Friday, July 24, 2015

Immersed in Iceland: Day 5 - Myvatn Circuits

We had another early start on our second day in the area around Lake Myvatn. The weather forecast the night before looked promising by drawing back the bedroom curtains revealed bright but overcast skies overhead. Hopefully it would brighten later as I was keen to try and get some Harlequins in better light on the River Laxa. We intended to follow a similar routine to the day before with a circuit of the lake before breakfast followed by looking round to see what we could find and of course a return visit at some point to the rapids of the River Laxa.

Once more we had not gone too far in the 'campervan' before we came across our first bird, stood in the road, a Ptarmigan. It moved to the verge and crouched low in amongst the multi-coloured short vegetation. These birds must feel fairly vulnerable when they are are still in their winter whites with no snow to conceal them from the watchful eyes of Gyr Falcon.

We traveled on our clockwise circuit seeing several more Ptarmigan but too distant for photographs, the birds standing out very obviously against the dark volcanic rocks. Around the north-west side of the lake we came across another bird close to the road. This one was perched relatively high up and to avoid photographing against a flat white sky we both ended up standing on the door sills to give some elevation and get the angle for a better coloured background of a volcanic mound behind.
Our next encounter was a Snipe on a post which eventually left us with a shrill call before speeding off in whirring display flight.
It was turning into a bit of a Ptarmigan morning as we encountered another bird perched up on some lichen clad lava and another on a grass verge, together with a bonus Whimbrel in the road. That was a total of around 8 Ptarmigan we had seen in one lap of the lake before heading back to the hotel for breakfast.

While I was in Iceland and as soon as I got back, I had a few people contact me saying they were visiting within the next week or so and asking for pointers as to where to find birds. As you can see it would pointless giving any suggestions in the Myvatn area as it just seems to change from one day to the next.

After a good breakfast including Steve topping up his cod liver oil levels, we headed back out but didn't get far. About 20m to be precise as there was a Snipe feeding along the top of a grass embankment on the edge of the hotel car park. Its raised position giving the appearance of photographing the bird at ground level. The overhead cloud was starting to break up.
Off down the road once more, for another Myvatn circuit. Crossing a small swift flowing river we spotted a couple of Harlequin Ducks lurking in the quieter flowing margins and so stopped for a short while to try and get some photographs.

Back on the road with our noisy studded snow tyres, we decided to head right round the other side of the lake and back to the area around the Bird Museum, picking up a dozing Snipe en route.
Driving up the Museum track we found a very vocal Black-tailed Godwit calling from a grass mound with a Whimbrel stalking around about 2 metres away. We parked up and once again headed off in separate directions.

It was all to much so I decided to have a lay down round the back of the Museum building, although with good reason as there were a pair of Slavonian Grebes drifting slowly on the still water. I managed to position myself so that the reflection of a volcano in the background created some nice dark water to show off the colours of the birds against.
I wandered back round and found Steve down the bottom of an embankment having some fun with a group of hyperactive Red-necked Phalaropes. This was turning into a busy morning! A few more Phalarope photos were consigned to the memory card.
Behind me the noisy Godwit was still strutting its stuff on the grass mound, so I left Steve with the tiny waders and spent some time creeping up on what turned out to be a very accommodating bird. This allowed me to get a range of photos with different background just be slightly shifting my position up and down the mound.

Not bad for morning's work as it was close to midday now. The warm still air had encouraged a small explosion of non-biting midges from the lake. A hint of what could happen if the conditions had not been so cold. I can imagine 'Midge Lake' thoroughly deserves its name at certain times of year. 

I think this is one of the days when we forgot to have lunch as we were so absorbed in the photography. This had a few times over the trip and we would suddenly realise we were starving around 5pm.  Once again we hit the Myvatn circuit. We stopped off by a lake at a small nature reserve area on the east bank. As we made our way down to the lake, clouds of flies erupted from the grass. The dense swarms producing an audible humming in the air. We didn't stop there long and carried on to the River Laxa bridge. It was clouding up again and I was starting to wonder if I would actually ever get some Harlequin Duck in some sunlight. We stopped a while and took some photos before moving on once more with a view to returning when the distant blue sky had made its way over.

We headed back towards the Hotel and decided to try a large slightly raised isolated lake immediately to the west known as Stakholstjorn. This place had a very strange landscape of mini volcanic pseudocraters. An Arctic Tern on a post posed for us at the start of the footpath. These terns were very common in Iceland but strangely this is one of the very few photographs I took of them during the whole trip. 
We went our separate ways once more with Steve heading off to a small pool at the very far end and I decided to hang back for a Long-tailed Duck.

Moving on around the lake, I saw two large black birds at distance and then heard that eerie haunting wail of the Great Northern Diver which echoed around the weird landscape. Such a beautiful evocative sound. One of the birds only appeared close momentarily before diving and resurfacing a long way away. 

Walking past numerous Phalarope, a pair of whistling Wigeon caught my eye and ear next as I continued my walk around this large lake. 

While nearby several Whooper Swans were chasing each other about. The heads and bodies dis-coloured orange by the iron rich waters.

The bird above had a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust ring and it is ironic to think that this swan may appear back in England in the winter at Martin Mere which is fairly close to my home. Meanwhile at the other end of the lake Steve was getting some stunning images of Slavonian Grebe on the small pool. I decided to spend some time with a pair of these birds on the main lake that were hunting sticklebacks in the margins. 

As you can see by this point the sun had finally reappeared, it was time to return to the River Laxa where we would finish our day by its rushing waters in some wonderful evening sunlight. Yes, finally some Harlequin Ducks in the sun.

It felt like we had squeezed a day and half into one but a very memorable one with a great variety of beautiful birds in such a stunning location. Myvatn had revealed its avian treasures. 

That night we went for Pizza and the forecast was not looking good for another day at Myvatn so we would be departing in the morning and heading northwards to try and keep with some better weather.


Dave Williams said...

Fabulous shots again Rich, envious of everything except the cod liver oil. We used to get forced to take them in capsule form with our school milk ( bet you don't remember that!) and if you bit them by mistake they were disgusting!

Lasse said...

Fantastic shots !!

Paul Foster said...

Yeah,Myvatyn is certainly one of' THE' places to spend a day with the camera!

So many possibilities abound there, which you exploited to the full Richard!

Superb photography!!

Brian Rafferty said...

Richard. I have enjoyed very much the accounts of your wonderful holiday with Steve in Iceland. Your images are brilliant as always.Looking forward to next week's pelagic.


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