Icelandic Birds

Iceland with its vast variety of bird species during the summer months is home to numerous seabirds including puffins, skuas, and kittiwakes is no wonder it is a popular place with ornithologists. Moving to the island during the end of the last ice age the Artic Fox is the only native land mammal, which arrived by walking over the frozen sea. Various other wild mammals in Iceland include mink, mice, rats, rabbits and reindeer with the occasional Polar bear drifting on icebergs from Greenland. Icelandic waters are teaming with marine life, including seals, whales, dolphins and over three hundred species of fish, but the appearance of man disturbed the delicate ecosystem with forest exploitation, overgrazing, volcanic activity, glacier movement and unfavorable climate all contributing to soil erosion, with only a quarter of continuous plant cover today.


Relying strongly on fish stocks Iceland is a strong voice in the fight against the pollution of the oceans, holding some of the cleanest waters in the world. Over 470 species found here are native vascular plants with more then half thought to be glacial survivors from the Ice Age, with great areas of bare rock, stony deserts, sandy wastelands and lava fields all throughout the country the vegetation is predominantly subarctic in character but they still take an active role in international flora and on the issue of persistent organic pollutants. 
Famous for its unspoiled natural beauty, care is exercised to upkeep this environment with the most serious environmental problems being wind erosion and causing the loss of vegetation as Iceland has some of the last few remaining large wilderness areas in Europe, and hold many natural unique features but there is a variety of pressures on these areas with development from tourism and energy production which aim to be detoured.


A variety of mammal tracks were sighted but the main wildlife of the trip was birds; with sightings of Wooper swans and Rock Ptarmigan whilst few were photographable I also discovered a variety of dead birds including a first year Black headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus. Easily identifiable during breeding season by their dark brown head, whilst during the winter and for most of the year this is reduced to a smudge behind the eye with a white head. They are commonly found anywhere inland and are usually seen in small flocks especially when there is plenty of food or roosting. I came across the young bird when it was nearly trodden on whilst walking around the snow-covered harbor, with no sign of disease or obvious cause of death I still wonder what the cause was.


A common bird I saw during my visit was the Eider Somateria mollissima; a true gregarious sea duck, which was frequently een riding the swell around the harbor in pairs or independently. The largest duck in the Northern hemisphere and personally one of the prettiest; the male flaunts a white, black and green plumage contrasting with the females dull striped brown is rarely found away from coasts the Eider is reliant on coastal mollusks causing conflict with local mussel farmers. Whilst walking around the harbor I grasped the opportunity to photograph a male in breeding plumage from a closer angle as it drifted around the edges rummaging through the seaweed.


Observed feeding in flocks at sea and in cliff faces of waterfalls Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis were a personal joy to witness as they are common in the UK but I have never personally witnessed them. The soft features of the plumage and curved beak contrast with the harsh details of the eyes which make them so photogenic to me whilst I would of preferred to capture some flight shots as they flew high riding the up drifts but it was beautiful to observe the behavior from land as they are typically found offshore except when they are breeding.




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