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An Icelandic Birding Diary
by EBR

November 2006

16 November - '...a damp, drizzly November in my soul...'

The Little Egret looking decidely more lively than it did the following day.

Any thoughts of a late autumn flourish have been extinguished by skin-shattering northerly winds, snow and ice. It is now winter and the least exciting birding autumn I can remember is over. Today's weather represents the downside of living in Iceland. Whilst the thermometer says it's only -7°C, the biting winds howling down from the north-east make being outside a thoroughly miserable experience, the radio saying that the windchill makes it feel -35°C. I’ve seen worse but I just didn’t get weather remotely like this growing up. Your eyes become blurred in seconds, everything is covered in salt, the water crashing into the north shore of Reykjavík freezes on the rocks and engulfs the road and path in an icy embrace. It's not Cairns Esplanade, that's for sure. The dwindling daylight hours preclude any midweek birding, except for Ravens, Starling, Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls out my window at work. Ravens are once more the dominant urban bird of Reykjavík. After yielding the best lampposts to Lesser Black-backed Gulls during the summer, Óðinn’s henchmen have returned in number and can be seen anywhere in the city, perched on lampposts, atop the ubiquitous building cranes, or just tumbling through the air and showing off to each other in the wind.

Blue Whale from Húsavík, July 2006. Utterly magnificent
In between two titanic (and warm) south-westerly storms I’ve been down onto the peninsula twice, firstly at the end of October to twitch a Little Egret that YK had found the previous day. Little Egret vies with Great Egret as one those cosmopolitan birds that I’ve seen virtually everywhere I’ve lifted a pair of binoculars, Iceland, England, Spain, Holland, Turkey, Singapore, Australia and Kenya (but not the US, whilst I’ve seen Great Egret everywhere except England). So although it’s a bird I’m familiar with, it’s rare in Iceland and I’ve only seen one before in this country (two if you count the frozen solid one SR and I found in Sandgerði last year). To be frank, this Little Egret looked distinctly underwhelmed about being in Iceland. Wherever it had set off from, I’m sure it imagined better things beyond the ocean and would rather have been almost anywhere but the pond in Sandgerði. As it cowered in the fierce northerly wind it didn’t look like it had much left on this Earth. On the way there, near Keflavík airport, I saw a distant Raven on a lamppost and made a mental note to check out all roadside Ravens as Gyr Falcons like sitting on lampposts too. As we got closer the Raven turned out to be very long-tailed, grey and in fact nothing like a Raven at all, except in size. It was an adult Gyr Falcon and when we pulled over SÁ managed to get a few photos of it as it sat above us and waited to see what we were going to do next. It dithered for 20 seconds and then headed off to the now abandoned US air base.
I also went out very briefly on 4 November, more out of superstition than anything else. On 4 November 2002 I sat at work and squirmed as SÁ, GP and GÞ phoned me with one new bird after another in SE Iceland, White Stork, Hen Harrier, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Skylark, none of which I’ve seen Iceland (or anywhere in the case of the flycatcher). On 4 November 2004, GÞ texted me saying that he was looking at Iceland’s second Thrush Nightingale and first Olive-backed Pipit, although I wasn’t particularly frustrated on that occasion as I had just seen Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Golden Bowerbird and Great Bowerbird at their bowers. 4 November 2006 was certainly not anything special, but a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff and a Fieldfare were visitors from abroad and made it into my notebook. The outlook for the weekend is bleak, freezing cold and very windy and I think I’ll get a lot of reading done. It’s times like this I feel like I’m doing a penance for the many brilliant hours of birding I’ve had in Iceland. There's plenty of great winter birding ahead but I've not got into gear yet, so I'm posting a picture of one of the very great highlights of the Icelandic summer, Blue Whale, to brighten up the November murk.

November - to be continued

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