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An Icelandic Birding Diary
by EBR

November 2008

30 November - Descent into winter

Above: One of the Bohemian Waxwings at Seljaland, S Iceland.

It's November again and the transition now appears to be complete from autumn to winter. The first week or two of November still offer a glimmer of hope that a few late strays may turn up, and it was with that in mind that I went on another trip down the south coast as far as Vík at the beginning of November. News that Iceland's sixth Goldfinch was just off shore in the Westman Islands gave me some cause for optimism. In fact, the trip produced no real rarities, just a few vagrants such as Blackcaps, the odd Chiffchaff and, most pleasing of all, several Bohemian Waxwings. Waxwings have been turning up in fairly good numbers in Iceland in November and they really are stunning birds. While I'd rather see a Cedar Waxwing in Iceland, there's no doubt that the Bohemian Waxwing is a far more attractive bird than the Cedar, hundreds of which I saw during the summer in North Dakota. Waxwings even made the national news last night, with pictures of birds feeding in a garden in eastern Iceland and their ringing trill could be heard through television sets across the country. Redwings were still abundant and while I let myself dream of a rare thrush from the east (Eye-browed, Siberian, Dusky...one can dream) a solitary Fieldfare and a few Blackbirds was as good as it got on that front. But perhaps the most impressive avian spectacle of the day was the constant flight of Greylag Geese leaving Iceland. There were thousands of them on the southern lowlands and when you found one skein with the naked eye and raised your binoculars to it, more, initially invisible, lines of birds were seen in the distance, just as stars multiply in number when raise a telescope to the night sky. Some geese were seen heading inland, gaining height and then turning round for the mammoth non-stop flight to Scotland, and at one point we were startled as 100 noisy Greylags erupted over the edge of a two hundred foot cliff at whose base we were looking at three Blackcaps.

Above: In the absence of more photos from Iceland, another one of Simmi's from North Dakota in June. This time a singing Western Meadowlark near the Montana border.

A week later, I was again at the summerhouse in Borgarfjörður, 90 minutes north of Reykjavík, for my fifth trip there in the last year. Bird activity is now very limited; the Redwings and Meadow Pipits which were still so abundant in early September are gone and the birch scrub holds only Wrens, Redpoll and Ptarmigans, while Snow Bunting and Ravens were contrasting fly overs. In an hour or two of peace, when my girls were asleep, I nipped down the road to a conifer plantation, hoping I could find another passerine invader. And I'd only just entered the forest when I heard the very soft chupp-chupping of the target species and the tell-tale sound of discarded pine cones crashing to the floor – a flock of ten Common Crossbills. Otherwise the forest was deathly quiet, a handful of Redpolls and a Goldcrest heard once and that was it.

Winter birding is now upon us. In freezing weather on Sunday I popped down to the harbour in Hafnarfjörður. One of the best winter spots in Hafnarfjörður has been ruined by development but there were plenty of birds in and around the harbour, including several hundred adult Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, more than 130 Wigeon, five Gadwall, plenty of Cormorants and good numbers of Redshank, Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone. There were hundreds of Eider as expected but it was impossible to scan the mobile flock of Black-headed and Common Gulls as it was so bloody cold and windy. I thought about waiting around until a Gyr Falcon passed (pretty much inevitable at a site like this in winter I would imagine) but decided to wait until a more pleasant day. Cold weather forecast ahead, an Ivory Gull would be most welcome to brighten the deepening gloom.




to be continued





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