Birding Tour Iceland: Viking Birding
Dates and Costs
17 – 25 June 2022
Price: $4,950 / £3,777 / €4,465 per person sharing, based on 6 – 8 participants.
Single Supplement: $1,310 / £1,000 / €1,181
* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.
17 – 25 June 2023
Price: $5,445 / £4,155 / €4,911 per person sharing, based on 6 – 8 participants.
Single Supplement: $1,440 / £1,098 / €1,299
(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)
Duration: 9 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Reykjavik
Tour End: Reykjavik
All accommodation (Day 1 until Day 8 as described above, or similar, may include some shared bathroom facilities)
Meals (from lunch on day 1 until breakfast on day 9)
Drinking water – please bring a refillable water bottle
Expert tour leader and guide
Birdwatching site entrance fees
Whale watching trip in Húsavík
All ground transport and tolls/taxes while on tour, including ferry trips and airport pick-up and drop-off
Visa fees if visa required
Departure tax if required
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding/sightseeing excursions
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Featured Guide:Oliver Reville
Iceland: Viking Birding
We look forward to welcoming you on our small-group tour to Iceland, the “Land of Ice and Fire”! Iceland sits in the North Atlantic just below the Arctic Circle at latitudes of 63o to 68o North, with the nearest land being Greenland some 180 miles (290 kilometers) away to the northwest. It is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland’s capital is Reykjavik, which is a city of typical, quaint, northern European architecture and makes an excellent starting point for our Iceland tour. Reykjavik, along with its surrounding areas, contains two thirds of the island’s population and once away from these areas, there are vast expanses of open wilderness.
Harlequin Duck is one of our spectacular targets on this Iceland birdwatching trip.
Iceland sits some 600 miles (970 kilometers) from mainland Europe and 1,290 miles (2,070 kilometers) from mainland North America. After the United Kingdom, Iceland is Europe’s second-largest island and most of its climate is typical of the tundra regions. Two thirds of the landmass of Iceland is made up of tundra, while lakes (we will visit the impressive Lake Mývatn), stunning mountains, volcanos, lava fields, and glaciers cover the rest.
With abundant, almost constant, daylight during the middle of summer, the birds are active all day and night and despite the apparent harsh environments, there is a huge abundance of birds here during the summer months. This abundance of birds leads to quite a spectacle, particularly in terms of breeding seabirds, alcids, shorebirds, and wildfowl – many of which give excellent and close views, which makes for a true birders’ and photographers’ paradise. Some of the highlights associated with the sea and lakes on this tour include King Eider, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Barrow’s Goldeneye (Iceland is the only place this species regularly occurs in Europe), Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Atlantic Puffin, Thick-billed Murre (Brünnich’s Guillemot), Black Guillemot, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Arctic Tern, Red (Grey) Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Black-tailed Godwit, European Golden Plover, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Northern Fulmar, Red-throated Loon (Diver), Common Loon (Great Northern Diver), and Horned (Slavonian) Grebe.
The number of gorgeous (and tame) Red-necked Phalaropes we see on this tour is amazing!
More land-based highlights include Rock Ptarmigan, White-tailed Eagle, Gyrfalcon, Goldcrest, Eurasian Wren, Northern Wheatear, Red (Common) Crossbill, Common (Icelandic) Redpoll, Redwing, Common Blackbird, White Wagtail, and Snow Bunting.
Redwing is one of several common breeding passerines to grace Iceland.
There is also a chance of vagrant species from North America and Europe (we have found some good birds on our previous tours here, like Little Gull, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, and more) which adds to the excitement of a visit to Iceland, particularly for Western Palearctic listers. The waters off Iceland contain abundant sea-life and we will take a whale watching boat trip off Húsavik looking for the seriously massive Blue Whale and Humpback Whale, a definite tour highlight, while on land we might even come across an Arctic Fox as it hunts for nesting seabirds!
Bird watching in Iceland during the summer months offers so much more than the spectacle of millions of breeding birds, during our tour we will take in some of the Earth’s greatest geological wonders. The huge forces that formed Iceland now add to its breathtaking majesty and curiosity to people the world over. The snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, staggering glaciers, huge fjords and lakes, and imperious and powerful waterfalls are all worthy of a visit in their own right. Iceland offers great accommodation, extremely friendly and welcoming people, some of the best food on any tour we run, and birds that will leave you totally exhilarated. Come and join us for a personal look at this incredible island.
