Photo Essay: Iceland birds


An Atlantic Puffin sits outside its burrow on a nesting cliff above the town of Vik in southern Iceland [Photo by Lukas Musher]

Some of you may know, (though most of you probably don’t and why would you?), that I was just in Iceland with my girlfriend, Audrey (everybody please give her a warm welcome to the birding community), for a combination of hiking, camping, birding, and general nature viewing.  I’d never been to the Arctic before this… and I still haven’t!  Iceland is actually just south of the Arctic circle (though a few Icelandic islands do make it across this invisible line) and thus considered to be subarctic geographically speaking, but this was actually the farthest north I’ve ever been.  I won’t lie, this trip was only partially about birding, but we still saw a lot of birds, and the photographic opportunities were endless.  Iceland is absolutely one of my new favorite places, and I hope you enjoy some of my photos.

Iceland is a large island country in the North Atlantic just east of southern Greenland.  Geologically speaking it is actually the tallest peak of the mid-Atlantic ridge, which runs along the ocean floor down the center of the Atlantic ocean.  It is entirely volcanic, and no matter where you are in the country, you are not far from a hot spring, thermal bath, or snow-capped volcano.  In some places even the earth is scorching hot – hot enough that a delicious rye bread is baked just beneath the earth’s surface.  Its northern and oceanic location make it a great place to see many species of breeding seabirds along with other great birds and animals.

Our trip started in Reykjavik and took us all the way around the country through beautiful blue fjords, and glacier-capped mountains, steaming hot thermal pools, and powder blue lagoons dotted with icebergs.  Everywhere we went there were Northern Fulmars and Atlantic Puffins, flying over to their nests on nearby ocean-facing cliffs.  Here are some of the birds we commonly saw.  P.S. I forgot to watermark my photos.  If you steal them without credit I will hunt you down.


A Northern Fulmar flies over the road on its way back from feeding in the blue fjords of Northwestern Iceland. Hardly a moment went by on the coast when fulmars weren’t in view, their pale bodies seen flapping around cliffs and gliding low over the the water just offshore. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Red-throated Loons could be seen on many small lakes around the country, often with fat downy young nearby. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Great Skuas were practically ruined for me. My lifer was eating food scraps in a parking lot like some lowly seagull. Nevertheless the show they put on for me on the black lava sand beach at Jökulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a great intro to the species. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Parasitic Jaegers were also very common. It was pretty neat seeing these dark morph juvenile birds sitting on the volcanic sand being mobbed by Arctic Terns, and mobbed for good reason. As the terns returned from the ocean with fresh silvery baitfish drooping helplessly in their bill, the jaegers, often in pairs, would beeline for them, frequently taking their catch just as any proficient kleptoparasite should. [Photo © Lukas Musher]

Great Skua

My lifer Great Skua, waiting for its scraps of bread and processed ham. You are a disgrace to your name! [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Mediocre picture of Black Guillemot in Husavik harbor in Northern Iceland. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Atlantic Puffins flying out to sea. Tens of millions of puffins nest in Iceland. You see them as often as you see Fulmars, both on the water and flying to and from their burrows on coastal cliffs. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Common Eiders were plentiful as well. If you saw ducks just off the beach, chances were that they were Common Eiders. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Arctic Terns are everywhere. Spunky little guys. [Photo © Lukas Musher]


There aren’t many land birds at all in Iceland except for a few species. In addition to this Redwing, we saw lots of White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, and Northern Wheatears, a Merlin, two Gyrfalcon (YES!), Common Redpolls, Firecrest (heard only), many Common Ravens, and some flocks of European Starlings here and there.  [Photo © Lukas Musher]


Did I mention it’s a beautiful country?