Iceland - August 2002 - Daily Log

19.08.2002 (Arrival, Reykjanes Peninsula) - 20.08. (Snaefellsnes) - 21.08. (Stykkisholmur, Godafoss) - 22.08. (Myvatn, Dettifoss) - 23.08. (Melrakkasletta peninsula, Mödrudalur) - 24.08. (Egisstadir, Reydarfjördur) - 25.08. (Höfn, Jökulsarlon) - 26.08. (Hof, Vik) - 27.08. (Skogafoss, Gullfoss, Thingvellir) - 28.08. (Eyrarbakki, Thorlakshhöfn, Reykjavik) - 29.08.2002 (Reykjanes Peninsula, Departure)
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We arrived around midnight at Keflavik International Airport. The people from RASCAR ( gave us our rental car (Toyota Yaris for about 750 Euro for 11 days) and we headed towards Keflavik Camping where we stayed for the rest of the night.
In the morning a Fulmar flew over the campground, some Golden Plovers were around with many Meadow Pipits and I was surprised by the many Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the area. We went to Gardur on road 45 and then to the lighthouse Gardskagi. On the beach were many Purple Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Dunlins together with some Snow Buntings. On the sea were many Fulmars, Kittiwakes, single Gannets, Arctic Terns and Parasitic Skuas as well as an immature Black Guillemot swimming close to the shore.
Near the harbour of Sandgerdi we looked at some mudflats where we found many Gulls. Other birds in this area were single Oystercatchers and again lots of Gulls. Checking out the road 45 south of Sandgerdi we also found our first Whimbrels, a Merlin and some more Parasitic Skuas.
Along road 44 to Hafnir and from there on road 425 southwards. Along the 425 you will find a big crack between the Eurasian and the American tectonic plate. Near this crack is a kind of lake where we had about 100 Red-necked Phalaropes and also a Great Skua. From the lighthouse of Reykjanesta we had a look towards the island of Eldey where there were still thousands of Gannets. Eldey was the last known place where the extinct Great Auk occurred and where the last two birds of this species were killed in 1844. The bird colony on the mainland in this area was already abandoned, only lots of Kittiwakes were still there. Out on the sea I spotted a whale which was probably a Minke Whale.

Fulmar, Harbour Grindavik, 19.08.2002

We then drove to Grindavik on road 425 and from there on road 427 to Kleifavatn (no birds on this lake). In the evening we drove into the capital Reykjavik. There is a lake in the inner city, the so-called Tjörnin, where we found Scaups, Whooper Swans, single Gadwalls and other ducks. For the night we stayed on the campground (1400 IKR, 1 Euro = ca. 80 IKR) near the Youth Hostel.

After some rain in the night we found Redwings on the campground and headed then northwards on road 1 out of Reykjavik. We did not take the tunnel at Hvalfjördur but the road 47 around the fjord. Back on road 1 we drove till Borgarnes and from there on road 54 on to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. After about 20 km on road 54 a Gyr Falcon was sitting close to the road in the rain. On a small pond were some Whooper Swans and two Red-throated Divers.

Gyr Falcon
Gyr Falcon, NW of Borgarnes, 20.08.2002

On ponds near the road 54 on the southern coast of the peninsula we saw our first Great Northern Diver and also some Slavonian Grebes. We followed road 574 around the mountain Snaefellsjökull. On the rocky coast of Anarstapi were three Harlequin Ducks and at the birdcliffs Londrangar near the lighthouse of Malarrif in the southwest of the peninsula was a bird colony with some remaining Fulmars chased by a Gyr Falcon.
Near a big Arctic Tern colony near Hellisandur with many juveniles we some areas with shallow water and many Red-necked Phalaropes, some Knots, Sanderlings and Dunlins. On the Snaefellsnes peninsula were also single Common Gulls, a gull which is rare in Iceland.
We stayed for the night on the campground of Olafsvik which is run by the village (600 IKR). In the evening we watched Purple Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers and Harlequin Ducks on the beach as well as single Black Guillemots out on the sea.