If you want to add to your Arctic exploration you could combine this Iceland tour with our Finland and Norway: Taiga and Tundra Adventure and Norway: Svalbard Polar Bear Cruise tours. Joining two or three of these northern European tours together will give you a fascinating and a thoroughly memorable trip of a lifetime, with some amazing bird highlights.
Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)
Day 1. Arrival and travel to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The tour will commence from Reykjavík-Keflavík International Airport at noon. Guests arriving in the morning will be met at the airport; if you are arriving the night (or more) before the tour we can arrange nearby accommodation for you, or if you would like to do some sightseeing in beautiful Reykjavík (you can relax after your flight at the world-famous Blue Lagoon Resort and Spa!), we can recommend hotels in Keflavik or the Reykjavik area and we can pick you up there.
Depending on arrival times there may be some optional birding near the airport, where we could get our trip lists going with species such as Common Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Snow Bunting, Arctic Tern, or Common Eider.
We will commence our exciting bird tour by heading north past the capital city of Reykjavík to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Along the way we will keep our eyes peeled for White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon, which can occasionally be found along this route – and if we do see either of them, they would surely be an early trip highlight. A stop near Borgarnes and the Andakill mudflats will likely result in plenty of Common Shelduck, Northern Fulmar, and a great lunch. We will also keep our eyes peeled for any roadside pools. Sometimes these hold a great many birds, such as an Arctic Tern breeding colony, or a nesting pair of Whooper Swan, Horned (Slavonian) Grebe, or Red-throated Loon (Diver).
Overnight: Olafsvik, Snæfellsnes Peninsula
White-tailed Eagle is a huge bird, they can be seen on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Day 2. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We will spend the whole day birding around the western headland of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is a wonderful area, and we will have fun exploring the various birding spots here. Some pools near our accommodation are likely to have breeding Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan, Red-throated Loon (Diver), Arctic Tern, Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck, and Common Eider. At this time of year there is also the ever-present sound of displaying shorebirds chipping and buzzing away overhead and these are likely to include Common Snipe, Common Redshank, and Eurasian Oystercatcher.
Tufted Duck is a common species but is rather unique with its interesting head tuft!
We will have our first look at the amazing sea cliffs, where we will observe the seabird breeding colonies as we locate Thick-billed Murre (Brünnich’s Guillemot) among the large number of Common Murre (Common Guillemot), Razorbill, European Shag, and Black-legged Kittiwake. This site offers a fascinating experience, and we are sure of some great views. It is worth noting that the Rock Doves here are wild, ‘real’ ones, not just their feral cousins! While on the land above the cliffs, we have a good chance of finding Rock Ptarmigan, Northern Wheatear, Snow Bunting, and Merlin
Small harbors on the peninsula may contain Red Knot, Purple Sandpiper, Black Guillemot, Glaucous Gull, European Herring Gull, and Common Eider, though one of the main highlights here will undoubtedly be if we find the simply breathtaking Harlequin Duck. This species must rate as one of the best-looking ducks in the world, though there is some great competition across the world, and several other contenders on this tour…
Overnight: Olafsvik, Snæfellsnes Peninsula
European Shag nest on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and we will be sure to look out for them here.
Day 3. Flatey Island
We will have an early start and drive across to Stykkisshólmur to catch the morning ferry to Flatey Island. Flatey Island is considered one of the most picturesque and scenically beautiful places in Iceland, and as soon as we arrive you will see why.
Around the docks at Stykkisshólmur we should see plenty of Common Eider, Arctic Tern, Common Murre (Guillemot), Atlantic Puffin, and loads of larids like Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, and European Herring Gull, plus plenty of Black-legged Kittiwakes. From the ferry we have a chance for Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannet and Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), though at this time of year they are just as likely to be seen cruising over fields as they are over the sea!
When we arrive at Flatey Island we will have the chance to look around for our main target, Red (Grey) Phalarope. This is one of the few places they breed in Iceland, and although the breeding area is closed during the breeding season, there is still a good chance to find them in the local area. Flatey Island also provides us with the opportunity to see the much more common and widespread, Red-necked Phalarope plus other shorebirds like European Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Snipe, Dunlin, and Common Ringed Plover. This area is also great for Snow Bunting and Meadow Pipit.
From Flatey Island we will catch the afternoon ferry to Breiðafjörður and drive to Breiðavík for the night. For those keen on an evening birding session (it does not really get dark here at this time of year!) we can visit the seabird colony at Látrabjarg. Our accommodation is set in the most fantastic scenery you could imagine and is a real treat.
