Saturday, June 20, 2015

Immersed in Iceland: Day 2 - Geothermic Restoration

It was probably around 6 am when I eventually gave up on trying to sleep. I slid open the 'campervan' door to see  the sun had already ascended quite high in a cloudless sky having risen from the horizon at around 2:30am.  The air and campsite were still and filled with the sounds of calling Dunlin, together with Redwing and Redpoll singing from the surrounding conifers. I managed to extract myself from the mummy style sleeping bag and slither off the suspended mattress. Having been constricted inside the sleeping bag, I had felt like I had been to bed with my arms tied behind my back. I remember standing outside the 'camper' feeling very tired, aching and generally lacking in life.  I made my way across to the shower block.

Turning on the shower was like opening the flood gates of hell as a torrent of scolding water blasted from the showerhead. High pressure volcanic water, with a distinct odour of sulphur, drawn from deep below the ground poured down on me. I must have stood under this torrent for about 15 minutes and let the water wash my tiredness and sleeping bag aches down the plug hole. I stepped out feeling like a new person, restored back to the life by the geothermic deluge.

Back at the 'campervan', I completely emptied, dismantled the bed and stowed everything away on the basis that it would not be getting used again, before grabbing the laptop, camera batteries and memory cards from the previous day and set up shop in a lounge area to download and recharge. Steve eventually emerged from the nylon cocoon of his tent reporting that he had zero sleep through the night. I was raring to get going, having been restored back to action by the super shower, and we grabbed a quick breakfast from the campsite cafe before hitting the road. We decided to head back to the Red-throated Diver site as Steve had some unfinished business there. Travelling once more along the long gravel track to the car park, we had our first encounter with a Black-tailed Godwit in breeding colours. The bird was in a bit of awkward location and seemed fairly oblivious to us and went back to roost position at very close range.

We also came across a dozing Snipe.

Once we reached the pools I suggested Steve try the accommodating pair of divers I had photographed the previous day and I would follow the footpath to see if I could find some others. I didn't have to go too far and spent a short while with a pair on the small still pool.

I moved on to another pool where I found some more friendly birds that were lazily drifting around. With the air cold and the sun beaming, heat haze was developing and it was easy to see the wobbling air spreading across the extensive dry brown grassland. Under these conditions all you can do is put as little distance between you and your subject. Fortunately the divers I were photographing were close and gently milling around under the late morning sun.

I decided to leave them and headed back to the van for a mug of Yorkshire Tea (have teabags will travel!). Given the conditions the only option left now was to try and find some really close subjects and the perfect candidates were. Red-necked Phalaropes that are generally completely oblivious to people and I had one pecking my finger at one stage. I found a small group of half a dozen birds working their way along one of the pool margins picking off the midges as they emerged from the surface film.
They appear as very buoyant birds and tend to sit high on the water rather than in it and for the first time  noticed they have very coarse breast feather which probably contributes to this. From a distance their movements often seem to have the appearance of leaves or feathers being blown across the surface.

These birds are always fun to photograph and fortunately were not showing their usual spinning feeding behaviour which can make them a headache to photograph but were typically hyperactive. I managed to catch a pair of these tiny waders mating with the more colourful female almost becoming fully submerged in the efforts.

During this Phalarope session disaster nearly struck, as I was adjusting my laying down position at the edge of the pond, I knocked my camera that I had put down next to me and it rolled towards the pond. It was a close call and I just managed to grab it in time before my 1dx with 600mm fell in. That would have been a nightmare so early on in the trip.

It was time to move on. Our loose plan for the rest of the day was to work our way along the south coast before starting to head northward to find somewhere overnight about an hour or so north of Reykjavik. The forecast for the following day looked generally poor so we decided that time would be well used as a travel day for the long drive up to the north-east and our next key destination, Lake Myvatn (which translates to Midge Lake).

Our first stop off point along the south-west coast was at the small fishing town þorlákshöfn. The air was heavy with the smell of fish as we checked the small harbour for bird life. It was fairly quiet with a couple of Black Guilliemots, Long-tailed Duck and some juvenile Glaucous and Iceland Gulls but nothing really offered any photo opportunities as there seemed no easy way to get to water level except by a very treacherous looking route down a very slippery looking harbour wall built from boulders. We decided to see if we could find a beach nearby to look for some waders. We eventually found a 'beach' area of large boulders covered in seaweed with quite a good number of waders. Steve's eye was caught by a small flock of Knot in their summer red plumage. It was tricky progress over the boulders as we headed off in different directions with Steve targeting the Knot and me looking for Purple Sandpiper in their summer plumage.

Both of us have a lot of experience photographing waders back at home and the approach is usually get in to position and let the birds come to you. We were both surprised how shy and twitchy these birds were even the species that are generally less bothered by people such as Turnstone. Here is Steve doing his best to look like a seaweed boulder.

Eventually I managed to get quite a few Purple Sandpiper in front of me, feeding on the rocks in the rising tide, together with the occasional photo opportunity for a couple of other species.

A summer coloured Knot landed reasonably close.
I spotted a Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Knot all sat on the same rock. A nice comparison of the three species in their summer colours, although I was never going to ever get enough depth of field to get them all sharp with the long lens.
A solitary Redshank also put in an appearance.

The afternoon was pushing on and we decided to carry on our journey along the coast with the next stop being the harbour at Grindavik. Large numbers of Fulmar were present and some white-winged gulls including young Iceland Gulls. We found out that afternoon that unlike the UK the gulls are generally very wary of people in Iceland.

We managed a few photographs here before hitting the road again and starting our journey northward.  We decided to make a small detour into an area east of Rekyavik which was supposed to be a Ptarmigan stronghold but due to poor navigational skills actually ended up driving around the wrong area! The tracks we drove around seemed to be a popular horse riding area and there was a lot of laughter watching what appeared to be over-sized people on the fairly small, slight wild and sturdy Icelandic horses galloping along and looking slight out of control.

As we drove along, far in the distance, something white caught my eye as it dropped off a rock. We decided to stop and go and investigate to see if it was a Ptarmigan. It was but we had no chance of getting close to this pair of birds on the edge of some birch scrub, as the ground was covered with the crunchy dried dead stems of thousands of Lupins which seem to swathe large parts of the Iceland. They must be a beautiful sight when in blue-purple flower but the unusually cold spring had reduced them to their first green shoots. However, an important lesson was learnt that in Iceland forget all you knew of where you might expect to find Ptarmigan.

We continued northwards and having cleared Rekyavik by some distance, we put the SatNav into find accommodation mode.  We came across a road side motel but the only life we could find was a dog outside and carried on. On our approach to Borgarnes, we found the Hotel Bru and booked in there for the night. The cost was good for our elongated but slightly warm room in the roof. It had been a long day and we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the town over the causeway. On return to the hotel we went through the evening photo download and back up ritual before crashing and recharging our own batteries before continuing our journey north and eastward the next day.

1 comment:

Paul Sorrell said...

An engaging narrative to accompany the great pics. Thanks, Rich.


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