird that relies heavily on insects as its main food source. The area is mostly without vegetation but hopefully the Tennessee Warbler will soon start looking for a better place with spruces and pines – its ideal habitat.

A lot of birders have already seen this little bird that does not seem  alarmed by the attention. It is probably not far from the truth to say it may be the most “twitched” bird in one day ever in Iceland.

Golden Plovers in the highlands

Golden Plover chick in the highlands in the middle of August

By now the Golden Plovers have started gathering for their annual migration flight over the Atlantic to their winter grounds. When it gets colder here, even as late as November, they head south, many to the British Isles but also to Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and North Africa.

Heiðlóa – Golden Plover – Pluvialis apricaria

It is estimated that a little less than half of the total Golden Plover population in the world breed in Iceland. They are migrators that arrive early in April and leave late in the autumn. They can be seen all over the country, from the seaside into the highlands. Their favourite habitat is in dry heathland  where vegetation is rather scarce.

Golden Plover adolescent

With rising temperatures conditions in the highlands are getting better for the Golden Plover, as well as some other birds that have until a few years ago preferred the lowlands. The breeding population in Iceland counts around 300,000 pairs.

Migrators arriving

Tjaldur – Oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus

Migrators have started arriving and among these is the Oystercatcher. The country doesn’t great them with spring in the air but cold and snowy weather.

The Oystercatcher is usually one of the first migrants to arrive and signal the coming of a new season. In their bright orange beaks and feet they are such a beautiful sight and their unique call does not go unnoticed. 

The Oystercatcher is mostly a migrant here and quite common in lowlands in the summer time. Most Oystercatchers go to the British Isles in the autumn and come back in March to April.

What do you do if you are lost…

Stafafura – Lodgepole pine – Pinus contorta

“What do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest?” used to be a popular joke, the answer being “you stand up!” Today this joke is obsolete. Spruce and pine forests are growing very fast all over the country and the trees at Snæfoksstaðir probably at least 12-15 metres high or more.

A Sunday stroll in the forest makes the weekend perfect. Nothing beats being outside in the fresh air, surrounded by  trees and bird song.