All posts by Örn Óskarsson

Colourful Starling

Stari – Starling – Sturnus vulgaris

Now when the sun has started climbing higher in the sky and spring not so very far away, the Starlings have begun to sing and their plumage is becoming more colourful.

Although February has just started and temperatures below zero every day, they have begun to claim territories with their song. This Starling male has great expectations for this spring and has started to defend part of the garden as his own. His task is a difficult one as there are flocks of 20-30 Starlings here every day in the feeding trays.  But he doesn’t give up.

Mysterious Swans

A black bill Swan family

A few years ago we noticed a pair of Swans that were different from the Whooper Swans that usually breed in Veidivotn Lakes in the Southern Interior of Iceland. Since then we have been observing the pair that comes back to the same lake to breed, raising two to three chicks every summer.

Mystery pair?

The Whooper Swan is the only species that breeds in Iceland but these Swans in Veidivotn Lakes are smaller, more delicate and have a black bill without any or little yellow. They are also quieter and not as shy.

Some speculation has been ongoing concerning the identification of this breed of Swans, without any definite result. They are similar but not identical to either the Bewick’s Swan or the Tundra Swan. According to ornithologists they are possibly a local genetic aberration from the Whooper Swan.

On a field trip last summer seven Swans like these were found in the Veidivotn Lakes area, three paired with ordinary Whooper Swans and two where both had these same characteristics. Whatever they are we will continue to observe them and see how they fare.

Rowan tree at Sandfell

Reynir – Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia

Again we post a picture of the beautiful Rowan tree at Sandfell in Öræfasveit planted in 1923 beside the family farmhouse. In 1947, however, this old church site and parsonage was abandoned. In South Iceland Rown trees rarely reach such a high age as this one, almost 100 years old.

This tree is by many considered the most beautiful Rowan in Iceland. In 2015 it received the title “Tree of the year”by the Icelandic Forestry Association. It is 11 metres high with seven stems. In autumn each stems displays varied colours. This difference is due to the amount of water in each stem, resulting in these magnificent autumn colours of leaves in different stages of wilting. See also Tree of the year 2015.

Swainson’s Thrush

Moldþröstur – Swainson’s Thrush – Catharus ustulatus

One of the American guests that has been spotted in the aftermath of the Southwest winds is the Swainson’s Thrush. This lone thrush was spotted in Sólbrekka by Seltjörn in Reykjanes on September 23 and is still there. This is the 10th time this species is recorded in Iceland.

The Swainson’s Thrush is one of the most common thrushes in  North America, breeding all across Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States. Its favourite habitat is coniferous woods with a dense undergrowth. In winter they migrate south to Southern Mexico and as far south as Argentina. Only very rarely are they spotted in Western Europe.

Hopefully this American guest will manage to survive the Icelandic winter, to the joy of birders and other guests in the forest at Sólbrekka.

Red Phalaropes blown off course

Þórshani – Red Phalarope – Phalaropus fulicarius

After some strong Southwest winds in the last few days a selection of vagrants have been spotted in Iceland. One of these is the Red Phalarope which can now be seen in many places in Southwest Iceland.

The Red Phalarope breeds in the North, all around the Arctic circle. A few also breed in Iceland. The groups of Red Phalaropes here now are probably coming from their summer grounds in Greenland. They have been blown off course because of the southwesterly winds. Most of these visitors are probably on their way to winter grounds in the Pacific regions South America.

A group of young Red Phalaropes has been on the shore near Eyrarbakki in the last few days.

Green Sandpiper

Trjástelkur – Green Sandpiper – Tringa ochropus and a Black – headed gull

For the tenth time, a Green Sandpiper is recorded for Iceland. This rare vagrant is a breeding bird in Scandinavia and throughout the east of Russia, with winter grounds in southern Europe, Africa and Asia. The Green Sandpiper is a small wader that is usually not seen in groups, it prefers fresh water and is special in that it nests in trees. This bird was spotted in a place we visit very often, Snæfoksstaðir in Grímsnes, South Iceland. Seeing this guy by the river caught us by complete surprise – we just forget that vagrants, of course, can be spotted almost anywhere.

Wild flowers in the Highlands

Blágresi – Geranium sylvaticum – Wood cranesbill

A lot of flowers are in full bloom now in the interior. Vegetation, however, is more often very scarce at this altitude for several reasons. The weather is not favourable, the soil is sandy and is on the move in stormy weather. Therefore the interior is heavily affected by grazing sheep. Letting these domestic animals lose in the interior for the summer has been a custom in Iceland since the Middle Ages.  In the moonlike environment, the black sands made of volcanic minerals and lava, are often dominant and it is no wonder that flowering plants are on the top of the menu for the wandering sheep.

Steindepla – – Veronica fructans- Rock speedwell
Hvítmaðra – Galium normanii – Slender Bedstraw

Coming across fields of wild mountain flowers in the highlands is very often a great surprise and nothing less than heavenly. Hiking this week we were so happy to come across such a delight.

Barnarót-  Coeloglossum viride – Long-bracted green orchid

The mountainside was covered with different kinds of wild flowers in bloom. These include velvet bells, snow gentian, moonwort, rock speedwell and many more.  The blue colours of snow gentians and rock speedwells caught the eye and  a great surprise was to see a field of wood cranesbill and meadow buttercups high up in the mountainside.

Dýragras  – Gentiana nivalis – Snow gentian

Blágresi – Geranium sylvaticum – Wood cranesbill
Brennisóley – Ranunculus acris –  Meadow Buttercup

Bees and butterflies

Red Admiral (aðmírálsfiðrildi)

Today was a beautiful summer day with Bumblebees and Red Admirals in the garden. In recent years studies have reported a decline in insect populations. Entire species have gone extinct but in most cases this decline involves reductions in abundance. Therefore it is a great joy to have such a lot of bumblebees in the garden along with foreign visitors such as the Red Admiral.