22.03.2012 | Hildur Fjóla Svansdóttir

A short introduction to the annual circle of birdlife in North East Iceland by Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson, Chairman of Fuglavernd, BirdLife Iceland

North East Iceland offers you a wide range of excellent birdwatching sites.  Birdlife and bird habitats are extremely diverse, typified in this region by highland oases, lakes of global importance for birds, rich birch woods and shrubland.  Wetlands, small lakes and deltas are frequently encountered and moorlands are found widely.  North East Iceland also has beaches and shores, many with an Arctic character, and the seacliffs are swarming with seabirds that can often easily be approached.

In April, as spring arrives and the ice on the lakes melts, migratory birds flock to Iceland.  Fields, beaches, ponds, lakes and rivers are awash with birds arriving from Europe and Africa.  The first breeders, like Raven and Gyr Falcon, have already laid their eggs and at the end of April the Horned Grebe starts its magnificent courtship display.

In May the elaborate display of numerous species of ducks reaches its climax.  May and June are the best months for birdwatching.  Nature is recovering from the long, hard winter and the birds are extremely active and conspicuous.  The countryside is filled with the sound of birdsong, courtship and lively displays, the sun barely goes below the horizon and the symphony of nature seems endless. Drakes are particularly impressive at this time of year, with Long-tailed Ducks and Barrow’s Goldeneyes fighting vigorously for mates and territory.  Harlequin Ducks hurtle along the rivers, the Great Northern Diver howls on the lakes, and by the sea Puffins, Kittiwakes, Common Eiders and other seabirds can be found making nests and laying their eggs.

In July everything seems to calm down and the adult birds get on with quietly feeding and raising their young.  The drakes moult and group.  Drake Harlequin Ducks and Common Scoters head for the sea.  In August, the birds gather for migration and those who travel the longest distances, like the Whimbrel and the Arctic Tern head for their wintering grounds. Lake Mývatn, is by now, like other lakes, swarming with ducks if the breeding season has been successful.  September is the main migration month in North East Iceland but geese and some ducks and passerines do not leave until October.  However, numerous birds remain in the area during the winter.  At Lake Mývatn and River Laxá some areas remain open all winter and attract Whooper Swans, Barrow´s Goldeneyes, Goosanders and Mallards.  By the sea there are still plenty of birds around; the Great Cormorant stretches his wings, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks are frequently seen as well as gulls and other resident birds.  Visitors like the King Eider and the Little Auk can also be seen at this time.
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