All posts by Örn Óskarsson

Stuðlagil in Jökuldalur

In Stuðlagil Canyon you can see one of Iceland’s largest and most beautiful collection of basalt columns. The canyon is in Jökuldalur, or Glacial Valley, in East Iceland. The drive from Egilsstaðir takes about one hour. The canyon is about 500 m long, with basalt columns of about 20-30 m on both sides of the river.

The longest river in Iceland, Jökulsá á Dal, also called Jökla, runs through the canyon. After the hydroelectric plant at Kárahnjúkar was built in 2007 there is less water in the river. The result is that more of the basalt formations in Stuðlagil Canyon have become visible making the site a very popular scenic attraction.

Stuðlagil Canyon is a place worth visiting. The hike from the east side takes less than 30 minutes (one way) if you drive over the bridge along a dirt road to the new parking area. Visiting the canyon from the west side does not involve a hike. There you go down the canyon by a steep stairway, about 200 steps, leading down to the river. We recommend going from the east side and taking the path although that takes up more of your time. There is more to see from there.

The canyon Stuðlagil has become a popular scenic attraction in the last decade.

Flocks of chicks on River Ölfusá

Æðarfugl – Common Eider – Somateria mollissima

Common Eiders with their flocks of young ones are now on their way down the river towards the sea. The Eider breeds upriver in Sog. That is the farthest from the sea that the Eider goes to breed in Iceland. Most of them breed nearer to the sea.

Usually you can see a few female birds taking care of their chicks together. This is not without reason. Getting the chicks down the river is dangerous mostly because of other birds, such as seagulls, that don’t hesitate to grab the ones that stray from the flock. Hopefully they will have a safe journey.
The photos are taken by Selfoss, June 9.

Jack Snipe in Ölfus

Dvergsnípa – Jack Snipe – Lymnocryptes minimus

A Jack Snipe was spotted two weeks ago in a warm brook in Ölfus where they have before been reported several times in winter. It is an annual visitor in Iceland in the winter time, a smaller version of the Common Snipe, and believed to have bred here although breeding has never been confirmed.

Jack Snipes are difficult to spot on the ground because they sit completely still for long periods. They can be found where the ground is unfrozen, in and near warm streams and brooks.

One year from today

One year has passed since the beginning of the volcanic eruption in Geldingadalir. It started March 19 2021 and lasted six months. The longest eruption in Iceland in the 21st century and in many ways different from what was expected. It started calmly but as the weeks passed it became more energetic, with regular pauses in between. In the end  a lava shield had formed consisting of many layers of lava.

The eruption became well known worldwide and a lot of tourists visited the site of the eruption. Most with the aim of hiking to the sight and experiencing it from a short distance.

 

Redwings arrriving

Skógarþröstur – Redwing – Turdus iliacus

Twelve Redwings arrived unexpectedly on March 5 and have been in the garden since. We had only seen a single bird here on and off in the last few weeks, so perhaps these are migrators arriving early. Or Redwings moving places within Iceland? The group shows all the signs of birds newly arrived, are constantly on the move, fighting among themselves and singing in the snow. Usually Redwings arrive here in late March or beginning of April, so this is quite early for Redwings if they are migrators.

We have now had news of Redwings in the eastern part of Iceland so most likely these are our spring birds arriving, signalling the coming of spring.

Barrow’s Goldeneye on the River by Selfoss

Húsönd – Barrows Goldeneye – Bucephala islandica

Yesterday we saw a few Barrow’s Goldeneyes on the river by Selfoss, four males and two females. They are annuals here on Ölfusá River. One of the males was quite aggressive towards the others and was on constant look out, pruning himself while he was not chasing the other three away. He was obviously set on keeping the two females for himself.

Barrow’s Goldeneye – male

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. It stays in Iceland the whole year round. Part of the population goes to the South during the coldest time of the year.

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 in winter.

Green-winged Teal

Rákönd – Green-winged Teal – Anas carolinensis

The Green-winged Teal is a very common duck throughout North America and an annual vagrant in Iceland.  It is a small duck, similar in size to the Teal that is quite common in Iceland.  This one was spotted in Fossvogsdalur in Reykjavík a few days ago together with a group of other ducks and geese.

The Green-winged Teal is usually shy and difficult to photograph. This one, however, was an exception and obviously used to living near people.  In the last few days a few other Green-winged Teals have been reported in Southwest Iceland.

Winter birds – Garden birdwatch

Stari – Starling – Sturnus vulgaris

It is still winter and spring far away here in the North. The last few weeks have been difficult for the birds, heavy winds and blizzards day after day and temperatures sometimes well below zero. Feeding the birds has saved lives and the birds come to the feeding trays in the garden in flocks. It is nice to know that more and more people have started feeding the birds and are making it part of their lives.

In the end of January we had the Garden Birdwatch Weekend here in Iceland. People keep count of the birds that visit their garden and the numbers are gathered by Fuglavernd, Birdlife Iceland.

This year we counted birds here in the garden on Sunday, January 30. It was windy and snowing.

This is a list of the birds that visited the garden:
Rock Pigeon (Bjargdúfa) 9
Raven (Hrafn) 2
Starling (Stari) 5
Blackbird (Svartþröstur) 14
Redpoll (Auðnutittlingur) 38
Common Crossbill  (Krossnefur) 5

Photos are from the last few days.

Auðnutittlingur – Redpoll – Carduelis flammea
Krossnefur – Common Crossbill / Red Crossbill – Loxia curvirostra
Bjargdúfa – Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Svartþröstur – Blackbird – Turdus merula

Northern lights and winter solstice

Winter solstice, the shortest day (4 hours, 8 min.) and longest night, are upon us. Last night we enjoyed the full moon along with the Northern lights. Now the sun will start to rise higher in the sky every day, something that most of us look forward to, especially here in the high North.

Northern Lights over our garden

The Sun stays in its place in the cosmos but as the Earth revolves around its orbit and around the Sun, the seasons change. For us here in the Northern hemisphere the days become a tiny bit longer with each day, tomorrow a few seconds longer. 

Winter solstice, or Yule, is the oldest winter celebration in the world. In ancient times when the seasons and weather played an essential role in people’s lives, when we were hunters, there was a lot to celebrate. Making it through the winter was harsh and when the days started to get longer it was time for optimism.

And despite everything we feel optimistic in the Yuletide and hope that in the coming years there will be a little less poverty, less hunger, fever wars, less discrimination, better environmental management – and above all peace on Earth for all men (- all living beings and plants).

 

More Redpolls than last winter

Auðnutittlingur – Redpoll – Carduelis flammea

Redpolls are the most common birds in our garden as before. There are about twenty every day and sometimes up to seventy. Since a decline in the population in the winter 2018-19 they have been growing in numbers. They  eat the sunflower seeds from the feeding trays along with thrushes and Common Crossbills but the big old trees probably play a part in the popularity of the garden.

The Redpolls’ main feed during the coldest months is birch seeds and the seeds from spruce cones. As seeds are scarce now here in the south  and the earth covered in snow they come into gardens in search of food.

Redpolls along with Common Crossbills

Luckily more people are putting out feed for the birds nowadays so they have a better chance of surviving the coldest weathers.