December is the dullest month, at least in terms of birding in Iceland.
Daylight is in very short supply now, sunrise is around 11:20 and
sun half-heartedly appears above the chain of low and saw-toothed
mountains to the south of Reykjavík in the late morning, first
as a glow perfectly silhouetting the hills and then as the sun emerges
the ridge becomes blurred and drivers heading south curse as they
are blinded. Shadows are long all day, the light has the quality of
a late summer evening. If it's clear you might be rewarded with the
northern lights as you head off to work and at around 10 o'clock the
ghostly white mountains north of the city begin to materialize in
the murk, the distant Snæfellsnes peninsula coruscating and
enticing across the water. If you glance down a suburban street and
you might see the pointed summit of 1,000 metre high Skarðsheiði
rising behind the rooftops, reminding you that the wilderness starts
just beyond the Christmas lights of suburbia. But if there is heavy
cloud cover, like today, the day seems to give up the fight and retire
early, and if you’re inside the daylight passes unnoticed.
Since I last wrote I've hardly done any birding, not because of the
short days but mainly because I have moved house and most of my time
has been consumed by packing, moving and then unpacking boxes. The
last time I went out with my binoculars was in mid-November after
a heavy snowfall. The bay held the usual suspects, Gadwall,
Eurasian Wigeon, one of the overwintering American
Wigeons, Long-tailed Duck, Common
Eider and a few Snow Buntings (which appear
in an instant in Reykjavík if there is snow in the surrounding
countryside and disappear the moment the snow has gone). The graveyard
was, as befits the place, quiet, Redpolls flitting
around but it was another small passerine, a male Blackcap,
that was the bird of the day. Whilst Blackcaps are common autumn vagrants
in Iceland, this was the first I'd seen on my local patch and I decided
when I got home to tot up the number of species I've seen on my suburban
patch on the boundaries of Reykjavík and Kópavogur.
This area comprises a narrow, sheltered inlet of the Atlantic Ocean,
a cemetery to the north of the inlet consisting of native birch and
introduced conifer species and a forestry plantation of mainly conifers
with a few drainage ditches good for Snipe in winter. The inlet is
very shallow and at low tide leaves a large area of mudflats exposed.
The area is quietest in midsummer, best for wildfowl in winter and
waders on spring and autumn passage.
Blackcap turned out to be the 84th species I've seen locally over
the years. Some species such as Common Eider and Starling are ever
present, others such as Little Bunting are major national rarities.
the weekend I did get out for an hour, walking down to the water near
my new house,where I came across eight Little Auks.
Surprisingly I don't see this Arctic species often at all and it was
good to see one of them very close and watch it dive and swim in the
clear waters. More next month, with news from much warmer climes.