Atlantic Puffin is one of the most-wanted birds on the planet, they are the clowns of the bird world and on the incredible cliffs of Látrabjarg we are sure of great views.
Day 4. Látrabjarg and Blönduós
Today we will visit the amazing Látrabjarg, the famous bird cliffs. Here thousands of breeding seabirds mass along the cliffs, creating a huge racket as they jostle for position along the cliff face. Huge numbers of Common Murre (Guillemot) and to a lesser extent Thick-billed Murre (Brünnich’s Guillemot) and Razorbill breed alongside Black-legged Kittiwake and Black Guillemot. Glaucous Gull, European Shag, and Great Cormorant also squeeze in here among their noisy neighbors while Arctic Foxes can sometimes be found nearby looking for an easy snack.
The sight (and sound) of hundreds of thousands of alicds whirling around us is something not to be missed and will not be forgotten.
Once we have taken in this spectacle, we will head for Blönduós. However, there will be the need for plenty of stops along the way, not least to check for breeding Gyrfalcon and White-tailed Eagle that can sometimes be found along the route, along with Harlequin Duck, Common Loon (Great Northern Diver), and Purple Sandpiper.
Blönduós is the halfway point of our journey eastwards. Blönduós River and Blönduós Bay both provide some great birding, with species like Common Eider and sometimes King Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, and Red-throated Loon (Diver) seen around here, along with Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Dunlin, Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Golden Plover, Black-headed Gull, and Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua).
Day 5. Blönduós and Lake Mývatn
Today we will set off early and continue east to Lake Mývatn, our base for the next two nights. Along the way we will keep our eyes peeled for roadside Harlequin Duck and Pink-footed Goose. We will then spend the rest of the day exploring this wonderful lake that is packed full of breeding ducks.
This is the center of duck habitat in Iceland and is a spectacular site. We will spend the day driving the 25 miles (40 kilometer) worth of road that circumnavigates the lake, making strategic stops in different areas preferred for different species. Over the course of the day, we will hope to find a wide range of species, including Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, and Common Scoter.
Barrow’s Goldeneye is one of the many waterfowl species we will encounter on this tour.
There is also a good chance for Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and Red-throated Loon (Diver), Horned (Slavonian) Grebe, Short-eared Owl, Gyrfalcon, Merlin, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Redwing, Common Redpoll, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, European Golden Plover, Northern Wheatear, and the endemic subspecies of Eurasian Wren.
The spectacle of hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes is sure to impress while we are birding here, and it really is an incredible sight. It is also worth keeping an eye-open for vagrants; in recent years we have found vagrant American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck on the lake!
The vast amount of prey means sightings of predators are frequent such as this Short-eared Owl. Other predators we might see here include Gyrfalcon and Merlin.
Day 6. Lake Mývatn and Húsavík whale watching trip
We will have the morning birding around Lake Mývatn, mopping up any species we may still be looking for, or just appreciating the species we saw the previous day – there is little better than watching a myriad of baby ducks and shorebirds at close range and being amazed at how enough of them survive to keep the population going. There is also nothing cuter than a baby Barrow’s Goldeneye, except maybe a baby Red-necked Phalarope!
In the afternoon we will head north for the rest of the day to the small harbor town of Húsavík, birding along the way. Our journey takes us through yet more spectacular scenery (this is true for every day of the tour in fact!) and we might find Harlequin Duck, Rock Ptarmigan, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), or Short-eared Owl along the way.
On arrival at Húsavík we will take a whale watching tour into the bay. On the trip we could find Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Killer Whale (Orca), White-sided Dolphin, and Harbor Seal. Here we will also have a chance to see plenty of Atlantic Puffins at another Flatey Island (no relation to the one we visit on Day 3!). There is also a massive Arctic Tern breeding colony here, plus Black Guillemot, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Red-necked Phalarope, and Snow Bunting. Great Skua and Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) are also found from the boat, and Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, and Common Eider are often seen here too.
During the breeding season, Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) is one of the most strikingly plumaged birds in the world. We will get some great views of this species during our Iceland birdwatching holiday.
After our boat trip we will bird some areas around the town – this is one of the best sites in Iceland to find an over-summering Iceland Gull among the European Herring Gulls and other larids. The setting also gives great photographic opportunities for birds like Arctic Tern and Northern Fulmar against a snow-capped mountain backdrop. A small lake should give us excellent views of Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and Horned (Slavonian) Grebe as well as Black-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Whimbrel.
