Category Archives: Birds

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.

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.

Breeding in Highland Lakes

Himbrimi – Great Norhern Diver / Common Loon – Gavia immer

Once again we are in the Icelandic Highlands and the Great Northern Diver, also known as the Common Loon, has arrived in all its splendour to the breeding grounds. It has come from the sea around Iceland where most of the Icelandic stock spend the winter months.  Most of the highland lakes in Veiðivötn in the South Interior have one breeding pair and the lake is their territory. They make their nests on small islets or grass tufts in the water and the eggs are two.

The Great Northern Diver  is a monogamous bird and the pairs stay together during the breeding time usually for many years in a row. They raise their young ones, one to two chicks, together but do not stay together during the winter. The pair defend their territory which is usually a lake, or a bay in a lake if the lake is big enough. In the event of one of them being chased away by a rival – these are usually younger males or females, the one left establishes a relationship with the new member. Most Great Northern Divers therefore have two or more mates during their lives.

Collared Pratincole – Second sighting for Iceland

Þernutríll – Collared Pratincole – Glareola pratincola

A Collared Pratincole was recorded for Iceland for the second time today, Friday, in Garður in Reykjanes Peninsula. This bird is a very rare vagrant that was first seen on a fishing boat southeast of Iceland in June in 1997. So this is actually the first Collared Pratincole seen on land.

The Collared Pratincole is native to the warmer parts of Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa. Its winter grounds are in tropical Africa.

The Collared Pratincole is an agile flyer and its habitat is in open land where it can often be seen floating over dry fields, lush wetlands and muddy coasts. It is often seen near water in the evening where it sweeps back and forth like a big swallow snatching insects although it can also feed on the ground.

In its favourite habitat

Heiðlóa – Golden Plover – Pluvialis apricaria

The favourite habitat for the Golden Plover is the low vegetation of the Arctic tundra. With rising temperatures and more vegetation there has been a decrease in breeding birds in lowlands and an increase in the highlands. This applies to the Golden Plover, a symbol for the coming of summer in Iceland and one of our best loved birds.

This Golden Plover is in its favourite habitat in the South Interior. It has chosen a moss covered area as its territory, well camouflaged from predators. The female is probably in the nest and the male keeping watch.

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.