Sunday, 29 May 2016

Iceland May 2016 Part 8 After the high.

I wasn't sure if I was on a high or a low after our session with the Great Northern Divers. I had some shots which was something to be grateful for but would they be good enough? Still we had two more days to try again if time allowed but in the meantime we had to decide what to do with our afternoon. We headed back to the River Laxa bridge in the knowledge that there would be some action there and besides, I knew I had to improve on my over exposed shots from the previous day.
What a change when we got back ! Not nearly as many Goldeneyes about, they must have been busy pairing off! Fortunately there were one or two.
Barrow's Goldeneye   Iceland
but I still over exposed the whites! The sun doesn't have to be that strong shining on the males and they simply glare in their brilliance.
Barrow's Goldeneye     Iceland
Best when they are out of the direct sunlight.
A pair of Goosanders were not nearly as confiding as the ducks, both were off like a shot when they saw me.
Red-Breasted Merganser     Iceland
I went and found a spot at the top of the rapids and sat and waited to see what if anything might happen. The flow of water going under the bridge is incredible what with the melting snows constantly feeding the river. I didn't fancy my chances of survival if I fell in that's for sure.
The Harlequin Ducks are something else though, they were diving in and surfacing in the very strongest current. I couldn't believe that they didn't get battered as they disappeared down the rapids.
Up they pop right in the middle.
Harlequin Duck      Iceland
and with supreme skill drag themselves out when they want to head to a calmer spot for a rest.
Harlequin Duck      Iceland
Mike had headed further down stream to a spot where I could see him a few hundred metres away. Another car had arrived and the two occupants had walked over to ours and were stood there. In all innocence as it happened but we both had the same idea to get over there a.s.a.p. just in case.
Bad luck for Mike though, no sooner had he left a Red-throated Diver arrived at the very spot he had vacated. Anyway, after yesterday's duck fest today was bit flat. We moved on finding a small lake near the main road that held a pair of Scaup. My attempts to get near were hopeless, they flew off immediately, as did the Tufted ones they were with too. They definitely must have experienced something untoward to be so flighty.
I sat down in the hope they might return but they didn't. Virtually the only photo I took was one of the car.
Wonder if Renault might be interested!!
Anyway, moving on we located some Gadwall but little else.
Gadwall     Iceland
We were feeling a bit deflated, Myvatn isn't the best for photography as far as we are concerned but maybe at another time it might be different.
Anyway, we decided we didn't want to complete the whole lake circuit again instead opting to take a new route back to our lodge. 
Road 87 takes you over the hills which were still fairly thick with snow at their highest point.
Scenically it was excellent but there wasn't too much wildlife until we got to the lower slopes.
Road No 87 to Husavik    Iceland
We did score a pair of Snow Bunting here though, the only sighting, albeit brief, we had of that species all week. This particular road was unpaved in part too but the surface was very sound.
Coming off the 87 we crossed over to the Laxa Valley where our lodge was and had yet another close view of a fly by Artic Skua. They were starting to frustrate us, such splendid views but no sooner in view and gone again.
River Laxa valley        Iceland
I suggested to Mike that it might be the perfect evening to take a whale watching trip. It looked sunny on the coast. We had a quick cuppa and dumped our excess gear at the lodge before heading to Husavik and walking in to the "Gentle Giants" ticket office. 
"How many on the last sailing ?"  I asked.
"Six" was the reply.
"How much?"
"10,300 per person" 
" I'll give you 20,000 for the two of us" was my tongue in cheek bid.
To my surprise it was accepted and we were told to hurry as we had 10 minutes to park the car and get on the boat.
It turned out to be a fabulous choice. Our boat, the Faldur , had plenty of room to spare with only eight on board, it appears the evening sailing is the least popular, earlier boats had gone out with the maximum 45 on board. 
Gentle Giants whale watching boat. Iceland.

Our guide was excellent in telling us where to look out when the whale was likely to surface and our captain was brilliant in getting in to the best position for both viewing and photography.
Only once or twice was the boat on the wrong side of the whale with the sun in front of the camera. 
Humpback Whale     Iceland

And what views we had of these magnificent beasts. Quite simply awesome, and I don't use the word lightly.
The Humpback whale grows to around 45-50 feet. That's as big as the boat we were in! Not the biggest whale species but certainly very impressive particularly at very close quarters.
First signs to watch for are the "blow".
Humpback Whale     Iceland
Then the back appears
Humpback Whale     Iceland
Then after completing that operation it's ready to dive down again.
Humpback Whale     Iceland
The back arches in to a hump.
Humpback Whale     Iceland
and with the tail trailing
Humpback Whale     Iceland
down it goes.
Humpback Whale     Iceland
The individual whales are recorded and identified as they have different tail markings.
Humpback Whale     Iceland
The only thing which would be even more jaw droppingly stunning would be the occasions when the whale pushes right out of the water and the whole head, maybe even more, becomes visible.
What I would give to witness that! Still, I felt privileged to experience what I did, it has to go down as one of the wildlife highlights of my life to date.
On one occasion I was up top with our guide and captain when the whale blew right in front of our boat.
Whale watching   Iceland
Those five at the front actually got a soaking and even where I was we felt a fine spray of water pass over us. Quite incredible.
All this just a short distance from the shore and Husavik harbour.
Humpback Whale     Iceland
In fact so close you can watch from the shore if you prefer !
After two hours we returned to dry land. To be honest we had had such a good many sightings it didn't matter that we returned well before the three hours advertised. The longest we had to wait between whale viewing was only a matter of minutes. There were three Humpbacks present and to avoid stressing them we went from one whale to another.
Mike and I both agreed that this was the boat of choice. There are faster rib boats but they have to slow down to approach the whales anyway and you are sat in rows of 4 so your views will be obscured half the time. There are bigger boats where, like ours, you can move around but they appeared less manouverable so couldn't match the changes of direction with the whale the way we did.
Absolutely, choose this outfit if you get the chance.
Back on shore we decided to try a new restaurant too and that turned out to be a good choice too, a much bigger menu to try although I did pass on the starter of Smoked Guillemot ! It was pretty pricey and I did ask and it was confirmed, you don't get the whole bird either!
Our day had turned out to be a huge success after all. 
Mike told me he was just nipping across the road to the supermarket as I sorted the bill. I followed and found him perusing the beers. 
A good call, a celebration was in order however the beers sold in supermarkets have such a very low strength the idea was abandoned.
Never mind, we tried a bit more photography instead.
Artic Tern     Iceland
Another for the bird on the post series!
Finally back in the lodge we made plans for the following day.

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