Iceland: Best Bird Sightings

Puffin with a Beautiful Colorful Bill

Puffin with Colorful Bill

Puffin Pair on Water

Puffin Pair on Water

Arctic Terns (baby eel in bill)

Arctic Terns (baby eel in bill)

Arctic Tern Calling

Arctic Tern Calling

Arctic Tern Flying

Arctic Tern Flying

Arctic Tern Chick

Arctic Tern Chick

Black Tailed Godwit

Black Tailed Godwit

Greylag Goose and Buttercups

Greylag Goose and Buttercups

Male Eider Duck

Male Eider Duck

Female Eider Duck with Chicks

Female Eider Duck with Chicks

Red Shank on Post

Red Shank on Post

Red Shank and Lupines

Red Shank and Lupines

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Mating Pair of Whooper Swans

Mating Pair of Whooper Swans

Whooper Swan Sitting on Nest

Whooper Swan Sitting on Nest

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

White Wagtail on Volcanic Rock

White Wagtail on Volcanic Rock

Great Auk Memorial (stands 5 feet tall)

Great Auk Memorial (stands 5 feet tall)

Birds on Roadway Caution Sign

Birds on Roadway Caution Sign

We visited Iceland the last 2 weeks of June, and the bird watching was incredible! Half of the world’s Atlantic puffins breed there in summer. One of the easiest ways to see puffins is take a short boat ride out of Reykjavik Harbor to a nesting colony offshore. Arctic terns are abundant along the coast. The 4 ounce birds have the longest annual migration of any animal. They travel from the north to south poles round trip every year – over 40,000 miles!  Arctic terns live up to 34 years, so over a lifetime a bird has flown the equivalent of three trips to the moon and back!  A website about arctic tern migration is at: http://www.arctictern.info/  Golden plovers are famous among Icelanders for heralding spring.  Many bird sightings can be made simply in the course of driving around. This country is a must-do for bird watchers!   A handy website on the most commonly seen Icelandic birds is at: http://www.iceland-nh.net/birds/background_birds.html  

Iceland: Charming Glaumbaer Sod Farmhouses/Folk Museum

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Sheep Horn Display

Sheep Horn Display

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

The Glaumbaer Farm/Skagafjordur Folk Museum is located next to the Glaumbaerjarkirkja Church in Skagafjordur, Iceland. This charming sod farmhouse complex is preserved as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The houses are built from sod laid in herringbone patterns with a stone base, and reinforced inside by imported lumber or driftwood. The farm complex contains 13 buildings or “rooms” connected by a central corridor leading to sleeping and communal areas, dining room, kitchen, pantry, blacksmith shop, storerooms, and guest rooms. Turf was used as a building material because it was readily available, provided excellent insulation, and could easily last a century. Lumber was used sparingly because it had to be imported (Iceland has few trees).   Volcanic stone was not used because the cost of mortar was too high. The antique furniture and household goods are especially interesting. More info is at: http://www.glaumbaer.is/is/information/glaumbaer-farm/glaumbaer-english-1

 

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church) Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church) Wooden Pipe Organ

Glaumbaejarkirkja Wooden Pipe Organ

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Wheel Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Wheel Memorial

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja Side View

Hvalneskirkja Side View

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Every town in Iceland, no matter how small or isolated, seems to have its own historic church. Usually it is perched high on a hill or overlooking the water. We loved the attention to detail and beauty of these unique churches. Some of the buildings are made of concrete or colorful corrugated iron to withstand the harsh weather and winter wind; others are made of stone or turf (sod).  Christianity was adopted in this country around 1000 AD, and 80% of the population is Lutheran. That said, Icelanders are free thinking and embrace people of all faiths.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   Click on any of these pictures to bring up further details and traveling advice.

Iceland: Best Climb Up a Lighthouse!

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”).  Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”). Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­"Thanks for Your Support" in Icelandic)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­”Thanks for Your Support” in Icelandic)

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Gingko Leaf Circle

Gingko Leaf Circle

Leaf Art Design

Leaf Art Design

Row of Saved Thermometers

Row of Saved Thermometers

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking South

Coastal View Looking South

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

One of our favorite experiences of our trip was visiting the pair of Gardskagaviti lighthouses on the Reykjanes Peninsula (near Reykjavik).   The taller lighthouse of the pair (known as “the twin brothers”) was built by U.S. servicemen who were rescued from a sinking Coast Guard ship. It was presented as a gift to the Icelandic people for saving their lives. At the museum next to the lighthouses we were given a key to climb up to the top of the tower (the tallest in Iceland). As instructed, we unlocked the door, went in, and then relocked the door behind us. We had the entire place to ourselves! The acoustics were incredible – the tower is essentially a giant tube that acts like an echo chamber. I remember reading once that lighthouse keepers often sang inside their towers because the sound was so amazing.

As we climbed up we enjoyed art displays on the walls and a display of saved thermometers. The top of the tower was especially unique. Richard had to unscrew a bolt to unlock the trap door leading to the balcony surrounding the Fresnel lens. What a view!

Afterward we locked everything back up and turned in the key. The smaller and older red and white striped lighthouse beside the tower was once used for bird migration studies.  Birds commonly seen at rocky Gardskaga Point include eiders, turnstones, gannets, red shank, and sanderlings. This lighthouse experience was one-of-a-kind and great fun!

Iceland: Whale Watching Near the Arctic Circle

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Wooden Boat in Harbor

Wooden Boat in Harbor

House Nestled in Valley

House Nestled in Valley

Fjord's Snowy Mountains

Fjord’s Snowy Mountains

Humpback Tail

Humpback Tail

Humpback Surfacing

Humpback Surfacing

White Beaked Dolphins

White Beaked Dolphins

Icelandic Fish Poster

Icelandic Fish Poster

Iceland is a great place for whale watching in summer. Marine wildlife commonly seen includes humpback whales, minke whales, white beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises. We went whale watching out of Dalvik at the edge of the Arctic Circle in late June (30 miles north of Akureyri).  The day of our tour seemed like one of the best weather days of the year – temperature was in the 60s with sunny skies, calm winds, and flat seas. After watching humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins in the fjord, we stopped to fish on the way back. Within 10 minutes there was enough pollack and cod to feed everyone on the boat. That fresh-grilled fish back at the harbor was unbelievably good!  This area was one of our favorite places of the entire trip – it is unbelievably scenic!

Iceland: Stunning Crystalline Ice on a Volcanic Black Sand Beach!

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon:  Ice 1

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Ice 1

Ice 2

Ice 2

Ice 3

Ice 3

Ice 4

Ice 4

Ice 5

Ice 5

Ice 6

Ice 6

Ice 7

Ice 7

Ice 8

Ice 8

Ice 9

Ice 9

Ice 10

Ice 10

Ice 11

Ice 11

Ice 12

Ice 12

Ice 13

Ice 13

Ice 14

Ice 14

One of the most amazing sights we saw in Iceland was crystalline ice on a volcanic black sand beach at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  The ice floats out to sea with the tide from the lagoon, and some of it washes onto the volcanic black sand shoreline.  The interplay between ice, light, waves is ever-changing.  Nature’s beauty here is stunning!  Do you have a favorite?

Iceland: Glaciers in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Iceland contains the largest glaciers in the world outside of Greenland and Antarctica. This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 11% of its landmass permanently covered in ice.  Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on the country’s south coast is especially beautiful. The icebergs in this lagoon come from the Vatnajokull ice cap (jokull at the end of a word means “glacier” in Icelandic).  The colors and beauty of this area are stunning!  A live webcam is at: http://www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/jokulsarlon/