Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Iceland, days 1 & 2

  My apologies for not posting recently, but as I mentioned in my last post, I was going to be away for over 3 weeks. I was unable to have a good look at the pics I'd taken on Iceland until I returned home and as I use photographs to jog my memory, I didn't want to post without any pictures. Returning to Unst last Thursday, I then had a few more hectic days and nights - more of that later in the week or earlier next week.

  'Wow' was one word I used regularly on arriving in Iceland recently and I still have the same feeling each time I look at some the pictures on getting back home. Our trip to Iceland was part of a family birthday celebration (my mother in laws 80th) and involved an awful lot of planning and I'm sure was a logistical nightmare (so a big thank you to Ian, Catriona and Stuart).

    I left Unst with the girls on the 16th July (Catriona had been working away and was in London) to catch the Friday night ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen. The following day we travelled by train to Kings Cross station in London where we met Catriona. Both the ferry and train journey went smoothly and by 4.30pm on the Saturday we were in London. Even though I have worked in London in the past (on a weekly basis), it was a bit of a shock - well mostly the noise. Only a day and half previously we had been in the peace and tranquility of Baltasound where 'busy' is at the most, a dozen cars coming through when a ferry has arrived at Belmont ! We were staying not far from Clapham Common and, I have to admit, the 'urban jungle' wasn't too bad. It was a pleasantly warm evening so we had a picnic on the common with Swifts screaming overhead and a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from some nearby trees.

  London was a good reminder for both myself and the girls, how lucky we are to live in such a fantastic place and is something that I, and hopefully the girls, will never take for granted.

  The following morning, we were on the move again, this time a tube and train journey to near Guildford to stay with relations for the night before our flight to Iceland from Gatwick on Monday 19th July. In the garden of the house where we were staying, we had loads of butterflies on a purple budlia including, Red Admiral, Peacock, Coma, Small Tortoiseshell and Silver Washed Fritillary .

Silver Washed Fritillary

  I can hear folk wondering why on earth we would go all the way to Gatwick, just to fly all the way back up to Iceland. There were several reasons and one was it was actually slightly cheaper, also because we had things to do in the south on our return. One other deciding factor regarding the airport for our outward flight was that when the booking was originally being made to go from Glasgow, the airline wanted  around £25 per ticket, to post the tickets to us,  that would have been almost £100 extra to send 4 tickets to the same address ! I could fill a whole page with other similar booking stories involving the airline(s) but I won't.

Monday 19th July

  The day had finally arrived, we were going to Iceland. Not somewhere that I'd ever considered for a trip (costs aside) but I still knew a bit about the place - primarily birds - and was now really looking forward to getting there. The flight to Keflavik airport (half an hour from Reykjavik ) was to be 2-1/2 hours and then we had to transfer to Reykjavik airport (are you confused ?, so was I ) for an internal flight later in the day to Akureyi ie transfered the north of Iceland. Ian had arranged for an airport transfer which, due to the flight being later, also took us to the 'Blue Lagoon' just north of Keflavik. I've heard Iceland described as the 'Land of Fire and Water' and the Blue Lagoon is a result of the two, ie hot springs.The Blue Lagoon is a commercial outdoor geothermic spa that is open all year with a  water temperature of around 37 degrees. For more info take a look here - http://www.bluelagoon.com/ . Catriona and the girls went in for a swim, while I spent most of the time walking around pools outside of the spa complex. To say that it looked barren is an understatement, but I liked it. I'm a fan of wide open spaces and Iceland has it in bucket loads. As to birds there, I only saw 3 species - Golden Plover, White Wagtail and LBB Gull. It was warm and sunny with a balmy temperature of around 18 degrees.

'The Blue Lagoon'

  The steam rising in the background is from a plant where the they tap into the hot water below the surface, this is then piped all over to provide very cheap hot water for industrial and domestic use. As you can see the water looks like watered down milk which is caused by the minerals etc in the water. This also creates a smell very similar to rotten eggs and is often present when you turn on the shower or hot tap - it took a couple of days to get used to ! The spa part of the lagoon system is to the right of the high mound of rock.

