Iceland, Feburary 2020

Work has got in the way of me editing images and writing up this post but I’d like to say this was a very special (non work) trip, I was totally blown away by Iceland. Amy and I landed in near white out condition at Keflavik airport near Reykavik and drove a big ol’ 4×4 in said weather all the way to Stykkisholmur, on the Snaefellness peninsula – 3 hours to the north west (staying with our friends Tim and Sara). It wasn’t until we drove home 3 days later on a clear day that we realised the incredible landscape we had driven through; The mountains, coastal roads and lava fields all dusted with snow, dry surface snow being blown across the road and the sounds of the howling winds were very evocative. A Stunning place to be and especially to bird.

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Obviously my focus was on Gulls and with White winged Gulls a little thin on the ground this winter in the UK I thought I’d indulge massively here. The high number present across the peninsular were a welcome sight and very few herrings and Great black-backs were seen in comparison. The first morning I took some expensive bread down to the harbour where there were plenty to look at.

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Juv Glaucous Gulls

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3cy Glaucous Gull

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ad Iceland Gulls

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5cy Glaucous Gull (+ ad iceland)

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ad Glaucous Gull

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Juv Iceland Gulls

Whilst trying to balance seeing friends and all spending time together with such exciting birding I made do with this for the first day.

The next morning was calm and still and alot more gulls turned up to the bread throwing at Stykkisholmur harbour including a bird i’d half wished Id find given the weather this past month or two – a 1st winter American Herring Gull!!  It almost got away as i was lazily focusing on the wingers but i caught a glimpse of this dark looking bird’s greater and median wing covert pattern, paling bill base and undertail coverts in the heart of the melee and started to get excited…

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In flight the bird showed an almost all dark tail, albeit it with some white mostly in the basal portion of the outer 3 retrices, the conspicious heavily barred upper tail coverts & rump, large dark centers to the 2nd gen upper scaps (with juv lower scaps)  Also dark brown smudgey nape and underparts with solid brown belly also its large size.

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The heavily barred undertail coverts were obvious in flight with photographs revealing the pattern of the longest being mostly dark with white notches out of them, dark underparts and solid dark belly.  Its not a totally classic bird but I’m confident of the ID as are a few of my gull friend nerds. (as well as Killian Mullarney, whom I emailed during a brief panic over the id after id put the news out…) he agreed with the id which was a nice reassurance, although Rich, Josh and Dante had already done the same earlier in the day.  Its important to be aware of the Icelandic herring x glauc hybrids that can resemble a 1w smiths but this bird doesn’t show any of those traits in my opinion.

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With this unexpected find under my belt for the trip I was happy to drive us all around looking at tourist stuff as well as just taking in the incredible scenery and cool parts of the Snaefellness peninsula. This mostly happened on the coast road which meant I encountered a few flocks of gulls. Flocks of wingers were my highlight really, very exciting for a visiting British birder so I stopped the car a lot. Thanks for being patient guys x

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I was expecting to see more Kumlien’s gulls, from reading other peoples trip reports but since I’ve learnt that the peninsular in general isn’t such a good place for them (nor herring gulls for that matter) and many more are seen closer to Reykjavik. Here are 3 of the 4/5 I saw, a 3cy and 2 different adults, all fairly subtle.

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I saw many Glaucous x Herring Hybrids during the trip, especially older birds which resembled adult Glaucs only with some black in the outer primaries. I was keen to see some 1st winter birds to learn about how they can resemble American Herring Gulls, this bird below is much closer to the herring end of the scale but shows a bi-couloured bill, barred upper and undertail coverts (not really resembling smiths in their exact patterning) but gave the game away with the large notches in the greater coverts, the inner primaries showed a very glauc-like almost oil slick like pattern to the very tips and dry blotchy rather than smooth darkness to the underparts and nape.

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Some birds were closer to just being a straight up Glaucous gulls, the below bird actually showed a couple of moulted scapulars and brownish primaries, notched greater coverts and tertials plus overall shape suggested some herring I thought. Its weird because I believe some northern herrings with a similar primary pattern to be just that –  Northern argies rather than viking gulls although some of these particular birds gave me the viking impression.

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whereas some others seemed less herring like with hoary coverts and tertials, probably pure glauc with darker primaries.

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There were plenty of pure birds with differing amounts of dark and light in the primaries and I saw only one or two very pale juv birds.

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Other birds around the place; Walking around the village (and from the kitchen window) I encountered a flock of 1500+ Snowbuntings that would settle on the low roofs and then all flush together when a Merlin zipped through, I had 2 or 3 sightings of different White-tailed Eagles, other than that the flocks of Eider, Black guillemots in the harbour, Red throated and  a black throated diver (Ive since learned that BTD is an Iceland rarity, unfortuntaltey I didn’t think enough of it at the time and didnt take any photos as i was just scanning for whales really. oops!) and I bumped into a few distant Harlequins from a volcanic beach in a place called Dritvik.

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Like i say with many of my trips “I WILL be going back” but i mean it more for this place,  I cant even imagine it covered in waders and terns and greenery but I’d love to see it.

 

 

 

 

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