Iceland Birding Tours
Iceland, the “Land of Ice and Fire”, sits in the North Atlantic and is an island nation formed from the diversion of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is about the size of the US state of Kentucky at 40,000 square miles (103,000 square kilometers) and has a population of just 364,134 people which makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland’s capital is Reykjavik which, along with its surrounding areas, contains two thirds of the island’s population. It is a city of typical, quaint northern European architecture and makes an excellent starting point for our Iceland tour.
Iceland was first settled in 874 AD by Viking settlers from Norway. For much of its more recent history it has not been an independent country, being divided between Norway and Denmark until independence was gained in 1918. In the 20th century AD Iceland has become an incredibly wealthy and successful nation, especially after World War II. The United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks Iceland as the 6th most developed country on Earth.
Iceland sits just below the Arctic Circle at latitudes of 63o to 68o N with the nearest land being Greenland some 180 miles (290 kilometers) away to the northwest. On a wider scale, Iceland sits 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 largest island and most of its climate is typical of the Tundra regions. The other main climate of Iceland is subarctic oceanic, with the influence of the North Atlantic Gulf Stream meaning the southern coast tends to remain ice-free during the winter. Iceland’s landmass is made up of 62.7% tundra, while lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of the island surface. Iceland has a significant mountainous interior made up of active volcanos. This area is an inhospitable combination of sand, mountains and lava fields and is also the coldest part of the island. Iceland also has many lakes including Mývatn which we will visit on our tour – a spectacular bird-filled site.
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Iceland has three national parks and our tours take in the stunning Snæfellsnes peninsula which forms one such national park. On our Iceland tour we visit many Important Bird Areas (IBAs); sites considered important for birds according to BirdLife International. Along with Snæfellsnes, we will visit other IBAs including Flatey Island and Látrabjarg bird cliffs (a proposed new nature reserve on the Reykjanes peninsula). Our Iceland tour focuses on the west and north of the island and this should give the best opportunities to sample the island’s unique habitats and birdlife.
Following International Ornithological Congress (IOC) taxonomy, the Iceland bird list sits at 414 species (IOC v10.2) in September 2020, of which 15 are globally threatened, although Iceland has no endemic bird species. Iceland was also once the territory of the now extinct Great Auk. The highlight species of our Iceland tours include King Eider, Common Eider, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Rock Ptarmigan, Common Loon, White-tailed Eagle, Red-necked Phalarope, Red (Grey) Phalarope, Black-tailed Godwit, Glaucous Gull, Arctic Tern, Great Skua, Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot), Atlantic Puffin, Black Guillemot, Gyrfalcon, Redwing, and Snow Bunting. There are many more great species possible (see the detailed tour itinerary for details) and despite the harsh environments, the abundance of birds here during the summer months leads to an amazing spectacle. This is most evident with the breeding seabirds, alcids, shorebirds, and wildfowl – many of which give excellent, close-up views and fantastic photo opportunities. There is also a chance of vagrant species from North America and Europe which adds to the excitement of a visit to Iceland. The waters off Iceland contain abundant sea-life and we take a whale watching boat trip looking for the seriously massive Blue Whale and Humpback Whale, a definite highlight, while on land we might come across an Arctic Fox busy hunting 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. The snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, staggering glaciers, huge fjords and lakes, 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. Do come and join us as we explore this incredible island.