We will see a lot of Northern Fulmars on the tour, we will also see a lot of spectacular snow-capped mountain scenery. Put the two together and you get some fun photo opportunities!
Day 7. Lake Mývatn to Blönduós
We will spend a final morning around the wonderful Lake Mývatn, maybe trying to improve on our views and photographs of some of the area’s special species such as Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Red-throated Loon, and Red-necked Phalarope. We will also make sure that we have connected with all of the resident and migrant passerines that should be present during our time on the island, several of these can be found in the small, stunted woodland patches around the lake, and along our route over the next couple of days with some preferring the adjacent more-open spaces. Some of the targets will include Goldcrest (amazing how this, the smallest bird in Europe, can survive up here!), Eurasian Wren, Common Blackbird, Redwing, Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Common Starling, Common (Icelandic) Redpoll, Red (Common) Crossbill, and Snow Bunting.
After lunch we will head back west towards Blönduós, where we will again spend the night to break up the journey back to Reykjavík/Keflavík. Again, we will be on the lookout for Harlequin Duck, Pink-footed Goose, Northern Raven, and Gyrfalcon along the way.
European Golden Plover takes spectacular to a whole other level, yet this plumage is not just for looks, it also serves tremendously well for camouflage.
Day 8. Blönduós to Keflavík
This morning we will continue our journey back to Keflavík. We will call in at a couple of spots for some birding along the way, such as estuaries that may contain a nice surprise such as a White-tailed Eagle, and if time permits, we can also visit Flói Nature Reserve. The reclaimed marsh/bog/estuary that exists here today is one of the best spots to see Red-throated Loon (Diver). It was saved by Fuglavernd (BirdLife Iceland), and is home to breeding shorebirds like Eurasian Whimbrel, Red-necked Phalarope, and Black-tailed Godwit, as well as to ducks like Common Merganser (Goosander), Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, and Whooper Swan.
We will arrive in Keflavík in time for our farewell dinner and the tough assignment of choosing the “bird of the trip”, unsurprisingly it is never a straightforward or easy decision in Iceland!
Red-throated Loon (Diver) is yet another attractive bird that can be found on the lakes and swamps across Iceland.
Day 9. Departure
A non-birding day. Today we transfer to Reykjavík-Keflavík International Airport for your flights home, or potentially the relatively short flight to join our Norway: Svalbard Polar Bear Cruise, where we will be looking for (as the name suggests!) Polar Bears, along with some more high-Arctic specials like Ivory Gull, Barnacle Goose, King Eider, Little Auk, Long-tailed Jaeger (Skua), Beluga Whale, Blue Whale, Walrus, Arctic Fox, and much more!
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes must use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
Iceland Trip Report
10-18 JUNE 2018
By Andy Walker
This 9-day scheduled Iceland tour commenced in Reykjavík on the 10th of June 2018 and concluded back there on the 18th of June 2018. This tour led through some of the most spectacular scenery in western and northern Iceland, taking in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the magnificent sea cliffs at Látrabjarg, the picturesque Flatey Island, the gorgeous Lake Mývatn, the stunning Skjálfandi Bay, as well as numerous other roadside stops (including the roaring Goðafoss Waterfall).
The tour connected with many exciting birds and yielded a long list of northwestern European specialties. Wildfowl featured heavily, with many breeding birds as well as a long list of vagrants (see below) such as Harlequin Duck, King Eider, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Scoter, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Shelduck, Whooper Swan, Brant Goose, and Pink-footed Goose. Breeding Red-throated and Common Loons were seen regularly, and a pair of the latter with two chicks was a tour highlight, as were the numerous breeding Horned Grebes.
Seabirds were another big focus on the tour, and we enjoyed some very close looks at the comical Atlantic Puffin along with the dapper Black Guillemot, Razorbill, and Common and Thick-billed Murres. We had plenty of Parasitic Jaegers and good views of Northern Gannet, Great Skua, European Shag, nine species of gulls with Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull seen well, and thousands of Northern Fulmars.
Shorebirds were abundant with a great deal of breeding activity underway. It is a great sight to see these birds in their breeding plumage rather than their more familiar drab plumage, some of the most spectacular being Black-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, European Golden Plover, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, and best of all the rare breeder, Red Phalarope.
