It's been a while since I wrote anything, partly due to an unplanned
visit back to the motherland, and partly due to the lack of any real
birding to report on. Today is winter solstice, the shortest day in
the northern hemisphere and up here at 64°N, daylight is in short
supply in December and January. Sunrise today is around 11:20 a.m.
and sunset at 3:30 p.m., but the sun remains so low when it emerges
from its sloth, just creeping along the tops of the low volcanic hills
to the south, that shadows remain long all day. Shadows, that is,
if there is no cloud cover, but as it's been overcast and mild all
week, then it's distinctly gloomy all day. There's no sign of us having
a white Christmas in Reykjavík this year, which is a shame as snow
really brightens things up. December is undoubtedly the slowest time
for birding in Iceland, obviously because of the short hours of daylight
and also because people are busy getting ready for Christmas. We have
almost gone into a short period of hibernation. Birding is possible,
and Icelandic specialities such as Harlequin, Gyr Falcon and Barrow's
Goldeneye can easily be found in December if you make the effort.
It's just that the dark certainly makes me more sluggish and apathetic,
and I think I'm experiencing a touch of perlerorneq, what the
Inuit call the midwinter blues, the weight of winter. It's a good
job I'm going to Kenya in two weeks. But I'm becoming soft, complaining
about the winter in my bright warm flat surrounded by books and with
a fridge full of beer. I think I need to reread Jean Malaurie's marvellous
The Last Kings of Thule, which is his account of his time living
amongst the Polar Inuit at 80°N in NW Greenland in the 1950s. They
really knew what perlerorneq was all about.
When I travel abroad I always like to guess what the first bird I
see will be when I arrive. At Stansted it's invariably Pied Wagtail,
in Spain it's usually a hirrundine of some description, in Singapore
it was House Crow, in Brisbane and Cairns it was Australian
White Ibis, and last week at Glasgow it was Carrion Crow.
When arriving at Keflavík in Iceland I have two standard choices.
In summer there are almost always Snow Buntings Plectrophenax
nivalis singing on the terminal roof, but in winter another white
bird is usually the first to welcome me home. Sitting on the airport
transfer bus last week and looking out over a sea of cars and tarmac
four plump, snow-white birds skimmed the car roof tops before making
a landing in a small area of bushes at the edge of the car park. They
were of course, that well known concrete loving bird, Ptarmigan
Lagopus muta. No need to climb mountains for them in Iceland.
Although the Ptarmigan hunting season is over this year, I suspect
that the car park birds are safe from hunters' guns. I have a hunch
the authorities take a dim view of carrying firearms in the airport
car park, especially with a US military base next door. By the way
if anyone knows what bird I'm likely to see first at Jomo Kenyatta
Airport in Nairobi next month, please tell me. I'm planning to have
bet on it with my travelling companions and I am more than willing
to cheat in order to win.