In the morning we followed road 57 eastwards. Along this road we found two Shags in a fjord, lots of Whooper Swans and another Gyr Falcon, this time chasing Whimbrels. At Stykkisholmur (take road 58) were still many Puffins on the sea near the harbour.

Harbour of Stykkisholmur, 20.08.2002

From road 57 we took the road 60 northwards and then road 59 eastwards to the Hrütafjördur where we drove via road 68 back to road 1. In this fjord was another Great Northern Diver. We followed road 1 and about 34 km before entering Akureyri we had a rest at a small forest patch near Bakki where we found some Icelandic Redpolls.
For the night we camped at a hotel near the waterfall Godafoss, although they didn't even had hot showers we paid 800 IKR for the night.

After having a look at the Godafoss waterfall we drove on to Lake Myvatn. The first stop at the Laxa river produced some Harlequin Ducks, the first Barrow's Goldeneyes and also a Common Scoter. The whole area was full of duck, with Wigeon as the most numerous species, but also some Garganeys, Teals, Tufted Ducks, Scaups and few Long-tailed Ducks, the latter mostly on smaller ponds, but not on Lake Myvatn itself. We also found some Slavonian Grebes and some Great Northern Divers feeding their young.

Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn, 22.08.2002

At Höfdi in the southeast of Lake Myvatn we had a look into the small forest patch. The area was good for many Redpolls and we even found a Wren on our walk. Redwings and Meadow Pipits were everywhere.

Lake Myvatn
Hot area near Myvatn, 22.08.2002

In the afternoon we visited the high temperature and lava areas east of Myvatn and drove then on road 862 (in fact only for 4x4 vehicles) to the Jökulsargljufur National Park. We had a look at the magnificent Dettifoss, Europes biggest waterfall and stayed for the night at the campground Vesturdalur (no showers, 1200 IKR per night).

Since the weather was more or less fine this morning (nearly no rain), we made a hike in the Vesturdalur area. The landscape is magnificent. In spring the area might be also very good for birding, but our best find was a Mink (Mustela vison), a small mammal once escaped from fur farms and now a pest to the icelandic fauna.
Afterwards we headed northwards to visit the Melrakkasletta peninsula in the northeast of Iceland. Following road 85 we first came to Kopasker, a small village with some interesting lakes, where we found the only Pintail of our trip. Further north, at Grjotnes, we found some Common Seals and also single Grey Seals. Around that place was also a hunting Gyr Falcon with something that might have been a Ptarmigan.

Lake Myvatn
Bird rock near Nupskatla, 23.08.2002

A few kilometres later we took the road to Nupskatla, a farm on the northwestern coast of the peninsula. We had to open a gate before entering the farmhouse area where we parked our car and walked westwards towards the lighthouse to a beautiful seabird rock with a nice Gannet colony. On the way back we gathered some mushrooms for the evening soup.

Iceland Sheep, Melrakkasletta, 23.08.2002

Following road 85 you came to the lighthouse of Hraunhafnartangi, the northernmost point of mainland Iceland, said to touch the arctic circle, we are not sure whether it really does. We completed our circle on Melrakkasletta by taking the road 867. Via road 85 we came on road 864 which brought us southwards. Before entering road 1 near Grimsstadir we found some Pink-footed Geese, a species which was also common along the following kilometres along road 1. We stayed for the night at Mödrudalur, this time with hot showers for 900 IKR. Mödrudalur is no longer on road 1 since they are using another route for this road now, but the old road 1 is still in good condition.

We followed the old road 1 through a desertlike landscape with some more Pink-footed Geese till we reached the paved new road 1. At Egilsstadir we bought some food and from there we took road 92 southwards. When we came to the Reydarfjördur fjord we had a Gannet and two Porpoises right at the beginning of road 96. Although there were only few "interesting" birds the landscape along road 96 is absolutely magnificent!

Along the coast
Along the coast, 24.08.2002

At Breidalsvik we met again road 1 and drove on this road till Stafafell, about 30 km before Höfn, where we had a wonderful evening with a Gyr Falcon at the campsite, sunny weather with temperature up to nearly 20 °C and hot showers (1000 IKR, to be paid at nearby farmhouse).

