Category Archives: Animals

Red Admiral

Aðmíralsfiðrildi – Red Admiral – Vanessa atalania

The Red Admiral is not a native of Iceland but every once in a while they come here with the Southeast wind. They are common over most of Europe and North America. They migrate from South Europe to Central and Northern Europe but Iceland is probably too far north to be their number one choice here in the North Atlantic.

We first spotted this Red Admiral here on May 5 and to this day, June 23, it is still here. We of course do not know if it is always the same one, but we like to think so.

An interesting sight

Hreindýr – Reindeer – Rangifer tarandus

We came across a herd of Reindeer in Southeast Iceland, not far from Glacier Lagoon last week. The herd counted around 26 females and four calves. The males are driven away from the herd while the females take care of the young ones. The females have their small antlers until spring but the males shed theirs after the mating season in autumn.

In the last few decades their distribution has been increasing to the east and southeast, all the way to Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón). Before that time their distribution was mainly in Northeast Iceland.

In autumn hunting is permitted under strict regulations as a way of controlling their numbers in the fragile vegetation of the Icelandic Highlands. Reindeer  were brought to Iceland in the years 1771 to 1787, from Finnmark, North Scandinavia.

Reindeers in Iceland

Hreindýr – Reindeer – Rangifer tarandus

Reindeers are not native to Iceland. They were brought here in the years 1771 to 1787, in four trips, from Finnmark, North Scandinavia.The reindeers have mostly been located in Northeast Iceland and have thrived well there. In the last few decades their distribution has been increasing to the east and southeast, all the way to Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón).

In autumn hunting is permitted but there are very strict regulations concerning the permits and the number of animals killed. Not everyone is content with the hunting of these majestic mammals but  it plays a part in controlling their numbers in the fragile vegetation of the Icelandic Highlands.

The pictures are of a female reindeer and probably a young stag.

The Arctic Fox

Refur / Heimskautarefur – Arctic Fox – Alopex lagopus

The Arctic Fox is the only native carnivorous animal in Iceland. In Iceland it feeds mostly on birds and the Ptarmigan is probably most important in their diet. They also eat fish and seal cubs, scavenge on carcasses and if necessary will eat whatever is available. They survive the Icelandic winter, active all the winter without hibernating. They store food for the winter, digging it in the ground for storage. In summer they might also double their weight to prepare for the harsh months of winter.

We came upon this Arctic Fox in the Southern Highlands noticing it only a few metres away when we stopped the car. Foxes are solitary animals and are sure to keep away from humans. However, in remote areas such as Hornstrandir in the Northwest they are quite tame and take to people.

Icelandic Sheep

Kind – Ovis aries – Icelandic Sheep

The first sheep were brought to Iceland by the settlers way back around the year 800 and as a breed it is unique. Its purity has been protected for centuries in the isolation of the island way out in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Icelandic sheep are short-tailed and quite different from sheep in other countries, at least the ones we have visited. The Icelandic word for the tail is “dindill”, – such a funny word.

The Icelandic sheep are used to a harsh climate. They graze in the mountains in the summer time and are very efficient herbivores.

Anna Rut in an Icelandic wool sweater “lopapeysa” – knitted by her grandmother.

The wool that the sheep produce has no counterpart anywhere in the world. The fleece is dual-coated. The long outer coat is called “tog” and the fine inner coat “þel”. The outer and inner coats are separated and used for different woolen garments. The Icelandic lopapeysa is essential for camping in the summer time when nights are bright and no one wants to go to sleep.

Fluffy white mink

Minkur – Mink – Mustela vison

Minks were first imported to Iceland in the autumn of 1931. The first two mink farms were in Grímsnes and in Selfoss, South Iceland. Early on some escaped from their cages and took up permanent residence in the Icelandic nature. Now they can be found all over the country.

This white mink was spotted on the banks of Ölfusá River. It has probably escaped from a nearby mink farm not so long ago. It is highly unlikely that it will survive for long.

The first minks were imported from Norway but were of North American origin. The mink is usually dark brown with white patches on the lower part of the jaw and neck.

Later minks of different colour  variations were imported; black, grey and white. These are the ones that are now bred in Iceland but they are not as tough and rarely survive in the Icelandic nature like the ones first imported.

Full of life again

Killer Whales (Orca) under the Kolgrafafjörður bridge

After a collapse in the biota, Kolgrafafjörður is again teeming with life. The silver darlings have returned to the fjord. Kolgrafafjörður is a shallow fjord on the northern side of Snæfellsnes. It is known for being a good food source for birds and sea mammals. In 2004 a road was constructed and a bridge built on the outer side of the fjord resulting in less renewal of seawater inside the fjord.


Once in a while huge amounts of herring used to come into the fjord during the winter months and the bridge did not change that. A lot of birds and small sea mammals followed the herring. This created a sensational spectacle by the bridge when the tide went in and out as Gulls, Northern Gannets  and Great Cormorants fought to catch the herring.  Harbour Seals, Grey Seals and Killer Whales were also a common sight by the bridge.


In 2011 – 2014 huge amounts of herring gathered in the fjord inside the bridge. In the winter of 2012 – 13 the herring died probably from lack of oxigen. It is estimated that around 50,000 tons of herring died this winter. This resulted in the collapse of the biota. Now the herring is back and Kolgrafafjörður is again full of life, – an attraction for bird watchers and nature lovers.

Grey Seal

Útselur – Grey Seal – Halichoerus grypus

Two kinds of seals can be found around Iceland, the Harbour Seal and the Grey Seal. This is the Grey Seal. It is not as common as the Harbour Seal and  also much bigger and not as cute. We came across this one by the bridge in Kolgrafarfjörður Fjord in Snæfellsnes, Iceland, March 2013.

Do seals also get cancer?

the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)
the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)

We came across this Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) in Snæfellsnes, not far from Fjord Kolgrafarfjörður. It seems to have somekind of infection or tumor blocking the eye. We could not see that the seal was affected by this extra growth as it swam among the other seals, see earlier post.
You can not but feel sympathy for a wild animal like this one and wonder what its life must be like.

Harbour Seal in Snæfellsnes


Snæfellsnes is the place to go if you ever visit Iceland. There are usually a lot of seals there if seeing seals is on your agenda. This is the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) but you can also expect to see the Gray Seal (Halichoerus grypus). The photos are taken near Kolgrafarfjörður on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Landselur - Harbour Seal - Phoca vitulina
Landselur – Harbour Seal – Phoca vitulina

In the last few years Kolgrafarfjörður has been in the news quite often. In 2012 and 2013 the fjord was so overfull of herring that there was lack of oxygen so the herring died. Herring is food for various animals such as seals, killer whales and birds. So everything was teeming with life.