Iceland: Great for Birding!

Puffin Pair Beside Underground Nest Burrow

Puffin Pair Beside Underground Nest Burrow

Arctic Tern Flying over Field of Buttercups

Arctic Tern Flying over Field of Buttercups

Arctic Terns and Chicks

Arctic Terns and Chicks

Harlequin Ducks in Heavy Surf

Harlequin Ducks in Heavy Surf

Fulmar Pair

Fulmar Pair

Fulmar on Colorful Lava Cliff

Fulmar on Colorful Lava Cliff

Black-Legged Kittiwake Pair

Black-Legged Kittiwake Pair

Rescued Kittiwake Chick

Rescued Kittiwake Chick

Pointed Eggs of Cliff-Nesting Sea Birds

Pointed Eggs of Cliff-Nesting Sea Birds

Whooper Swan Family on Lake

Whooper Swan Family on Lake

White Wagtail on Porch

White Wagtail on Porch

Golden Plover Arrival Signals Start of Spring

Golden Plover Arrival Signals Start of Spring

Iceland is the best for birds!  Nesting there every spring and early summer are 60% of the world’s puffins, and 20-30% of the world’s arctic terns.  Arctic terns have the longest migration ever recorded.  One tern weighing a mere 4 ounces set a record this year (2016) by flying 59,650 miles pole to pole during its twice annual migration!   http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tern-broke-record-longest-known-migration  That adds up to 1.8 million miles of flight over a 30 year lifetime, which equals four round trips to the moon!  Arctic terns are diligent parents and will drive off anyone who gets in their territory.   A video showing the abundance of arctic terns in a nesting area on the Reykjanes Peninsula (southwest of Reykjavik) is below.

We were excited to see our first Harlequin ducks in the rough surf off western Iceland – a life bird for us.  They have the most striking feather pattern.  Iceland is the Harlequin ducks’ only European breeding ground.  Another unusual sea bird we saw was the Fulmar, which has tube-like nostrils to excrete excess salt.  We saw them most often on cliffs nesting next to gulls and kittiwakes.  A fun fact is that many sea birds have pointed eggs that roll in a circle, which stops them from falling off rock ledges.

We particularly enjoyed seeing Whooper swans nesting at marshes and lakes.  Their soft grey cygnets are so fluffy.  White wagtails nest in Iceland in June.  We watched a pair constantly bringing insects to their babies in a nest box on the porch.  The European golden plover is a happy bird in Iceland.  Tradition says that its arrival signals the start of spring.  Click on any images to enlarge for greater detail.

Iceland: Colorful Lighthouses and Coastal Scenery

Twin Gardskagaviti Lighthouses

Twin Gardskagaviti Lighthouses

Statue of Fisherman’s Lady Looking out to Sea

Statue of Fisherman’s Lady Looking out to Sea

Orange Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Field of Buttercups

Orange Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Field of Buttercups

Reflection of Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Tidepool Nearby

Reflection of Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Tidepool Nearby

Unusual Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Unusual Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fish Themed Murals on Warehouse attached to Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fish Themed Murals on Warehouse attached to Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fisherman with Fish Mural

Fisherman with Fish Mural

Fisherman with Eider Duck Mural

Fisherman with Eider Duck Mural

Fishermen in Boat Mural

Fishermen in Boat Mural

Ladies Processing Fish Mural

Ladies Processing Fish Mural

Lighthouse Theme on Vitinn Seafood Restaurant Sign

Lighthouse Theme on Vitinn Seafood Restaurant Sign

Longrangar Lighthouse

Longrangar Lighthouse

Reykjanes Lighthouse on Hill

Reykjanes Lighthouse on Hill

Gunnuhver Fumerole at Reykjanes “Smokey Point” Geothermal Area

Gunnuhver Fumerole at Reykjanes “Smokey Point” Geothermal Area

Richard by Life-Size Great Auk Statue

Richard by Life-Size Great Auk Statue

We love lighthouses, and we enjoyed seeing a variety of them in Iceland.  Some lighthouses have bright colors for best contrast with the landscape.  All sit in beautiful locations by the sea.  The Reykjanes Lighthouse is particularly scenic because it sits in a geothermal area known as “Smokey Point”.  The Gunnuhver fumerole there produces a surprising amount of steam.  A life-size great auk statue stands nearby, marking the location where the last great auk lived in 1844.  A recent article discusses the possibility of using DNA to bring the great auk back from extinction:  http://www.earthtouchnews.com/all-articles/2016/september/01/can-the-great-auk-return-from-extinction/.

Mr. Ingvar Hreinsson has repaired all of Iceland’s 104 lighthouses spread out over 3,000 miles of coastline.  A recent article about him is at:  http://grapevine.is/mag/feature/2016/08/26/shine-a-light-the-icelander-who-repaired-every-single-lighthouse-in-the-country/

All of our posts about Iceland’s lighthouses are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+lighthouse.  “Viti” in Icelandic means lighthouse.

