Thursday, 19 August 2010

Iceland Day 3

Wednesday 21st July

  After another very filling breakfast (buffet style and plenty of it) we packed the car up for the drive up to our next destination at Reykjahlid and our hotel on the edge of Lake Myvatn. The main roads on Iceland are great and so with stunning scenery all around at times it was difficult keep our eyes on the road ahead. After around an hour, we pulled in to a lay-by by a large roadside lake for a break and to take a look at  the magnificent scenery. The weather was warm and still and out on the water were a number of birds including a family of Greylag Geese and in the distance were two Great Northern Divers.

  It wasn't the creatures on the lake that were noticeable however, more the small ones that were flying around the edge - Black Flies. We were experiencing our first encounter with the small beastie that Iceland is renowned for and there were thousands. We found out later that they do get very bad in certain months, so this was just a few !

 Black Flies
  Even though they were a nuisance, here fortunately, they were only in small areas and once walked through, we were clear of them for a while. Moving on again, our next stop was at  the waterfalls at Fossholl. The water here from the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters and so we were told, is even more spectacular in late spring after the snow melts.

Goðafoss waterfalls

  Here, there was not much in the way of bird life again, however I did get a fly-over of a Great Northern Diver and several sightings of a male Merlin. Nearby a Whimbrel had a territory and kept getting anxious as people walked along the path to the falls until they had passed through its nesting area. With such a vast area to choose to breed, it does make me wonder why some birds choose to nest in such popular tourist places.

  Moving on again, we briefly stopped at the southern end of Lake Myvatn for lunch. It was now pretty warm and I could feel the sun burning on my neck - not something I'd felt on Unst for a while ! The place where stopped, was at a junction for one of the cross country tracks. The area really did remind me of some parts of Namibia and seeing the dust trails left by vehicles as they sped along the tracks made it even more so. It was difficult to work out, but I believe that there is a grading system from 'A' to 'F' according to the type of road, 'A' being a good, tarmac road; 'F' being the most difficult and for only specially prepared vehicles and experienced drivers. As we stood there, a group of 5 or 6 vehicles came off of the gravel on to the tarmac, the last one was a 'Hummer' on which the chassis had been raised and which I could have walked under it by only bending down !

  One of the species I particularly wanted to see was Harlequin Duck and unbeknown to me at the time, we were very close to the Laxa River, one of the easiest places to see them. Shortly after, we parked up beside the river and decided to take a walk  to try and find some. Due to the time of year, seeing a male in full breeding plumage was not going to happen, they will have departed for the open sea to moult weeks ago; as I already knew this, I was not going to be disappointed.
The Laxa river
  In no time at all, we had found our first Harlequin females, there were several birds feeding in the fast flowing water almost effortlessly.
 Female Harlequin Duck

  Carrying on up stream, we found a number of birds and most were quite confiding, possibly knowing they were safe in their element. In one part where the river split in two, part of the river was fairly calm and here we came across a number of Harlequin ducklings feeding. Even these little balls of feathers seemed to be in total control of their direction of travel when they ventured too near the white water. If the current was too strong, then they would 'run' across the water also using their wings as tiny paddles.

  Also in side streams that were much slower running, there were a number of feeding Rednecked Phalaropes and a family of Barrow's Goldeneye.

Barrow's Goldeneye

  I could have stayed there for the rest of the day,  but as they say 'time and tide stands till for no man' so we headed around the lake to the hotel at Reykjahlid.
  The view from the hotel where we stayed, is a view I'll never forget, the balcony on the 3rd floor had 180 degree view of the lake and we were just a few yards from the edge of it. Standing there as the sun sank below a low hill at 11.15pm, mirror calm water with Great Northern Divers calling is an atmosphere I can't describe.

  Once we'd settled in and had dinner, I decided to go back out again to a spot a few kilometers away and try and get some shots that, for me, would bring back the feeling of Myvatn. Like a lot of folk, I get bothered by flies and midges and like everyone else, I've tried a variety of insect repellents. I have seen some - containing 'deet' - blister plastic and soft rubber so I am obviously very careful what I use near my camera gear. After hearing others had been using a particular product, I decided to give it a try and have found it to be pretty effective and that's called 'Avon Skin So Soft'. I was using it on this particular evening and I have to say it was brilliant. Sitting in the grass at the waters edge, I was surrounded by Black Flies and had virtually none bother me and that went for midges too. I've since heard that the formula may have changed so it'll be interesting to see if it still works. Below are a few pictures from the evening, the first was taken at 9.30pm and the last with the sun going down was at 10.30pm. Almost all of the back-lit 'dots' are either midges or Black Flies which will give you some idea of the numbers.


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