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An Icelandic Birding Diary
by EBR

April 2006

5 April - The Bastard Prince

Spring migration is slow this year. This time last year I'd already seen plenty of Golden Plovers and White-fronted Geese. Two years ago today YK and I stumbled (almost literally) upon a vagrant Great Bittern in eastern Iceland and spring was very much in the air back then. But after the mildest winter I can remember, north and west Iceland are buried under newfallen snow and a storm warning has been issued today. Although it's generally been sunny of late, today it's all sleet and gloom in this corner of the country, and the birding is distinctly wintry. YK and I went out onto the Suđurnes peninsula on a bright and bitter April 1st, stopping off briefly in Hafnarfjörđur where Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus and Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides were both very numerous and all the Icelandic gulls were present in varying numbers. Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus are increasing in number by the day whilst Glaucous Gulls Larus hyperboreus are thinning out, most breeders will be back on their territories in western Iceland now presumably. After a quick stop in Grindavík and a roadside Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta we arrived at the harbour in Helguvík where there was a gargantuan raft of Common Eider Somateria mollissima. YK had seen King Eider Somateria spectabilis the previous weekend and indeed the first bird he saw this time was a superb drake King right next to the car. One became two, then three and then four in a matter of seconds as we scanned the flock, and then I spotted a female "Queen" Eider also close by. Five King Eiders Somateria spectabilis at very close range from the warmth of the car meant that YK would spend the next 30 minutes taking pictures, but not before he had found a hybrid Common Eider x King Eider Somateria mollissima x S. spectabilis. Hybrids of this kind are rare but regular and I've seen them in Eskifjörđur (E) and Akureyri (N) before. This bird was very busy displaying and making a lot of noise but it was difficult to pick out its call from the constant OOOOHHH-OOOOOOOHHHH of the Eider drakes and the ACK-ACK-ACK of the ducks all around. Undoubtedly there were more female King Eiders amongst the masses but instead of searching I just enjoyed the sight of a black-and-white sea of noise and the intermingling Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides. A trip to Garđur failed to yield the American Black Duck which has been very hit and miss this year (100% miss in my case) and Sandgerđi was as usual swamped with gulls and several colour-ringed Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima provided a distraction. I was slightly surprised that we hadn't seen my favourite raptor out on the peninsula but just as we were entering Reykjavík a Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus obliged and flew over the car. King Eiders all over the place, every harbour overflowing with Iceland Gulls and Gyr Falcons in the city means that all reports of spring are, for the time being, greatly exaggerated..

The Bastard Prince of Iceland

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