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An Icelandic Birding Diary
by EBR

May 2008

5 May - It's not spring until the Whimbrel sings

My first Ptarmigan of the year

Three weeks ago the Icelandic newspapers boldly announced in its headlines that "Spring is arriving tonight" and do you know, they were right. The arrival of spring was in fact the first south-easterly winds for some time after a period of sustained northerlies and although some migrants had been arriving regardless, it was obvious that beneficial winds would see southern Iceland inundated with migrants birds. This was immediately evident on my Wednesday morning bike ride to work, when I saw my first Meadow Pipit of the year, parachuting in song slowly back to the ground. Although an abundant bird in summer, it's always rises the sprits to see the first bird of the year, one the simple pleasures of birding. Further along my route, Golden Plovers hunted for worms by the cycle path, a surefire sign of spring.

This whopping Arctic Redpoll was in Fossvogur cemtery
In fact the weather was so good that I ended the week by going birding for half a day with Simmi and Yann, and it was the first time I'd been out birding on the Reykjanes peninsula since I twitched the Peregrine Falcon in late October. The day started with a brief look for an Osprey reported earlier that morning near Reykjavík. This is a very rare bird in Iceland and proved invisible this morning. However, our trip to Elliðavatn at the edge of Reykjavík was by no means wasted as the atmosphere was the epitome of spring: drumming Snipe everywhere, dispalying Redshanks abundant, vociferous Black-tailed Godwits in marshy areas, five Grey Herons, numerous Wigeon and Teal, Redwings singing from every vantage point possible, a pair of Great Northern Divers snorkelling and diving on their secluded breeding lake, but no Osprey. On the back roads we took to avoid the Reykjavík traffic we went past three white Ptarmigan in a snowless landscape, one of the browsing in the treetops.

Brent Geese near Reykjavík
Out on the peninsula, spring was clearly not as well advanced as near Reykjavík. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are now the commonest gulls around, first-winter Iceland Gulls are still common but adult birds are very scarce, as are Glaucous Gulls of any age in the south-west now. We then walked the bay at Arfadalsvík, where I saw my first Ringed Plovers of the year and my first White Wagtail. There were about 30 Harlequins in the bay, at point I had a group of males and a Great Northern Diver in the same field of view. Rarity of the day was a Grey Plover which flew across the bay, revealing its diagnostic 'hairy armpits' but unfortunately it was still in winter plumage. Just to underline how long it has been since I have been birding in that area, we went on two new roads which I didn't know existed, one of which had a nice roadside Merlin. Sandgerði had my first Pintail of the year, and from Garður there was a constant flow of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Gannet, Razorbill and Kittiwake past the lighthouse. Later in the week I saw my first Brent Geese of the year, - there are hundreds around now - and nearby a first-winter Ring-billed Gull. Spring is well advanced in Iceland, despite wintry conditions in the northern part of the country, but I still need to hear one thing before spring gets my official seal of approval: the wonderful bubbling call of the Whimbrel. I'll be disappointed if I don't hear it by the end of this week.
Proof of the Great Auk at last!


May..... to be continued


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