Sula in the 'Blue Lagoon'

  We were due to be picked up at 5pm from the Blue Lagoon and then be transfered to Reykjavik
airport for the flight up to Akureyri. Sure enough, at 5pm, the bus was there to take us on the half an hour drive to the airport and on the way I saw the first two of only a handful of starlings during our trip. At the airport I was surprised by the apparent lack of security to go through check in etc, but I'm sure it was still going on in the background. The flight to Akureyri was to take just over half an hour and I have to say was fantastic. The sky was fairly clear and we had good views of glaciers and mountains, lakes and valleys for most of the way north.

  Once landed, going through arrivals was straight forward and we were greeted by Selma, Lasse and Alan (the Danish part of the family). Soon after the hire car was sorted and we headed off into town following 'The Danes' up to our accommodation which was to be for two nights. It was a large residential school which during the summer is turned in to a hotel for visitors - and there was not a spot of graffiti or vandalism  in sight !  On the lawn below our 3rd floor room a Redwing was gathering food for a nearby nest and was quite confiding, although as we'd only just arrived, the camera gear was still in the luggage so no pictures were taken.

 Looking south towards part of Akureyri

  The hotel where we were staying is the large white flat roofed building a quarter of the way in from the left side. Akureyri has a population of just over 17,000 and boasts the worlds most northerly 18 hole golf course. After settling in to our rooms, we headed off down to the town centre for a meal. The first place was full so we headed just around the corner to a small restaurant that served Italian food. Despite the cost of a small beer being around £4.50, the food was really, really nice. I can't remember exactly what time we turned in, but it wasn't late - the sun was certainly still shining at around 10pm.

Tuesday 20th July

   It was a bright sunny day and after a good breakfast we were all heading off down the coast for a birthday picnic. Around town the common birds apart from the ever present gulls,  were Redwings, White Wagtails and occasionally Redpolls. The scenery all around was stunning, white snow topped mountains and long, finger like blue fjords. This part of Iceland seemed to be going through a mini heat wave as T shirts seemed to be the order of the day as the temperature reached the dizzy  heights of around 20C. After a relatively short drive, we turned off to a pretty little harbour  where we had the picnic. Bird life was in abundance, with Eider, Fulmar, Oystercatcher, Redshank, gulls and also numerous young White Wagtails. Along in the harbour, a fisherman was gutting his haul of fish and consequently had a large number of Fulmar in attendance. Each time he threw the fish remains in to the water, there was an explosion of birds towards the quickly sinking remains. Not having been on a trawler at sea, I hadn't seen this sort of behaviour before or even seen Fulmars diving underwater in pursuit of food which several did on this occasion.

Fulmar feeding frenzy

After lunch, we drove off a little further north to a view point over looking the sea where several of our group were lucky to get glimpses of a Minke whale some distance away, but I, unfortunately didn't see it.  Later on, on the return trip to Akureyri, we stopped off by the side of a large lagoon for a short while and it was here that we saw our first Rednecked Phalaropes of the trip. Where as Shetland has perhaps only a couple of dozen pairs of these lovely little birds, the breeding population on Iceland is thought to be around 50,000 pairs according to the Icelandic Birding Pages. At his location we had around 8 or 10 feeding close to the shoreline but out on the lagoon there were quite a few more. A large proportion of these appeared to be juveniles.

Rednecked Phalarope (juv)

Heading back to Akureryi later, we returned to our hotel for a while before heading out for an evening meal. Initially, Sula and I went down into the town centre to see if we could book a table at a restaurant which served traditional Icelandic food, this was not possible however - we would have to wait for a table to become available. Once we'd checked this out, Sula and I took a short walk down by the waterside and added Raven and Black Guillemot to our list before returning back again to the hotel to meet up with Catriona and Rona. We headed back down to the restaurant and fortunately for our rumbling stomachs, we didn't have long to wait for a table. I can't now remember what I had to eat, but I can remember there being 'Breast of Guillemot' and whale on the menu and, despite liking wild birds, I was sorely tempted to try the guillemot - but it was rather expensive ! Again we turned in sometime after 10pm, the sun was still shinning in a cloudless sky, I should have been out taking pictures but I was shattered - maybe tomorrow ?



Dougie Preston said...

Sounds pretty good mate, and some good scenic photography too!

Suze said...

Great blog Robbie as always and good to see the first images as promised. Looking forward to the next ones, brings back some lovely memories. Ironic about the phalaropes.