Finding both White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon on nests, as well as several hunting Merlins and Short-eared Owls were all highlights and rated among some of the best tour moments. Assorted other special birds included Rock Ptarmigan, Northern Raven, Eurasian Wren, Common Blackbird, Redwing, Goldcrest, Northern Wheatear, Common Redpoll, White Wagtail, and the gorgeous Snow Bunting.
Some of the vagrants found during the tour included Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Canada Goose, Little Gull, and Grey Heron, providing a little further excitement to the proceedings!
A total of 81 bird species were seen (plus one species heard only, Red Crossbill), along with an impressive list of other animals, including Humpback Whale and Arctic Fox. Species lists are at the end of this report.
As well as all the fantastic birds and impressive landscapes we also sampled, day after day, truly amazing Icelandic food and drink, some of the best meals on any of our tours.
Day 1, 10th June 2018. Arrival into Keflavík/Reykjavík and travel to Olafsvík
After I met Claudia at the airport in Keflavík early in the morning, we had a brief stop at some coastal ponds nearby, finding Common Loon, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Whooper Swan, Common Eider, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, and European Golden Plover. After an early breakfast we then traveled north to Reykjavík, where we picked up the other tour participants Tristan, Lyn, Gretchen, and Kristine in the city. In no time at all the journey had commenced towards Olafsvík on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, our base for a couple of nights.
Several birding stops were made along the way. The first, near Borgarnes, yielded numerous Common Shelducks, Dunlin, Grey Heron (a scarce summer visitor in Iceland), Northern Fulmar, and the stunning Black-tailed Godwit. After a nice lunch at a bakery we continued our journey northwest, stopping for Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Parasitic Jaeger, Arctic Tern, Greater Scaup, Whooper Swan, Little Gull (a national rarity!), Northern Raven, and Red-necked Phalarope.
We arrived at Olafsvík in time for a very nice dinner in a local restaurant, our first of many excellent meals on the tour.
Day 2, 11th June 2018. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The beauty of birding in Iceland at this time of year is more-or-less-constant daylight, meaning very early starts are not always necessary! We had a relaxed breakfast and then headed out for a day birding around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Our first stop was at a few small pools that were covered in Common Eiders and Arctic Terns. Spending several minutes here we started picking up numerous birds; some of the most spectacular were the displaying Red-throated Loons that were flying around our heads before they dropped onto the water and continued displaying. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and several Tufted Ducks also looked rather nice. Several herds of Whooper Swans and a couple of Greylag Geese were in the fields nearby, with Common Snipe constantly displaying overhead. Other shorebirds here included tame Red-necked Phalaropes, Black-tailed Godwit, and Eurasian Oystercatcher.
As we continued to a coastal headland we were very quickly enjoying nice views of a couple of Rock Ptarmigans, both sheltering from the rain shower. Beautiful birds! We also had brief glimpses of Northern Wheatears, with more prolonged views at the same spot later in the morning. There was also a stunning male Snow Bunting showing very well here. On the coast itself we spent some time getting to grips with a range of Alcids such as Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Razorbill, and Black Guillemot. The cliffs were covered with Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes, and both were constantly streaming past, with the occasional Northern Gannet and European Shag doing likewise. Single Red-throated and Common Loons also flew past.
We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in a tiny beachside café and were suitably distracted by some gorgeous breeding-plumaged Red Knots, with similarly smart Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, and Eurasian Oystercatcher also in attendance. We also spent time watching some baby Common Eiders and a large flock of non-breeding birds bathing.
The afternoon was spent enjoying further looks at the above species at several different sites, though one of the best birds of the day was found under the sea cliffs when we found two small flocks of the exquisite Harlequin Duck. Good, close views were had of one of the best-looking ducks on the planet, and we soaked the views in. As the day’s birding came to a close we headed back to town for another great meal.
Day 3, 12th June 2018. Olafsvík to Stykkishólmur, ferry to Flatey Island, finally to Breiðavík and Látrabjarg bird cliffs
We had a fairly early start in order to make our ferry connection in Stykkishólmur to the picturesque Flatey Island. After enjoying breakfast at a bakery we boarded the ferry and headed north, seeing rafts of Atlantic Puffin along the way. Once on Flatey Island we found it to be a very peaceful place, apart from the constantly alarm-calling Arctic Terns and Common Redshanks and drumming of Common Snipes. Snow Buntings were very evident, and we enjoyed very good views of many during the day. Dodging the odd rain shower (and fitting in another delicious lunch), we looked through the hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes until eventually we found our main target on the island – the Red Phalarope, a bird so beautiful it really needs to be seen to be believed. There were plenty of Alcids to enjoy around the island, and we got some great views of Atlantic Puffin and Black Guillemot. This island is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Iceland, and it is easy to see why after spending a day here.