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches on Reykjanes Peninsula

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

There are several historic churches you can visit on the scenic Reykjanes Peninsula (home of Keflavik International Airport and the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland).  Each church is unique and has a beautiful simplicity and history of its own.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   

Kalfatjarnarkirkja Church is Iceland’s largest rural church and is picture-postcard perfect.  Utskalakirkja Church sits by the sea and is near the twin Gardskagaviti lighthouses.  Many shipwrecks occurred in the area, so its cemetery contains gravestones dedicated to mariners and fishermen.  Earthen walls marked property boundaries there in the past, so the town’s name is Gardur (which means garden or earth). Beautiful Hvalneskirkja Church was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside).  It sits near the bright orange Stafnes Lighthouse.   Kirkjuvogskirkja Church is one of three Icelandic churches painted black.  Next to it is an anchor from an 1881 shipwreck of the American schooner Jamestown.  The wood and cargo of lumber salvaged from the abandoned “ghost ship” were of great value to this treeless community.  An interesting article about the fate of the ship is at: http://www.leoemm.com/jamestown_english.htm.  More info about the interesting sights that can be seen on a day trip from Reykjavik to the Reykjanes Peninsula is at:  http://www.visitreykjanes.is.   All of our posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Iceland: “Pompeii of the North” Museum

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum ("Pompeii of the North")

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum (“Pompeii of the North”)

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

If you travel to Heimaey in the Westmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland, you can visit the Eldheimar Museum.  It is known as the “Pompeii of the North” because it displays houses that were buried by volcanic ash in 1973.  For months before the eruption began, a little girl told everyone in the village that she dreamed an eruption was coming.  Her mother told her that was ridiculous because the volcano had not erupted in over 5,000 years.  On January 23 at 2 am, though, her mother looked out the window and saw a fissure of fire on the ridge above the house.  The lava was coming!  Fortunately there had been poor weather earlier that day so all the fishing boats were in port. The people were quickly evacuated and the fight was on to save the town.  One man’s crazy idea to spray sea water on the advancing lava to divert its flow actually worked, and the harbor was saved. 

We enjoyed our visit to Heimaey and highly recommend the trip (30 minute ferries to the island are available in summer).  Highlights were the Eldheimar Museum (http://eldheimar.is/en/), Saeheimar Aquarium (http://saeheimar.is/en), spectacular puffin colony (http://visitwestmanislands.com/page/birdwatching-in-vestmannaeyjar-iceland), and of course the island’s abundant natural beauty (http://www.visitvestmannaeyjar.is/en/).

Iceland: Fragile Moss Fields and Tiny Wildflowers

Moss Covered Lava Field

Moss Covered Lava Field

Moss Covered Lava Ridge

Moss Covered Lava Ridge

Alpine Mouse Ears in Moss

Alpine Mouse Ears in Moss

Sea Campion

Sea Campion

Purple Saxifrage

Purple Saxifrage

Moss Campion (cushion pink; lambagras)

Moss Campion (cushion pink; lambagras)

Angelica Flowers

Angelica Flowers

Lupines

Lupines

In Iceland there are vast areas of pillow-like moss covering the black lava landscape.  This unique moss is rare outside Iceland and extremely fragile.  It grows less than an inch per year, so you must never step on it.  Walking on it would be hazardous anyway, because the moss covers up lava with unseen crevices and jagged edges. 

Wildflower peak is in June and July.  Many of the flowers are tiny and grow close to the ground in response to the arctic climate.  Fields of lupines in early summer are spectacular! 

Iceland: Rainbow Colors of Seltun Volcanic Area and Graenavatn Lake

Seltun Volcanic Area Basin

Seltun Volcanic Area Basin

Seltun Volcanic Area Colors

Seltun Volcanic Area Colors

Seltun Volcanic Area Trail

Seltun Volcanic Area Trail

Seltun Volcanic Area Steaming Creek with Cotton Grass

Seltun Volcanic Area Steaming Creek with Cotton Grass

Graenavatn Lake

Graenavatn Lake

Drive to Seltun Volcanic Area by Kleifarvatn Lake

Drive to Seltun Volcanic Area by Kleifarvatn Lake

Field of Purple Lupines in Volcanic Landscape

Field of Purple Lupines in Volcanic Landscape

Outdoor Fish Drying Racks

Outdoor Fish Drying Racks

South of Reykjavik you can walk on the Seltun Hot Springs Boardwalk through an active geothermal field of hissing steam vents, bubbling mud pots, and boiling hot springs.  This colorful volcanic landscape sits on a fissure zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Nearby is unusual blue-green Graenavatn Lake, which formed in a crater left by an explosion of overheated ground water over 6,000 years ago.  Its beautiful color is the result of minerals and warmth-loving algae in the water.  Also nearby is Kleifarvatn Lake, which is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland.  Legend says it is the home of a giant serpent. In June the road to this area near Krysuvik passes by fields of purple lupines – it is a gorgeous drive! 

Close to Reykjavik the road passes by huge outdoor fish drying racks  – you can both see and smell it!  Dried fish (hardfiskur) is a favorite snack of Icelanders.

Iceland: Golden Circle Fun

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Although we toured Reykjavik’s Golden Circle when we visited Iceland previously in 2014, we decided to revisit the area again to see old favorites and things we missed the last time around.  First stop was the geyser Strokkur, which erupts about every 10 minutes.  Our slow-motion video below shows how it swells into a churning blue bubble before erupting skyward (the first few seconds are amazing!).  Rain or shine it never disappoints. 

We also stopped at Thingvellir National Park.  Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best place in the world to see the junction of tectonic plates.  This location is the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s oldest existing parliament where Icelanders first assembled in 930 AD. 

Within view is beautiful Thingvellir Church.  It was built in 1859 and its pulpit dates to 1683. 

A popular activity in the area is to dive in the Silfra fissure, which straddles the North American and Eurasian continents.  The water is pristine and exceptionally clear (https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/).

After walking the trail at spectacular Gulfoss waterfall, we stopped for a picnic lunch along the road.  A friendly herd of Icelandic horses kept us company in this scenic landscape.

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