The day started with rain so that we decided not to hike in the area. When we came to Höfn I found some very nice wader spots right before entering the town. Unfortunately it didn't stop raining which made it difficult to check all the birds. I heard a call in the fog which might have been a Curlew, but had no chance to find the bird. There are other good areas for birding near the harbour but the weather conditions did not allow excessive birding. We stayed for some hours in Höfn, always hoping for better weather. In the early afternoon we left the town and drove westwards on road 1.

South coast, 25.08.2002

After while the weather got better and we even found a new bird for our trip list: a Grey Heron at a small pond beside the road. Some Whooper Swan families offered good photo opportunities along the road, we soon saw the first glaciers and till we came to the lake Jökulsarlon we even had some sunshine. But at the lake itself it was again very foggy so that we only had an idea about the icebergs on the lake.
The area around the lake and Breidamerkursandur west of it host the biggest colony of Great Skuas on the Northern Hemisphere and although the season was over we still saw lots of them. Interestingly there were also many Fulmars sitting on the ground. Probably young birds which were too fat to fly directly from their nests to the open sea. We camped near the road close to Hof and there we also found some Fulmar bones with wings.

Since we had read that Hof is the only place on Iceland to find House Sparrows we had a look at the farmhouse and found immediately some sparrows. Then we drove in much better weather back towards Lake Jökulsarlon. On the way we saw a Mink close to the road and when we arrived at Jökulsarlon we had great views of the lake in bright weather. On the Sandurs were many Great Skuas, but besides some stranded Fulmars there were not many other birds around.

Jökulsarlon, 22.08.2002

Visiting some cultural sites and some waterfalls we drove slowly along road 1 to Vik. There are some nice seabird colonies around Vik and although there were some heavy showers in late afternoon we found Gannets, single Puffins, Skuas, Gulls and many Fulmars around the cliffs.
The campground in Vik was more comfortable than others since it had a day room with cooking facilities (1000 IKR per night, hot showers: 200 IKR per person).

The area west of Vik offered a very interesting landscape, e.g. the cliffs around the Lighthouse of Dyrholaey, the southernmost point of mainland Iceland. To get there take road 218 to the left 14 km after leaving Vik westwards on road 1. We also tried road 215, starting ca. 5 km west of Vik. This road also leads to the coast and to a small lagoon with some shorebirds.

Skogafoss, 27.08.2002

The next stop along road 1 was again a waterfall: Skogafoss, in my eyes probably most typical waterfall. 21 km past Hella we left road 1 and took road 30 to Gullfoss. Close to this huge waterfall is Geysir, which is no longer active on a regular basis (we saw a small eruption) and another geysir called Strokkur, which is active several times in an hour. The whole area is called Haukadalur and has several more hot springs.
In the evening we drove to Thingvellir, the most important historic place on Iceland. We stayed as usual on the campground (1000 IKR per night).


Morning near Thingvellir, 28.08.2002

In the morning we joined a guided tour at Thingvellir. Interestingly some Whimbrels were still very active in the area. Then we checked out some coastal areas, especially along road 34 at Eyrarbakki and Thorlakshhöfn, where we found some Red-breasted Mergansers, lots of Gulls etc.. Afterwards we drove on road 39 and road 1 to Reykjavik where spend the rest of the day sightseeing and shopping. In the evening we stayed again at the campground near the Youth Hostel. This was the only evening we had dinner in restaurant. Around midnight Aurora borealis was visible at the night sky.

After some more shopping (Brigitte) and some bird photography at Lake Tjörnin (Stefan) we spend the afternoon checking out the Reykjanes Peninsula again, including the Blue Lagoon and for birding some of the spots we visited at the beginning of our trip. The best bird was probably a Bar-tailed Godwit we found near Sandgerdi.

Evening on the Reykjanes Peninsula, 29.08.2002

Late in the night we took the flight back to Munich.

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