In the late afternoon we caught the ferry out of Flatey Island and then continued our journey west to Breiðavík, and after another very good meal spent the evening birding at the Látrabjarg cliffs, where, despite the occasional rain shower, we got very good looks at Atlantic Puffin sitting just a few feet in front of us. The sea cliffs here really are incredible and stacked full of Thick-billed and Common Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Northern Fulmars. An Arctic Fox was a nice surprise too, as it searched for an easy meal among the seabird colony. A great experience to be birding in daylight at midnight!
Day 4, 13th June 2018. Breiðavík to Blönduós
Due to the late finish the previous day this morning we had a later, more relaxed start. We spent the majority of the day driving east to our final destination of Blönduós. We made a few stops along the way and built up a decent list of birds. The first stop produced a flock of three vagrant Canada Geese, presumably from Greenland or the north-eastern United States given the prevailing weather conditions. Here we also saw two pairs of displaying Red-throated Loons, Eurasian Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, and Eurasian Teal.
Another stop resulted in a pair of displaying and then foraging Common Loons and a flock of breeding-plumage Purple Sandpipers, looking very dapper. Here hundreds of Common Eiders were present in a range of plumages too. Another stop will not be forgotten anytime soon, because we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of apparently breeding Gyrfalcons, followed by a pair of nesting White-tailed Eagles – one of the pair getting some attention from an aggressive Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Redpoll flew over, and a Eurasian Wren sang, but it was hard to take our eyes off the raptor fest that was unfolding in front of our eyes!
We continued our journey, getting some excellent looks at about twenty Harlequin Ducks, Rock Ptarmigan, many Common Eiders, and several rampaging Parasitic Jaegers. We arrived at our hotel early in the evening in time for yet another great meal.
Day 5, 14th June 2018. Blonðuós to Lake Mývatn
We woke to a rather wet and wild morning on the north coast and had a quick check of the nearby river mouth, where we found plenty of Common Eiders, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, and half a dozen Long-tailed Ducks, many coming into their dark breeding plumage and looking rather special. A couple of Red-throated Loons were observed carrying food back to nest sites, and we had our best looks of the entire tour at a pair of delightful Common Loons that were duetting with their extremely haunting calls. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were numerous here, and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were also present.
By mid-morning we were on the road towards Lake Mývatn. A couple of stops along the way gave us some very good views of Horned Grebe, Mew Gull, breeding Pink-footed Goose, and Harlequin Duck. Most of the journey was wet, but we still enjoyed magnificent views of the stunning scenery that was a constant along the journey.
As late afternoon arrived the temperature really dropped, and the rain increased, but unperturbed we persisted, and a very productive stop at the lake gave us our first Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Scoter, Gadwall, and Northern Pintail of the trip. We also got improved views of Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, and Horned Grebe. While looking for wildfowl here we also had our best looks at a perched, pale-phased Parasitic Jaeger, but best of all was the highly-sought, and anticipated, Short-eared Owl. One flew right toward us, being heavily mobbed by numerous Redwings and assorted shorebirds before giving a great series of views.
A very nice dinner at our excellent hotel, our base for the next two nights, was enjoyed, and we even spotted Merlin and Gyrfalcon from the dinner table!
Day 6, 15th June 2018. Lake Mývatn and boat trip from Húsavík
We awoke to a very cold morning, even with a few snow showers thrown in, and this would be the order of the day. We spent the morning conducting a circuit of this large, bird-filled lake and enjoyed views of numerous wildfowl species. Long-tailed Ducks were looking spectacular in their breeding attire and showed at very close range. Barrow’s Goldeneyes were displaying, and Eurasian Wigeons were noted with young. One of the better sightings was that of a vagrant drake American Wigeon found with some Eurasian Wigeons, allowing a great comparison of the two to be made. Whooper Swans were found throughout, and we got some very close views of Red-necked Phalarope.
During the afternoon we drove to the pretty coastal town of Húsavík, stopping along the way for a roadside Short-eared Owl, followed by Rock Ptarmigan, Common Loon (with babies), and Horned Grebe (also with babies) at a small pond. We then took a whale-watching trip into the Skjálfandi Bay, where we enjoyed very good looks at White-beaked Dolphin, Humpback Whale (picture at end of report), Atlantic Puffin, Black Guillemot, European Herring Gull, and Great Skua. It was a little cold and rough at times due to the three-meter swell but still an enjoyable afternoon, which we finished with a pair of Harlequin Ducks in a small river near our hotel.
Day 7, 16th June 2018. Lake Mývatn to Blonðuós
This was a more relaxed day as we started our journey halfway back toward Reykjavík. After breakfast we focused on a small area of the lake with lots of birds and found numerous Greater Scaups, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, and Eurasian Wigeon. On scanning through these ducks we found a very good candidate for an adult drake Lesser Scaup, though it remained distant. Long-tailed Ducks were looking spectacular, as were Barrow’s Goldeneyes. We again saw several Horned Grebes at their nests and lots of Red-necked Phalaropes. Another nice surprise was the Short-eared Owl that raced through with its attendant plethora of mobbing birds, likely the same bird seen a couple of days earlier.
After checking out of our hotel we started our journey back to Blonðuós. Along the way we found a few Common Mergansers and more Whooper Swans and had some brief views of Parasitic Jaeger.
The afternoon around Blonðuós gave us the chance to relax and take in some of the local sights. Those of us checking the river mouth enjoyed Black-legged Kittiwake, Red-throated Loon, Arctic Tern, Parasitic Jaeger, and lots of Common Eiders.
Day 8, 17th June 2018. Blonðuós to Keflavík via Reykjavík
We had a relaxed start and headed to the coast and the river mouth to scan the Common Eider flock. It was with great joy that we immediately found a stunning male King Eider! There were also a male Harlequin Duck and several Long-tailed Ducks present. After a bit of maneuvering we managed to get ourselves a lot closer to the sea duck flock and spent some time enjoying watching the birds surf. What a set of incredible birds! Plenty of other birds were also here trying to distract us, like Parasitic Jaeger, Northern Fulmar, and Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.
A supremely beautiful duck, this drake King Eider was a fantastic way to end the tour.
Soon it was time to start our drive south. We made a strategic stop along the way at some small woodland, where we found Eurasian Wren, Common Redpoll (of the Icelandic subspecies, including a gorgeous pink male), and our first Goldcrest. It is amazing to think of this tiny bird surviving in such a harsh environment.
After a delightful lunch on the coast we continued to the edge of Reykjavík, where a bit of birding near the State Government Office (complete with lots of dignitaries celebrating Icelandic National Day) provided a couple of nice unexpected vagrant bonus birds in the form of two drake Ring-necked Ducks and a Brant Goose. But it started to get cold and wet again, so we decided to head to our final hotel of the tour in Keflavík, seeing several Common Loons in the nearby bay on the way, and then had our final dinner-and-checklist session.
Day 9, 18th June 2018. International Departure
The tour participants departed, but not before voting for their ‘Bird of the Trip’. There were numerous birds to choose from, but the following species were considered the best (in no particular order): White-tailed Eagle, Short-eared Owl, Common Loon, Black-tailed Godwit, and King Eider. Late departures were rewarded with a small group of Manx Shearwaters near our accommodation.
A huge thank you to Claudia, Gretchen, Kristine, Lyn, and Tristan for making the trip so enjoyable. It was a pleasure birding with you around Iceland and I look forward to birding with you again somewhere else soon, and I look forward to my next visit to this wonderful, beautiful country!
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
‘Our small group had a great trip birding Iceland with Andy Walker. Andy’s knowledge, tenacity, organizational skills, patience and fun personality allowed us to maximize this opportunity to see every possible bird within our range.
Because of Andy’s scientific knowledge as well as field skills I learned a great deal. His enthusiasm kept us going even when the weather attempted to dampen and freeze mine! Iceland is an awesome country and Ecotours did a great job of arranging an itinerary that provided excellent food and lodging along the way. Very well organized. I’d go with this company and guide again!’
‘Birding with Andy through western Iceland was marvelous. He’s a wealth of birding knowledge and information, down to the most minute details of all the birds we viewed. He has tremendous patience and perseverance in locating the birds, and worked hard with each individual to make sure we were satisfied with all sightings. He kept us on track and in motion, as we passed through the vast and rugged expanses of western Iceland. He has non-stop energy and a great personality. Couldn’t ask for better.’